Future of Diego Garcia: Hearings of the Chagos Case Against the UK

September 5th, 2018 - by admin

Lindsey Collen / LALIT & Talk Nation Radio & Roland Oliphant / The Telegraph & Larry Luxner / The Washington Diplomat & Harriet Alexander / The Telegraph – 2018-09-05 00:57:12


This 1998 aerial view shows the US Naval Station on Diego Garcia, a remote speck of land in the Indian Ocean administered by Great Britain, which signed a 50-year treaty with the United States in 1966 allowing it to build a military outpost there.

International Letter on the
Hearings of the Chagos Case Against the UK

Times and Days for Mauritius Case
v. Britain re Chagos/Diego Garcia

Lindsey Collen / LALIT

MAURITIAS (September 1, 2018) — Dear Comrades, Friends, Colleagues,

The Diego Garcia (Chagos) case against Britain is coming up at the International Court of Justice at the Hague on 3, 4, 5 and 6 September. It is quite exciting that some light is finally being shed on this British-US land-grab of 1965!

Hearings will be streamed live and on demand (VOD) in English and French on the ICJ site as well as on UN Web TV, the official UN site.

We attach the detailed timetable in both PDF and Excel formats — so that you are likely to be able to open one of them. You can see if your Government is giving an oral submission and/or written one. And spot other key countries’ times. We have also indicated how the country concerned voted at the UN General Assembly on June 2017 about whether to send the matter to the ICJ or not.

If you are nearby, you can queue up in the morning, as there are seats allotted to the public every day (No Bookings).

We realise that this is an Advisory Opinion, but politics is influenced by such things. We also realise that the importance of this hearing is that all over the world people get to know about the triple crime:

* Dismembering by UK of a colony prior to, and as condition of, Independence.

* Forcibly removing all the Mauritian Chagossians to Mauritius main island.

* Having conspired to set up a “dark site” for a US military base, from which other crimes are perpetrated — illegal wars like on Iraq and rendering of illegal prisoners and torture; in addition to nuclear materials being stored in flagrant disrespect for the binding UN Penindaba Treaty; as well as constant ruination of the natural environment around Diego Garcia.

We also realize that without our mobilization of the people of Mauritius, Chagossians, women and the working class in particular, Mauritius’ Government would never have taken the matter to the ICJ in the first place.

Warm wishes from Mauritius,
Lindsey Collen

Justice for an Island Whose Population
Was Removed for a US Military Base

David Swanson and Rani Lalit / Talk Nation Radio

Listen to the broadcast here.

Rajni Lallah is a leading member of LALIT (which means struggle), a political organization in Mauritius in the forefront for the past 42 years of the struggle to decolonize and demilitarize the Chagos Islands. Rajni Lallah was 12 years old when she joined the women’s movement in Mauritius and remains active in Muvman Liberasyon Fam, a national women’s organization in Mauritius.

When she was 14, she went to the first solidarity all-night vigil in support of Chagossian women on hunger strike after they had been deported by the UK-USA military to Mauritius island and has been active on the Chagos front ever since. She is a musician, composer and music teacher by profession.

At the time of Mauritian independence around 1968, the UK “depopulated” the Chagos archipelago, and then excised it from the rest of Mauritius to make way for a U.S. military base on Diego Garcia, one of the islands forming part of the Chagos archipelago. We discuss the case being heard in the International Court of Justice this week.

International Court of Justice Begins Hearing on
Britain’s Separation of Chagos Islands from Mauritius

Roland Oliphant / The Telegraph

(September 3, 2018) — Britain has apologised for the “shameful” way it evicted islanders from the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean, but insisted Mauritius was wrong to bring a dispute over sovereignty of the strategic atoll group to the United Nations’ top court.

The apology came on the first day of a hearing on the future of the islands, the site of a key UK and US military base, at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Mauritius has asked the ICJ for a legal opinion on sovereignty over the archipelago on the grounds they were “unlawfully” separated and incorporated it into British Indian Ocean Territory ahead of independence.

