On 24 August 1966, Sir Paul Gore-Booth, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, wrote: “We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours. There will be no indigenous population except seagulls.” This was the famous lie resorted to by the British government in order to hide from the international community the fact of the existence of an indigenous population of some 1000 inhabitants in the Chagos Islands. At the bottom of the page where Gore-Booth wrote his famous lie, a postscript handwritten by another senior official reads: “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.”
A solution had to be found urgently. It was Anthony Greenwood — who had all along mollycoddled our political leaders into believing that he was looking after our interests — who came up with a proposal inviting Harold Wilson to urge the Queen to quickly approve an Order-in-Council detaching the islands so that a new colony could be declared and the “UN placed before a fait accompli”.
What Greenwood never disclosed at the negotiations table was that the British had already entered into a firm agreement with the Americans in February 1964, to convert the Chagos and in particular Diego Garcia into a military base.
Greenwood had in the meantime visited Mauritius and threw the carrot of independence on the table making total abstraction of the fact that the integrity of the Mauritian territory had been violated in breach of UN Resolution 2066. Under the pretext that Mauritius would only come to Mauritians at a price, the truth about what was being concocted behind the back of our political leaders was never revealed.
There were two issues on the mind of the colonial masters. First, it was important to ensure that the detachment of the Chagos was accomplished; second, the more pressing issue was the question of the Chagossian population. The problem, as the British officials love to put it, was not insurmountable. Practically the whole population would be deported to Mauritius; the remaining few who had links with Seychelles would be taken to Seychelles.
In fact the main objective of Greenwood’s visit to Mauritius was to convince the Mauritian colonial government to accept the Chagossians. There was not much choice or debate on the question. There were in the eyes of the local politicians other pressing economic issues and after all the British had promised a sum of three million pounds to rehabilitate the deported Chagossians.
The negotiations, much to the satisfaction of the British, were mainly centred on the question of a guaranteed sugar quota and price, a promise which the British were willing to keep. It was at this juncture then that the British came up with a ruse — a stratagem which up till now remains a stain on our Constitution. In order to give legal flesh to what has been all along an unlawful and despicable breach of human rights over the removal of the Chagossians from the Chagos, they took the decision to insert in our Constitution the provision that the Chagossians were Mauritian citizens all along.
The British ruse was meant to achieve two things. First, the Chagossians would become the responsibility of the Mauritian government even though they considered the Chagos Islands theirs and they could thereby wash their hands of the Chagossian problem. Second, by making sure that the Chagossians had Mauritian nationality, they would be able to tell the UN that these people were Mauritians who had returned to their homeland after they had been compensated for their loss of livelihood. The deceit was well planned and well executed.
At Section 20 (4) of the Mauritius Constitution, it is provided that : “… a person shall be regarded as having been born in Mauritius if he was born in the territories which were comprised in the former Colony of Mauritius immediately before 8 November 1965 but were not so comprised immediately before 12 March 1968…” The reference made to 8 November 1965 is simply another way of saying the date on which the territory of Mauritius was dismembered and the Chagossian population removed from the Chagos.
It is quite an irony that today the same British government is inviting the Chagossians to take up UK citizenship. Their motive is certainly not humanitarian. They are concerned that the European Court of Human Rights may rule against them and ask that the Chagossians be allowed to return to the Chagos. They will never accede to any ruling on the part of the European Court. They will simply be telling “their” Chagossians citizens that the islands are out of bounds for security reasons.
In the meantime, Mauritius will welcome US ships from the Diego Garcia base should they catch pirates in the region and have them transferred to Mauritius for trial.
* Published in print edition on 8 October 2010