Diego Garcia: UK chooses to remain an unlawful coloniser


By T.P. Saran

The response of the UK to the ruling of the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) was not surprising. It refuses to accept the ruling of ICJ which is that the Chagos archipelago is part of the Mauritian territory. But in the same breath, Sir Alan Duncan, the UK Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, the United Kingdom showed the UK’s hypocrisy when he said that ‘the United Kingdom respects the ICJ’.

This was in a statement he made to the UK Parliament on 30 April 2019 about the Advisory Opinion issued by International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 25 February on the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965. He expressed his ‘disappointment’ that ‘the Court should not consider bilateral disputes without the consent of both States concerned’, whereas Mauritius had presented its case to the Court as one of the process of decolonisation not having been completed by the UK and not one of bilateral dispute and which the Court accepted as the basis for allowing the case to proceed.

It is not the UK that should be disappointed! The reverse is the case, as brought out in the communiqué by the Government following Sir Duncan’s statement. The relevant paragraph reads as follows: ‘The Government of Mauritius is, however, deeply disappointed at the stand taken by the UK following the Advisory Opinion of the ICJ, despite its professed commitment to respect for the international rule of law, the ICJ, and respect for fundamental human rights’. The ‘professed commitment’ in our opinion is nothing but sheer hyprocrisy as we mentioned above. And the Government communiqué rightly points out that the UK’s ‘action is an affront to the rule of law, to the African continent, and to the United Nations’, since the ‘ICJ has clearly stated that the Chagos Archipelago is an integral part of the territory of the Republic of Mauritius and that is a legal situation that cannot be questioned or doubted under the rules and principles of international law… The UK cannot and does not have sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago’.

Therefore, ‘The Government of Mauritius will spare no effort to complete the decolonisation process of Mauritius. In this regard, Mauritius, together with other countries, will be tabling shortly before the UN General Assembly a draft resolution for the implementation of the Advisory Opinion’.

We will no doubt again garner enough support to table such a resolution, but the fact remains that even if it is passed by the UN, the UK is unlikely to abide by it and continue in its disregard and disrespect for any decision of the UN where it suits its interest, at the same time as continuing to claim the moral high ground in its defence of human rights in general.

So ‘what next’ is a question which perhaps the country should start thinking about, keeping in mind that big powers can exert all their might and their clout where their interest is concerned.

It would be recalled that even Mauritius’ interest in being a party to the discussions that the UK and the US had earlier, pertaining to the renewal of the lease of part of the Chagos Archipelago to the US for military purposes, was snubbed by both parties. On the contrary, there was an explicit threat from both the UK and the US following the then Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament on 17th May 2016 – anticipating that the UK would de facto automatically renew the lease of Diego Garcia for a further 20 years without Mauritius’ involvement – that he was minded to get the UK to give better clarity to its usual vague statements on the issue.

Unexpectedly, a Joint Press release was made on 24th June by the British High Commission and the US embassy. It came as a surprise to Mauritian citizens that the US which had so far conveniently refrained from joining in as a party in the matter, co-signed an unbecoming note, which contained an explicit threat that should Mauritius seek to restore its legitimate territorial claim by obtaining an Advisory from the ICJ, it “would cause lasting damage to Mauritius’ bilateral relations with both the UK and the USA.” The US representative went as far as to state that it does not recognise “the Republic of Mauritius’ claim to sovereignty of that Territory”.

The “lasting damage” the US representative mentioned cannot be divorced from existing trade relations Mauritius has with the US by virtue of the AGOA. The message clearly is: do not seek legal clarification of your position on Chagos at the risk of seeing your trade access to US markets compromised.

The situation is comparable to the attitude of these same powers about the opinion of the ICJ against the construction of the separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in 2003, which demonstrates that ICJ advisories are not always acted upon.

It is in light of these considerations that the government should work out its next strategy, in addition to any other geopolitical issue that it considers of relevance in this context. For the time being, the hypocrisy of the UK continues and this means that the struggle ahead is going to be as long and as arduous as it has been so far, with the outcome as predictable – or as uncertain.

Have we come to such a pass when Mauritius should start questioning the very existence of an unlawful military base on its territory? And canvass accordingly – matter to ponder.

* Published in print edition on 3 May 2019

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