This court case, 50 years after the events was “riveting” - unusual for any court case.
It was riveting because of the only-just-suppressed rage of many of those speaking in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution calling on the ICJ to give an Advisory Opinion on whether Britain in the 1960s completed the decolonisation of Mauritius, when it excised Chagos from Mauritius, and what the consequences of this incomplete decolonisation are today, including for the resettling by the Mauritian government of the Chagossian people on their home islands.
We in LALIT and all our friends, comrades, colleagues in the struggle over the past 40 years, had the additional feeling of being vindicated. All our arguments — logical and humane — were on international display, when we have spent decades answering the childish British arguments, often mimicked by subservient local elites that say, “Old Man Ramgoolam sold Chagos to the English”, therefore there is nothing you can do about it.
At the ICJ, all the finer points of law we have, as mere amateurs in LALIT, grappled with for years, were teased out and discussed by top legal minds of the world, and we could all follow this live. And almost all arguments were in favour of the ICJ giving an Opinion, and giving it against Britain for not completing decolonisation, and also calling on the Court to lay out the consequences for today of this failure to complete decolonisation.
There was also on show, on the British side, a rather despicable display of colonial contempt, in particular on the part of the big four coloniser-defenders: Britain, the USA, Israel and — though an ex-colony herself — Australia.
Their arguments — these four — maintained that the Resolution sent to the ICJ by the entire General Assembly was a mere “bilateral dispute” between Mauritius and Britain, and therefore not admissible before the Court at all because, they argued, one of the parties to this supposedly bilateral dispute, i.e. Britain, has not given its consent!
So, this point became one of the main debates: Is the question of the excision of all the islands of Chagos from Mauritius a “bilateral dispute” or a question of decolonisation and self-determination, supported by many Resolutions, one such Resolution even warning Britain specifically not to dismember Mauritius in this way?
Britain was taken to task for its arguments that verged on the ridiculous when it came to the substantive issues.
Britain argued that Chagos was 2,000 kilometres away from the other islands of the Republic of Mauritius, therefore it, Britain, 10,000 kilometres away should have sovereignty. Do we laugh or cry, on hearing such rubbish?
Or why Britain should have hidden so stealthily from the United Nations General Assembly that they were dismembering Mauritius, or secretly spirited the 2,000 Chagossian Mauritians living there to Mauritius main Island, claiming in a wildly sexist and racist statement at the time that there were no people living there at all, just a few birds there (not — yet — protected by international conventions) and just a few “man Fridays”? Why should Britain have pretended the US military base they were conspiring to get set up there was a mere “communications station”? Why all the deception, if as they now try to say, it was still normal by the 1960s to divide up territories prior to independence?
Britain was exposed again and again as having suddenly found a reason for seeing Chagos as worth keeping (when the USA wanted a military base there) and then finding devious ways of keeping and depopulating the islands.
So this whim to have a base, meant Britain thought it was justified in passing Orders-in-Council to excise Chagos from Mauritius all of a sudden, and then to drive the Chagossians off over the next 8 years.
Only a colonising power could not see the absurdity of throwing to the wind international law on decolonisation and Chagossians’ human rights to live where they live, just because it wanted a place for a base. And Britain has continued in this vein, still pretending it would “return” or later merely “cede” Chagos when it no longer required it. And who would decide when it no longer required it? Well, obviously, the colonisers. They are the only people who are people.
All this came out in the argumentation by all those who spoke in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution for the 15-member ICJ to give an Advisory Opinion. One of the refrains was, understandably and predictably, that Britain is merely trying to “justify the unjustifiable”.
So, finally, all those who have contributed to this struggle: Chagossians like the late Charlesia Alexis and Aurelie Talate, and the 150 or so Chagossian women, and all the Chagossian people and their organizations who we, in LALIT, struggled alongside for all those years, first and foremost. In particular the Chagos Refugees Group and the Organizasyon Sosyal Chagosyin. And then there were the eight women — five Chagossians, three in LALIT — who were arrested and charged with illegal demonstration in 1981, for putting the issue on the agenda in Mauritius, by means of street demonstrations in Port Louis for three days running in support of a hunger strike by Chagossian women. And then there are all the Mauritian organizations — like the Comité Ilois of the Organisation Fraternel, the MMM branches in the 1970s in Port Louis, the unions in the General Workers’ Federation, the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, The Komite Moris Losean Indyin and the late Kishore Mundil, the Komite Rann nu Diego in the 1990s and the two LALIT International Action Conferences, the Komite Diego set up in 2006 and still in existence. It is the hard political work of these combined efforts that forced the Mauritian State finally to go to the ICJ.
And even abroad, there have been, in addition to States, organizations and individuals like the No Bases Movement, film-makers like Paedar King, Michel Daeron, John Pilger and others, and many, many workers and peoples’ organizations over the 40 years who have supported the Diego Garcia struggle through LALIT.
• Abridged from www.lalitmauritius.org