Apartheid diplomacy. There are no other words to describe the hypocritical attitude adopted by the UK government vis-à-vis the Chagossians of Mauritian origin in contrast to their avowed policy of self-determination and deep respect for human rights, which is being applied in the case of the Falkland islanders.
In a letter to the Times newspaper last Saturday, the UK Foreign Secretary wrote, inter alia:
“The future of the Falkland islands is about people: their freedom to develop their own future and to determine their own community and economy; their right to self-determination remains and will always remain the cornerstone of our policy. This is in tune with the beliefs in human and political rights of the 21st century, but it is also rooted in history… The islanders of today live in a diverse and democratic society. Many have lived there for generations — there are children on the islands whose Falkland ancestry can be traced back nine generations…
“Only the islanders can be masters of their future. We will never impose a different kind of political association, or agree to changes in sovereignty unless and until the islanders themselves wish it. This has been the policy of successive British governments.
“… We will always ensure that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders and their right to self-determination are never in doubt.”
The Falkland islanders landed on the Falkland Islands some 170 years ago, around 1842, and today claim the Falkland as their homeland. The UK government has made it clear that it will respect their right to self-determination in the name of human and political rights.
Argentina, like Mauritius in the case of the Chagos, hotly disputes the British sovereignty claim over the Falklands.
In the case of the Chagossians of Mauritian origin, not one single opportunity is missed by the UK government to remind the Chagossians that they have no right of settlement over Diego Garcia nor over the other two inhabitable islands of the Chagos Archipelagos, Peros Banhos and Solomon, their birthplace. Yet, like the Falkland islanders, they have occupied these islands for several generations with a well-established ancestry dating back to 1780 and well before the settlement of the Falkland islanders.
The Falkland islanders are being protected at great expense by a military base on the island. The question of security and defence are not considered a hindrance to their continued existence on the island. On the contrary the military is there to look after their security. The funds allocated to protect and look after their welfare is never at issue. It is a question of pride, defending the values the motherland presumably stands for in the case of a far-flung territory thousands of miles away along the coast of Latin America.
Even Prince Williams, the heir to the British throne, has been asked to give a helping hand. He is expected to carry out a military operation as a helicopter pilot on the island to underline the Britishness of the place. They are being encouraged to exploit the natural resources in the maritime zone surrounding the island and they have already carried out a survey detecting the rich hydrocarbons that lie on the seabed. The Chagossians, on the other hand, are considered a threat to the marine environment, so much so that a Marine Protected Area has been established and the Chagossian Mauritians denied a right of return to their habitation in the mid-Indian Ocean.
Successive UK governments have stood before the UN General Assembly without blinking, telling unsavoury lies they had concocted to justify their blatant violations of the rights of the Chagossians to return to their homeland. We should ever be grateful to Wikileaks for exposing their true colours and real motivations in establishing a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos.
Argentina has now retaliated by denying air and sea access to the islanders. So have a number of Latin American states. Argentina has refused to have any negotiations with the British until it is able to exercise its sovereignty over the Falklands. Unlike Argentina, Mauritius unfortunately does not have the muscle and means to retaliate against the blatant double measure.
The fact remains that when it comes to the Chagossians, the UK government is oblivious to their political and human rights. Is it due to the fact that they are of African descent? The scales tip to one side when certain specific considerations come into play as concerns the so-called principles of the former colonial masters, don’t they?
* Published in print edition on 27 January 2012