The hearing is seen as a critical test of Britain’s diplomatic clout in the Brexit era, after it failed to rally enough to support to prevent the UN General Assembly adopting the resolution that led to this week’s hearing.

Britain paid Mauritius £3 million for the Chagos Islands, which it then reassigned to British Indian Ocean Territory, in 1965. In the 1970s Britain forcefully evicted around 2,000 local residents to make way for a sprawling US military airbase on the largest island, Diego Garcia.

They and their descendants have been campaigning for the right to return home ever since.

Anerood Jugnauth, a former Mauritian president leading the island-state’s case, told the court that Harold Wilson had bullied Mauritian leaders into signing off on the “unlawful” sale just before independence, and said Mauritius’ “decolonisation is incomplete”.

“The choice we were faced with was no choice at all: it was independence with detachment (of the Chagos archipelago) or no independence with detachment anyway,” Mr. Jugnauth told the 14-judge panel.

Mauritian advocates played a film featuring evicted Chagos islanders saying they wanted to return to the island of their birth to back up their case. Robert Buckland, the UK Solicitor General, said London “fully accepts the manner in which Chagossians were removed from the Chagos Archipelago.”

“The way they were treated thereafter was shameful and wrong and (Britain) deeply regrets that fact,” he told ICJ judges.

But he added that the question of sovereignty was “purely bilateral” and that the court should not issue an opinion on it. Britain has apologised for the eviction in the past, but has consistently refused to allow Chagossians to return to the islands.

In 2016 the Foreign Office said it would establish a £40 million resettlement fund for displaced islanders.

The ICJ will hand down a non-binding “advisory opinion” after the four-day hearing, although the final ruling could take weeks or months to be delivered.

A ruling in favour of Mauritius would strengthen the country’s hand in negotiations about the final status of the islands, which could lead to a formal claim for restoration.

The resolution asking the ICJ to offer a legal opinion was brought by Mauritius and backed by African countries.

It passed when when several European countries abstained, in what was a diplomatic blow to Britain.

Twenty-two countries and the African Union are to make statements during the four-day hearing.

Australia and the United States are expected to back Britain’s position that the matter should be decided bilaterally, not by the courts.

Seventeen others, including South Africa and Nigeria, are expected to back Mauritius.

Mauritius Lobbies to Regain Control
Of Diego Garcia, Site of US Base

Larry Luxner / The Washington Diplomat

(June 26, 2014) — Diego Garcia, a remote speck of land in the middle of the Indian Ocean, rarely makes news. But in recent months, the coral atoll has grabbed the attention of online conspiracy theorists who claim the missing Malaysian Airlines jet secretly landed there as part of some clandestine US military operation.

The obscure island even got a mention in the latest installment of the Fox TV show “24,” as super-agent Jack Bauer rushes to thwart terrorists who’ve hijacked a group of American drones at the exact time that the US president is trying to convince Britain to extend a treaty allowing the use of drones on its base in Diego Garcia.

As dramatic as these references are, they do hint at the island’s strategic value just as the United States, Great Britain and Mauritius prepare for talks on the future of the Chagos archipelago, which includes Diego Garcia.

At issue: Who, exactly, owns this tiny island 1,000 miles east of Mauritius and 2,900 miles northwest of Australia?

In 1965, three years before Mauritius won independence, Great Britain detached the Chagos archipelago from the rest of its then-colony and created the British Indian Ocean Territory to administer the islands from London. The following year, it signed a 50-year treaty with the United States that allowed Americans to establish a military outpost on Diego Garcia; in return, it secured a discount on US Polaris missiles. In the process, Britain kicked out about 2,000 native Chagossians to make way for the American outpost.

In the ensuing years, the Pentagon has spent untold billions of dollars turning Diego Garcia into a satellite tracking station, an enormous air and naval base with a 12,000-foot runway from which bombing raids on both Iraq and Afghanistan have been launched, and — some claim — a secret “black site” where CIA personnel detained and tortured suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.

