David Snoxell is entitled to his opinion and I do not doubt his sincerity of purpose. In fact we may be defending the same principles even though it may appear to be at cross-purposes. Mr Snoxell states: “…the exile of the Chagos islanders was, however, a violation of the UN charter and other international legal instruments. The British Government needs to put this right first and restore the Chagossians’ right to return to their homeland. Clearly Britain continues to spend vast riches on the protection of the Falkland islanders and virtually nothing on the Chagos islanders.”
However he should not treat the excision of the Chagos Archipelago from the Mauritian territory as a trivial matter or a secondary issue – a ‘fait divers’. It was a plain unlawful act, which resulted in the dismemberment of the Mauritian territory. It brought sufferings and hardship to the exiled islanders and denied Mauritius an important part of its territory. The dismemberment of the Mauritian territory was in clear violation of UN General Assembly Resolutions (UNGA Resolution 1514 and 2066) and it serves no purpose to keep repeating that the excision was approved by a Council of Ministers which, in any event, was presided by a Governor General representing UK’s interests at a time when Mauritius was under colonial rule. We should remind ourselves what UNGA 1514 of 1960 states:
“any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations.”
Five years later, the United Nations recalling its resolution 1514 (xv) of 1 December 1960, the General Assembly resolution 2066(xx) of 1965 “noted with deep concern that any step taken by the administering Power to detach certain islands from the Territory of Mauritius for the purpose of establishment of a military base could be in contravention of the Declaration. It further invited the administering Power to take no action which would dismember the Territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity.” How does Foreign Secretary William Hague explain the non-compliance of his country with UNGA resolutions 1514 and 2066? Are these resolutions not in tune with the stated staunch beliefs of Britain in human and political rights of the 21st century, a principle that Mr Hague applies selectively in the case of the Falklands?
Much to the distaste of UK government, the sovereignty of Mauritius is inextricably linked to the plight of the Chagossians who were forcibly displaced from their native territory. Mauritius has made that point clear ever since its territory was dismembered by the UK. Today after the documents from the public records office have been made public, the truth about the Chagos tragedy has emerged, the lies that were so shrewdly concocted have surfaced up while the misrepresentations made to the Council of Ministers are well documented.
The UK government keeps repeating ad-nauseam:
“The British Government has always acknowledged however that Mauritius has a legitimate interest in the future of these islands and recognizes the Government of the Republic of Mauritius as the only state which has a right to assert a claim to sovereignty when the United Kingdom relinquishes its own sovereignty. The British Government has therefore given an undertaking to the Government of the Republic of Mauritius that, when the islands are no longer needed for the defence purposes of the United Kingdom and the United States, they will be ceded to Mauritius. There will be no sale or transfer by the British Government to the third party or any payment or financial obligation by Mauritius as a condition of such transfer when the time comes for transfer, the British Government will consult closely with the Government of the Republic of Mauritius and the Government of the United States over the modalities.” (See letter of Mr Howell Former High Commissioner 1st July 1992)
In July 2001, the then Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jack Straw wrote, stating: “The British Government acknowledges that Mauritius has a legitimate interest in the future of the islands and recognizes Mauritius as the only state which could assert a claim to the territory in the event that the United Kingdom relinquishes its own sovereignty.”
Yet deliberate attempts have been made to sever the question of sovereignty from the plight of the Chagossians with a view to frustrate Mauritius’ rights to the integrity of its territory. The Chagossians are considered as BIOT citizens and it is from that angle that the All Party Parliamentary Group wants to address the problem. The citizens of the so-called BIOT have rights to their homeland, which are Indian Ocean UK territories. So British fairness is at stake, how come the rights of holders of BIOT passports are being trampled?
It looks as if the strategy adopted is to protect their rights as long as they are on the side of the Crown. The issue of the sovereignty of Mauritius is being conveniently hushed up in the corridors of the House of Commons, let alone at a committee of the parliamentary group. The poor Olivier Bancoult had to acquiesce that the Chagossians would prefer to live in UK when quizzed by a parliamentarian group exploring the possibility of a return of the Chagossians.
Soon after the judgment of the Divisional Court in November 2000, UK acknowledged that the depopulation of the islands did not constitute the finest hour in UK foreign policy but that did not prevent the UK government from enacting two Orders-in-Council to achieve the same objective.
This has been the fate of the Chagossians who are now stuck up in Crawley carrying out menial jobs, unwanted by the locals, in and around the airport. In contrast, as Mr Snoxell points out, vast riches are being spent to look after the welfare of the Falkland islanders.
* Published in print edition on 3 February 2012