In his editorial in L’Express Dimanche, Jean Claude de l’Estrac, was of the view that we should not attribute any sinister motive to the decision of the UK government to invite public consultation on its marine park project in the Chagos Archipelago. I do not doubt the bona fide views of Mr De L’Estrac. He is after all entitled to his opinion. I would like nevertheless to enumerate six good reasons why we should never trust the UK government. First, during the 1965 constitutional talks, the British had concealed their true intent about Diego Garcia. The official communiqué mentions the use of Diego Garcia as a communication centre for maritime shipping. The Exchange Notes which have emerged since from the Public Records Office confirm that during the same period and even before (in 1964 a joint US-UK survey took place over the islands), the British were negotiating with the US government for the establishment of a base on Diego Garcia in exchange for free Polaris missiles.
Second, confronted with the dilemma of having to comply with the UN charter under the Principles of International Law they deliberately chose to lie to the United Nations on the presence of permanent inhabitants on the Chagos Archipelagos. Telegram No 2839 addressed to the Foreign Office on 8 November 1965 is clear evidence of the lie fabricated by the UK government to hide the fact that there were permanent inhabitants living on Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Solomon islands. In order to give credence to their lie, they came up with yet another fabulation that the local population were labourers recruited to work in the local copra manufacture. UK was particularly concerned about the application of Article 73 of the UN charter. A communication sent to the Colonial Secretary of the so-called BIOT made no doubt about the intent of UK and says: “Our primary objective in dealing with the people who are at present in the Territory must be to deal with them in the way which will meet our administrative and military needs… we propose to avoid any reference to “permanent inhabitants”.
Later on the Foreign Office commented in terms which characterized the shameful British conspiracy. The Permanent Undersecretary made no bones of the intention of the UK government when he said that we must be tough about this and the “object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous populations except seagulls who have not yet got a Committee (the Status of Women Committee does not cover the rights of Birds). Unfortunately, along with the Birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays whose origins are obscure, and who are being hopefully wished on to Mauritius, etc. When this has been done I agree we must be very tough and a submission is being done accordingly”.
The conspiracy did not stop there. The famous section 20 (4) was then inserted in our Constitution so that all Chagossians were made Mauritian citizens and any link of permanency with the Chagos was severed.
Third, throughout the Lancaster Talks there is an express undertaking that UK would use its good offices to ensure that the fishing rights of Mauritius are preserved in the territorial waters of the Chagos. They went further by promising that any rights to minerals and oil would revert to Mauritius. The UK now enjoys all the fishing rights over the territorial waters and cash in on lucrative revenues. They insist that Mauritian ships should pay the prevailing license fees.
Fourth, following the judgment of the High Court declaring that the Chagossians were entitled to return to their homeland, Robin Cook then Foreign Secretary issued a press release giving an undertaking on behalf of the UK government that the latter would not be appealing against the judgment. The work of the feasibility of resettling the Ilois according to the press release was now made a priority. The press release went on: “This Government has not defended what was done or said some thirty years ago. And no attempt was made to conceal the gravity of what happened.” Four years later, on 10 June 2004, the UK surreptitiously had recourse to an Order-in-Council depriving once again the right of the Chagossians to their homeland. A shameful instrument said to be a prerogative order, a legacy of the powers wielded in the days of the monarchy was resorted to take away the basic human rights of a population, the right to their homeland.
Fifth, the UK repeats ad nauseam of its intention to return the islands when no longer required for defence purposes – which will happen when the world goes back to magnetic compass navigation, as the Americans have turned Chagos into an essential component of their GPS system. We recall that the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches were returned to the Seychelles.
Sixth, the latest initiative of the Foreign Secretary David Milliband has been to attend a function of a group of UK-based Chagosssians who describe themselves as the administration in waiting. For quite some time now there has been an attempt to trigger a referendum for the self determination of the Chagossians. It is a direct attack on the sovereignty of Mauritius. The same modus operandi is used in the case of the Falklands. The report made in the Economist edition of February is quite revealing. The protests made by Argentina’s government before the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation on the violation of their sovereignty are countered by the representatives from Falkland Islands who in turn claim their right to self-determination. The islanders deny they want to be reunited with Argentina and consider themselves as a colony of Britain. This is likely to be the strategy against our right to our sovereignty. This is why it was so important to have a united front of all the Chagossians of Mauritian origin. It was also important to hear from the Mr Bancoult that the sovereignty issue and the right of return are one and the same battle.
We have already committed a major blunder when in 1982 the Mauritian government signed an agreement with the UK government ‘in full and final settlement of all claims whatsoever… against the Government of the United Kingdom by or on behalf the Ilois”. Article 2 of the Agreement is a gem of a clause. It says that the claims refers to “any incidents, facts or situations, whether past, present or future occurring in the course of the events or arising out of the consequences of the events”. The document was signed by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs. Shame!