At present, 1,700 military personnel and 1,500 civilian contractors live on the island, which is off-limits to tourists and requires US government permission to visit.

The 1966 treaty expires in December 2016, but requires Washington and London to renegotiate the lease two years earlier — by the end of 2014. Mauritius is lobbying to be included in those talks and, ultimately, regain control of the island. At the time of the treaty, Britain said the Chagos islands would be returned to Mauritius when they were no longer required for defense purposes, a vague definition that’s open to legal interpretation. So far, the United States has not indicated whether it would sideline Britain to give Mauritius a say in the talks.

“Our concern is about sovereignty,” said Milan J.N. Meetarbhan, the Mauritian ambassador to the United Nations. “What we want is that after 2016 … there would be an agreement between the US and Mauritius on the use of Diego Garcia as a military base. The terms of that agreement would in no way be less than the terms of the present agreement with the UK”

Meetarbhan, who is based in New York, spoke to The Washington Diplomat during a visit here arranged by Mercury Public Affairs, a PR firm representing the Mauritian government.

Despite its remoteness from Mauritius, the envoy said, “We believe the excision of Diego Garcia from Mauritius prior to independence in 1968 was a breach of international law. We’ve always said this was part of our territory, and we’ve reached a point now where we think there’s a very good window of opportunity to resolve this dispute.”

The Chagos archipelago consists of half a dozen main islands; Diego Garcia is the largest and southernmost of the chain.

“Diego Garcia has no native inhabitants,” Meetarbhan explained. “When the Americans first expressed interest in having a military base there, the British told them there was nobody living on the island. Subsequently, when the base was about to be set up, they found about 2,000 people there. All of them were forcibly deported to Mauritius.”

To date, the indigenous population has kept up calls to be resettled on the island. Complicating matters is Britain’s declaration of a 545,000-square-mile marine reserve around the archipelago. The reserve, announced in April 2010, is now the focus of a hearing by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), a United Nations-backed tribunal based in the Netherlands. The PCA plans to hold a series of proceedings in Turkey, but they will be closed to the public.

Yet a British Foreign Office cable from 2009 that was exposed by WikiLeaks raised suspicion that the marine reserve declaration was just a ploy to keep the Chagossians from ever returning to Diego Garcia. The memo quotes a British official as saying that “former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve,” contemptuously describing them as “Man Fridays.”

The memo also noted, however, that Mauritius’s main interest in the territory was its economic potential as a fishery, not its environmental protection — and that US-UK stewardship of the island, even though it came at the cost of expelling the native population, has preserved its “pristine” condition.

The British government, which receives no money for leasing Diego Garcia to the Americans, declined to comment on the dispute, calling it a confidential legal matter.

But J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, says Meetarbhan’s argument is “absurd” and has no legal merit whatsoever.

“The fact is, Great Britain was the acknowledged sovereign of the British Empire’s East Indian Ocean territories,” Pham told us. “It chose to divide Diego Garcia and neighboring islands from the rest of Mauritius before independence, and then subsequently gave Mauritius independence and chose to lease Diego Garcia to the United States. Mauritius claims they had no right to redraw the border.”

By that logic, Pham said, southern Somalia must be returned to Kenya — the country that territory once belonged to before Britain gave it to Italy as a reward for the Italians entering World War I on the Allied side.

“There’s a domestic political agenda in Mauritius,” Pham added. “A small group of people who are descendants of those evicted by the British has formed a vocal constituency, which plays well domestically. Two, Mauritius is largely irrelevant, but this raises its profile considerably.”

Pham says there’s “no realistic chance” of Mauritius getting what it wants, no matter how hard it lobbies the Pentagon or Congress.

“If you accept the premise of what they’re arguing, we’d be opening so many cans of worms around the world, there’d be no end to it,” the Africa expert warned. “Diego Garcia, as our recent wars in the Middle East have shown, has been a critical part of the US military infrastructure overseas. We’re not going to turn on an ally such as Great Britain because of the domestic political considerations of a country that doesn’t even maintain an embassy in Washington.”

