2010: Sovereignty over Chagos at Stake

The application entered on behalf on Mr Bancoult and his friends by the law firm Clifford Chance before the European Court of Human Rights is likely to be heard by July 2010.  The Government of Mauritius should pay close attention to the outcome of the case as it runs the risk of being relegated to the backseat, if not abandoned by the roadside, in its claim to exercise its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelagos.


The application to the European Court is based on the violation of human rights on a grand scale by the Government of the United Kingdom. The latter is accused inter-alia of depopulating the Chagos Archipelagos, thus depriving its entire population of their human dignity as well as their home and knowingly deceiving the United Nations by representing that there were no permanent inhabitants in the islands of the Chagos to avoid incurring its international obligations under Article 73 of the UN Charter.

In that respect it should be recalled that the UK government had adopted an attitude described by them as a “quiet disregard” to the existence of permanent inhabitants on the Chagos. The then Permanent Under Secretary at the Colonial Office wrote: 

We must surely be very tough about this.  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).”
 Mr Greenhill, in reply, commented: “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.”

In another document, written after 1966, it was stated: “We could not accept the principles governing our otherwise universal behaviour in our dependent territories, we could not accept that the interests of the inhabitants were paramount and that we should develop self-government there.  We therefore consider that the best way in which we can satisfy those objectives, when our action comes under scrutiny in the United Nations, would be to assert from the start, if the need arose, that this territory did not fall within the scope of Chapter XI of the United Nations Charter.”

Mr Bancoult has enough materials on hand to satisfy the Court of the serious violations of human rights that had occurred at the time. In fact the UK government has already conceded on this issue by stating that it does not seek “to defend the morality of what was done or said nearly 40 years ago and made no attempt to conceal the gravity of what happened”.

The applicants have undoubtedly reasonable prospects of success.  Behind the applicants though comes a powerhouse by the name of Clifford Chance better known for its incursions in investment projects around the world than for its commitment to human rights violations.  A feasibility study for the rehabilitation of the islanders on the two main islands other than Diego Garcia has already been made. There is a clear agenda to promote the islands as tourists’ resorts with the consent of the Chagossians. 

Mauritius should ask itself whether bilateral talks with the UK government would serve any purpose in the circumstances.  At the same time it knows perfectly well the road to the International Court of Justice at the Hague. 

On its agenda for 2010 Chagos should occupy a prominent place if it does not want to be a mere bystander.



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