Post Chagos Proceedings
After half a century of independence, this small island nation has displayed a degree of maturity and a high level of self-confidence to dare challenge the might of the UK-US combine
“Arguably the intervention of the African Union by the side of Mauritius in The Hague can be construed as a game changing opportunity to be seized in the context of our new African policy. Indeed, a politically savvy move would be for the government of Mauritius to immediately respond by making some serious commitment in reciprocation. Among other things it could, for example, take a commitment that we shall open embassies in some important capitals on the Continent within a specific time frame…”
It is a reasonable contention that following the proceedings instituted by Mauritius against the United Kingdom at the International Court of Justice in the Hague last week, Mauritius’s international standing has grown an additional dimension. It surely sends a message to the international community that, after half a century of independence, this small island nation has displayed a degree of maturity and a high level of self-confidence to dare challenge the might of the United Kingdom-United States combine for what it deems to be a legitimate cause.
What is at stake is not only a bilateral issue between the two protagonists. Principles of international law are involved and the outcome of the confrontation at the Hague will impact many other territorial litigations.
No Mauritian could claim to have been insensitive to the display of professionalism and the excellent level of the performance of the Mauritian delegation, and indeed that of Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Minister Mentor and leader of the delegation, all through the proceedings during the week. A point that has not escaped Phillippe Sands QC, lead counsel of the Mauritian party, who stated “… I have never worked for a country in which the professionalism of the civil service and the organization of people I have been privileged to work with in the capital of Port Louis, has been better. It is a level of professionalism that is astonishing for any country and that compounded with what happened in the Court this week.”
This point needs to be made if only for one reason: by contrast it goes to show how much talent, expertise and professionalism go to waste in the Civil Service when lack of consensus due to tainted partisan divisions and undue intervention by politicians weigh on the decision-making process on critical national issues.
There have been several important “moments” which have marked the events in the Hague last week. Among those one would count the short preliminary presentation of our case by SAJ and the emotive, humane and heart-breaking description of her personal experience by the Chagossian representative Ms Liseby Elysee.
Display of African solidarity: a need for reciprocation
For the purposes of what will follow we shall also retain as a critical “moment” the intervention by the representatives of the African Union who pulled no punches in their support of the case for the completion of the still unfinished process of decolonization of one of its members while upholding one of the founding principles of its Charter.
Arguably the intervention of the African Union by the side of Mauritius in The Hague can be construed as a game changing opportunity to be seized in the context of our new African policy. Indeed, a politically savvy move would be for the government of Mauritius to immediately respond by making some serious commitment in reciprocation. Among other things it could, for example, take a commitment that we shall open embassies in some important capitals on the Continent within a specific time frame.
Good politics is often a matter of seizing the fleeting opportunity and it is most unlikely that a similar situation would come up anytime soon. Mauritius should therefore take steps to shift its relationship with Africa into higher gear. In this context there is a clear need to send explicit signals that the new economic and business relationship which we wish to establish with the continent has shifted from the realm of the purely technico-commercial into the realm of the socio-political.
The adoption of such a strategy would of course require some radical changes in the way in which we deal with a few of the important issues which come up in several ongoing negotiations with our African allies in the context of the SADC or the COMESA for example. Furthering greater regional integration may in a number of instances require the sacrificing of some immediate mercantilist gains in the interest of long-term goodwill and interest; such a decision would however be beyond the scope of “trade negotiators” unless they have had the prior acquiescence of the political establishment.
In short, it is being argued that the recent proceedings in The Hague have proven to be a status-quo shattering moment. They have opened a window of opportunity for Mauritius to build upon the reaffirmed reputation of strength and competence as well as the sympathy generated in Africa to push forward with our new Africa strategy.
Threat of retaliation
Beyond the legitimate pride felt by most Mauritians and the hope of a positive outcome there is a lurking fear that the UK will retaliate and “punish” the country for having dared challenge it at the International Court of Justice. In these post-Trump and post-Brexit days, it is difficult to be sure about the turn of events in international diplomacy – a realm in which the erstwhile “rules of engagement” no longer offer any guarantees. Who can guess what a Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of the UK (a distinct possibility as we write) would do under such circumstances?
One must not forget, however, that this is not strictly a David versus Goliath situation. The large number of “allies” who have supported our case, including the African Union, India and China is a real asset which certainly needs to be nurtured by our diplomats. Any rash action against Mauritius would certainly be perceived as an unjust attack against a country which had dared to have recourse to legal means available to it to challenge the all-powerful might of the US/UK combine for what is considers to be a legitimate cause. Presumably a post Brexit Britain in search of new allies would be more cautious and mindful of the reactions from the above quarters.
The case of Pravind Jugnauth at the Privy Council
Conspiracy theorists are having a field day regarding the eventual repercussions of the Hague events on the decision of the Lord Justices of the Privy Council who will be hearing the case in mid-January next. The insinuations are obvious. Despite our firm conviction that several UK governments have acted inhumanely, unfairly and illegally in dismembering our nation on the eve of independence, it would be casting aspersions on the motivation of the Lord Justices of the Privy Council. That is definitely a step we would loathe to take.
* Published in print edition on 13 September 2018