Mauritius does, in fact, have a Washington embassy on N Street, though the dispute over Diego Garcia is being handled by the country’s U.N. mission in New York.

A prosperous nation of 1.3 million inhabitants, Mauritius is Africa’s highest-ranking country when it comes to good governance and ease of doing business. And its annual per-capita GDP of nearly $10,000 is among the continent’s highest.

“We’ve come a long way since independence, when our economy was nothing except sugar. We’ve diversified and now sugar is less than 10 percent of our GDP,” Meetarbhan said. These days, garment manufacturing, tourism and financial services dominate the economy.

Yet the ambassador says solving the Chagos archipelago dispute is “a matter of principle.”

“We are not talking about money. We think it was wrong and unfair to deport these people. It was wrong to detach part of our territory. Now that this agreement is going to expire, we think it’s an opportune time for the United States in particular to be on the right side of history,” he said, adding that “nobody’s living [on Diego Garcia], but obviously if this is part of Mauritian territory, the prohibitions applied by the UK on visiting these islands will be lifted.”

Meetarbhan insists that it is in Washington’s interests to resolve the matter, especially because that would enable it to avoid legal and political controversies at a time when it wants to enlist Africa’s help in the war on terrorism and other sensitive issues.

“We want all three parties — the US, the UK and Mauritius — to start talking about what happens after 2016,” he said. “The UK has always said the islands would be returned to Mauritius once they are no longer required for defense purposes. So if these defense purposes can be met by an agreement between Mauritius and the United States, there’s no point to continue this dispute.”

Meetarbhan said that ultimately, “it’s for the United States to decide” the fate of Diego Garcia, whose original inhabitants were offered limited compensation in the 1980s. The ambassador told us he doesn’t expect the Pentagon to give up its most important outpost in the Indian Ocean — just to respect the island’s original inhabitants.

“The Chagossians are asking for the right of return, to visit the graves of their ancestors. The African Union has adopted a unanimous resolution supporting us, and we’ve had a similar resolution adopted by the Non-Aligned Movement,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a matter of getting it right and putting an end to the last vestige of colonialism in Africa.”

Barbudans Claim of ‘Land Grab’ as Government
Attempts to Reform Laws on Hurricane-devastated Island

Harriet Alexander / The Telegraph

NEW YORK (December 23, 2017) — People who lost everything in Hurricane Irma in Barbuda are now gearing up for another fight, attempting to block a governmental reform that they say will force them off their land just as they prepare to rebuild their lives.

John Mussington’s home, and his school, were left with significant damage when Hurricane Irma hit. Buildings were flattened, trees uprooted, and the lush tropical landscape turned into a barren wasteland.

Yet Mr. Mussington, the principal of the only secondary establishment on the island, was philosophical. The 1,800 residents of Barbuda had been evacuated to neighbouring Antigua, and after the September 6 storm he expected at the time to simply return and rebuild.

Now, however, three months later, his situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse — and he is fighting not to lose the very island itself.

“Our worst fears have been realised,” he told The Telegraph. “The powers that be want us off our land.”

Mr. Mussington, 56, is ready for a fight.

On December 20 he and his fellow islanders went to the high court of Antigua and Barbuda to attempt to see off the reform.

They have enlisted the help of Leslie Thomas QC, the London-based barrister who represented 11 of the 96 families of Hillsborough Stadium victims, as well as the family of Mark Duggan.

Mr. Thomas argued that the repeal of the 2007 Barbudan land reform act is being carried out without proper consultation of the islanders themselves.

Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, argues in turn that the land reform will empower the islanders.

Mr. Mussington and Mr. Thomas beg to differ.

The land on Barbuda, a tiny Caribbean outpost, has been communally owned for generations. The law originates from an unofficial tenure system, established following the islanders’ emancipation from slavery, whereby land acquired would be handed down to descendants and bush land would be held in commonage.

