Chagos Islands – British Denial of Mauritius’ Sovereignty Maintained
By Murli Dhar
Lord Avebury asked a question in the House of Lords on Wednesday 20 June 2012 as to whether it was the intention of the British government, in the wake of the meeting the British Prime Minister had on 8th June 2012 with the Prime Minister of Mauritius, to cover issues relating to the return of the Chagossians to the islands, the restoration of Mauritius’ sovereignty over the islands and the participation of Mauritius in the 2014 negotiations over the islands between Britain and America.
Lord Howell of Guilford replying as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that there was no detailed discussion of the return of the Chagossians although the Mauritian Prime Minister had conveyed his view that the islanders’ way of life was sustainable on the islands. He affirmed that there was no commitment to talks with Mauritius on sovereignty of the BIOT (of which the Chagos form part) which is “British since 1814”, and that there was no commitment also to involve Mauritius in the extension of the Anglo-American Exchange of Notes of 1966 (regarding the lease of the island). [See attached copy of Question and Reply at the end of this article]
This reply comes like a cold shower on the hopes we had raised following the recent talks between the two Prime Ministers. We had fondly believed that the new British Prime Minister was better inclined than his predecessors to give us a fair deal over part of our territory that had been unlawfully excised before granting independence to Mauritius. Well, from Margaret Thatcher (who had stated that Diego Garcia would be returned to Mauritius when Britain would have no need of it) down to David Cameron, going through several foreign Affairs ministers of the UK, the same spirit of denial of our lawful rights is repeating itself.
Hopes were high that in view of the collaboration we were extending in the matter of trying and detaining Somali pirates in Mauritius, the tense relationship between the two countries in regard to Britain’s unlawful occupation of part of our territory, would thaw and that the days were not too far for our legitimate rights to be restored. Instead, we note that the same hypocrisy is being continued irrespective of which party or which Prime Minister is in command of Whitehall.
In view of this enduring and stiff refusal by the British to come to terms on this thorny issue, the question is put to our decision makers as to whether we should not go directly to officially establish Britain’s unlawful occupation of the Chagos Archipelago. It looks like this remains the only avenue left to make the British come to reason in the matter. It is only if and when Britain would be confronted with its ignominious act in a court of justice that it will pay any attention to the various half measures we have been proposing (e.g., leaseback of the islands by us to the US after sovereignty is restored). Only then will the airs of British condescension in view of our close ties, etc., come to the crunch. We need not lose our way in the various tangles that could betray our real cause, which is the restoration pure and simple of our sovereignty over the so-called BIOT. The hypocrisy has lasted long enough.
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House of Lords Q&A Session
Asked by Lord Avebury
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether any talks agreed by the United Kingdom Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Mauritius at their meeting on 8 June will cover the return of the Chagossian people, the restoration of Mauritian sovereignty over the Chagos Islands, and the ability of Mauritius to participate in the 2014 negotiations concerning the 1966 agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States, which expires in 2016. [HL633]
20 Jun 2012 : Column WA293
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): The meeting held on 8 June was to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Piracy. The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was raised but there was no detailed discussion of the return of the Chagossians, though the Mauritian Prime Minister stated that he thought that the islanders’ way of life was sustainable on the islands. There was no commitment to talks with Mauritius on the sovereignty of BIOT, over which the UK has no doubts: the islands have been British since 1814. Nor was there a commitment to involve Mauritius in any extension of the 1966 Exchange of Notes.
* Published in print edition on 16 August 2019