Chagos issue at ICJ
Editorial TP Saran, Chagos Archipelago, Navin Ramgoolam, UNCLOS, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, United Nations General Assembly, International Court of Justice
A communiqué from the Prime Minister’s Office on 24 August 2018 informs that ‘Mauritius will participate in the public hearings which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will hold from 3 to 6 September 2018 in The Hague in the context of the request from the United Nations General Assembly for an advisory opinion of the ICJ on the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965’.
In fact, on 22 June 2017, the General Assembly adopted by 94 votes to 15, with 65 abstentions Resolution 71/292 entitled “Request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965”.
The communiqué clarifies that ‘The purpose of the advisory opinion sought by the General Assembly is to assist this organ of the United Nations in performing its functions in the field of decolonization, in accordance with the UN Charter’.
Further, ‘In Resolution 71/292, the General Assembly has asked the ICJ to give an advisory opinion on the following two legal questions:
(a) “Was the process of decolonization of Mauritius lawfully completed when Mauritius was granted independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and having regard to international law, including obligations reflected in General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, 2066 (XX) of 16 December 1965, 2232 (XXI) of 20 December 1966 and 2357 (XXII) of 19 December 1967?”; and
(b) “What are the consequences under international law, including obligations reflected in the above-mentioned resolutions, arising from the continued administration by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of the Chagos Archipelago, including with respect to the inability of Mauritius to implement a programme for the resettlement on the Chagos Archipelago of its nationals, in particular those of Chagossian origin?”
These two questions relate to the decolonization process of Mauritius which remains, in the view of Mauritius, incomplete. This is due to the unlawful excision of the Chagos Archipelago from the territory of Mauritius prior to its accession to independence in 1968.
It may be noted that 31 States, including Mauritius, and the African Union have filed written statements with the ICJ and that 10 States, including Mauritius, and the African Union have subsequently submitted written comments on the written statements filed with the ICJ.
With the holding of the hearings by the ICJ, a crucial stage has been reached in the efforts to complete the decolonization process of Mauritius.
By now all Mauritians have come to know and to appreciate that what is taking place on the Chagos issue is nothing more and nothing less than a carryover of our struggle for independence. From time to time it has unfortunately been coloured by an acrimonious debate which sought to imply that there was a backdoor deal made between Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and the British government during the negotiations, in effect a betrayal of the Chagossians.
Several articles in this paper have shown that this is untrue, based on evidence available from declassified documents which were cited. The fact is that at the time of negotiations the context was akin to putting a knife at the throat of SSR and of the Mauritian All Party Delegation which he led at Lancaster House. They were pressurised into giving their consent, but they did so after specifying certain conditions which the British had to meet – however, as is well known, the latter discarded all of them: might was, and still they think, is right.
If betrayal there has been, it was the British who are the culprits, not Mauritius which has never relented on the struggle.
At this stage it must be pointed out that the game changer in the struggle was the initiative of former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam to challenge the setting up of a marine park by the British government by taking the issue to UNCLOS. This victory gave hope that the larger battle could be won, as a window of opportunity had been opened for the Mauritian state to explore to the full all legal avenues for completing the decolonization process. Hence the move that was made to obtain a UN resolution, which was successful and has led to the ICJ hearings that will soon begin.
It must not forgotten also that the British have sought to make it appear as if it is a struggle by the Chagossian people and not the Mauritian state – ignoring the fact that Chagossians are of Mauritian origin, descendants of contract workers who had been recruited to work there. They dangled a carrot of 40 million pounds sterling in 2016 to lure the Chagossians who, in their wisdom, refused the offer.
For all parties concerned, it is important to take note of the final part of the communiqué from the PMO, which makes it clear that ‘The current request for an advisory opinion is not intended to put into question the military base in Diego Garcia. As Mauritius has reiterated on several occasions, it recognizes the existence of the base and accepts its continued and future operation in accordance with international law.
The request for an advisory opinion is not to be viewed as a confrontation between any States. It is only intended to facilitate the work of the United Nations as regards its clear mandate, under the United Nations Charter, to eradicate colonialism’.
Important as this objective is, we must not lose sight of the overriding objective – which is to uphold our sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. That will strengthen our position at the negotiating table when it comes to the other issues, namely obtaining the right of return and/or residence of the Mauritians of Chagos, and working out the terms and conditions for allowing the military base to keep operating on our territory.
* Published in print edition on 31 August 2018