When Barbuda gained its independence from Britain in 1981, the custom survived, and was enshrined in the 2007 land act. That law prevented the purchase of land by outsiders — you needed to have had a Barbudan grandmother to qualify to enjoy the rights to the land — and thus prevented the arrival of foreign-run hotels, casinos, restaurants and bars.

As a result Barbuda, an idyllic spot loved by Diana, princess of Wales, and where she holidayed with William and Harry in April 1997, four months before her death, retained its sleepy beauty.

That all changed on the night of the storm. And yet the islanders, safe on Antigua, intended to go back and start again.

Mr. Browne, however, had other plans.

On September 11 he announced that he wants to reform the law so that communal land be turned into freehold territory, to be bought and sold. He also wants to change the definition of a Barbudan, so that anyone who can claim “residency” can buy and sell land — a vague and easily exploitable loophole, the islanders argue.

Mr. Browne told parliament that Barbudans — of whom only around 360 have returned so far — had been “relegated to squatters”, after indicating that they were never in possession of any documents indicating that they owned the lands where they had built homes, opened businesses and other activities.

“Barbuda can’t progress until the present land tenure is settled,” he said, adding that no country can move forward without having a proper rights system.

“This is a time to put aside the politics and look at issues based on merit.

“When you give a Barbudan freehold, first of all those who have their properties that are damaged, they can go into the bank, they can borrow money, they can repair their properties, they can get a mortgage they can build. They can get a loan for student purposes, to businesses. It is a form of empowerment.

“I want to tell you, the Barbudans I have spoken to, they are absolutely elated over it.”

But Mr. Mussington is outraged. He denies there has been any consultation, saying they only learnt of the proposal when it was leaked to the press, and sees it as merely a ploy to force them off their land.

Wayde Burton, a councillor for Barbuda, lost the roof of his home, his household items, and fishing boat. But, he told The Telegraph, he is one of the few to have moved back, and is trying to rebuild.

“I can’t say why Gaston Browne is doing what he is doing,” he said.

But he added that the government had been trying for years to get their hands on Barbuda’s undeveloped land.

“What I can say is that what is happening is common when ALP is the ruling party.

“Most of Barbuda is farm and grazing lands, and then you have swamp areas.

“To the best of my knowledge, no one was consulted about the reforms to the land act being proposed.”

Mr. Mussington added: “Today we are seeing the real reason for that forced evacuation.”

The island remains without water, electricity or schools, and the hospital is only partially operative. He believes it is a deliberate shutdown to keep the islanders from going home.

“Nothing is available on the ground to allow Barbudans to return,” he said.

“In the meantime, land is being cleared. It is claimed it is for some sort of airport.

“But all of that is a plot to begin selling land on Barbuda. The idea is to turn this into a private island, for people to make millions.”

Mr. Burton, the councillor, added: “I oppose the land reforms strongly. Land is a very valuable resource, more so when the land you live on has so very little to offer.

“It is typical for politicians to enrich themselves at the cost of the people they should be serving. Now that virgin land is scarce in Antigua, those that are in Barbuda look ripe for the taking.”

Parliament had its first reading of The Barbuda Land Amendment Bill of 2017 on December 12. While it was heard, several members of two opposition parties protested outside of parliament.

Mr. Browne, presenting the bill, attempted to assuage fears, saying: “If you want to continue to live communally without title, that is fine. They can continue to exercise that option, but we are saying here that an additional option will be given to them so that if they so desire, they will have freehold ownership of land in Barbuda.”

He added, in another bid for reassurance: “All investors who come to the country — if they want to invest in Barbuda, land will continue to be given on a lease-own basis.”

Three readings are necessary, but Mr. Mussington fears it could be rushed through in a day when parliament returns from its Christmas break on December 28.

And he is hoping that Mr. Thomas’s appeals to the judge, currently in deliberation, will result in an injunction, blocking the reform.

“This is a classic land grab,” he said. “Barbudans will not sit idly by to allow the government to steal our land, our heritage, our way of life.

“We are not dead. We are still here. And we will resist.”

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