Chagos: Minister’s Call for a Common Platform
The Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr Arvin Boolell has struck the right chord when he made an appeal to a “solidarité sans faille” over the Chagos file. It was an important call for a united front at a time when the UK government is trying, as rightly pointed out by Ram Seegobin in a letter to Greenpeace, “a grotesquely transparent ruse to perpetuate the banning of the people of Mauritius and Chagos from part of their own country”. It could not have been a better timing for Olivier Bancoult to state unequivocally in public, that the sovereignty of Mauritius and the return of the Mauritians of Chagossian origin to Chagos Archipelagos are one and the same battle.
The Leader of the Opposition has also sobered down with the benefit of hindsight. After almost four decades, he has now realised that Sir Seewoosagur was in no position to challenge the unilateral decision of the UK government. The so-called decision taken by the Cabinet agreeing to cede Chagos Archipelagos to the UK government had taken place prior to independence allegedly “endorsed” by a Cabinet of Ministers which was presided by the Governor General of the colony of Mauritius. It certainly had no legitimacy over what it did and the so-called decision to cede the Chagos Archipelago and dismember the territorial integrity of Mauritius was incompatible with the principles of international law. Now that the Chagos files are in the public domain, there is absolutely no doubt that UK has lied to, misled, betrayed and blackmailed all those stakeholders who took part in the 1965 constitutional talks held at Lancaster House over the independence of Mauritius.
The Minister should now walk his talk and create a common platform for consultation. It should include the Leader of the Opposition, Olivier Bancoult and a representative of LALIT. The latter have consistently offered valuable suggestions and innovative ideas on possible political and diplomatic initiatives and clearly should be included in the consultation process. It will be a unique opportunity to circumvent any attempt by the UK government to sever the question of the return of the islanders to Chagos from that of the sovereignty issue.
In fact it has never been on the agenda of the UK government to authorise the return the islanders as Bancoult was led to believe. After their pyrrhic victory before the House of Lords, they have come up with another masquerade to deny Mauritians of Chagossian origin to return to their homeland. On Tuesday in reply to a question from a representative of the Liberal Democrat party in the House of Lords, Baroness Kinnock, who once spoke of the grave injustice to the Chagossians when she was a Member of the European Parliament, replied that the use “of the facility on Diego Garcia is governed by a series of Exchange Notes between the UK and US and imposes treaty obligations on both parties. Because of these treaty obligations, we have been discussing the possible creation of marine area with US. Neither we nor the US would want the creation of a marine protected area to have any impact on the operational capability of the base on Diego Garcia. For this reason and as has been set out in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office public consultation document, it may be necessary to consider the exclusion of Diego Garcia and its three-mile territorial waters from any marine protected area”.
The US- UK Exchange Notes was initially drawn up on 30 December 1966 by virtue of which the United States was purportedly licensed to use the Chagos Archipelago for the defence purposes of the United States and that of the United Kingdom. On this issue the two states stand, as they put it, shoulder to shoulder. In fact the 1966 Exchange Note reached in blatant violation of the UN Resolution 2066, was followed by several other exchanges and the Mauritian government should be aware that the 2014 deadline expressed in the initial Exchange Note has been superseded. There is no deadline so far imposed on the US government.
The assertion made on 11 July 1980 and reiterated by successive UK governments that the excised islands would return to Mauritius when no longer required for defence purposes has been interpreted as a recognition of the interests of Mauritius. But let us not fool ourselves. It means what it means. The contradiction does not stop here. So far neither the UK nor the US have been able to explain how on earth they saw no hindrance, notwithstanding the 1966 Exchange of Notes, allowing the use of the islands for defence purposes, to a newly independent Republic of Seychelles enjoying sovereignty over three of the islands forming part of the Chagos Archipelagos, namely the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches.
Moreover and this is why I believe the Leader of Opposition is mistaken when he speaks of a window of opportunity, we should not overlook the fact that before the House of Lords the US government made their position clear on the basis of the respective obligations arising from the Exchange Notes that the presence of the islanders on the other islands would not be compatible with the operational capability of the base on Diego Garcia.
We should now raise the stakes given the lack of progress through diplomatic and political initiatives. The time has come to seriously contemplate going to the ICJ for an advisory opinion. This item should be prioritised on the agenda of the common platform.