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Chagos Archipelago: Decolonization of the 21st century

08.04.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
The separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius was illegal. That is the conclusion reached by the judges of the International Court of Justice. They think that the UK should stop managing these tropical islands in the Indian Ocean.
On 26 February 2019, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion in which it concluded that the decolonization of Mauritius, which had resulted in the separation of the Chagos Archipelago, was illegal. "The court concluded that the UK was obliged to end the management of the Chagos Archipelago as soon as possible," says the advisory opinion.

UN DECISION

The International Court of Justice is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations. The decision of the UN tribunal is not binding, but, as the observers note, it is of great symbolic importance.

The case of the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 was brought before the United Nations International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2017 at the request of the United Nations General Assembly. On 22 June 2017, the United Nations General Assembly requested the Court to issue an advisory opinion on the legality of the decolonization of Mauritius. This process was completed by granting independence to Mauritius in 1968. At the same time, the Chagos Archipelago was separated from Mauritius but remained under British rule. The current Mauritian authorities have judged this process illegal, they complain of not being able to install their citizens, especially those of Chagos origin, on the archipelago Chagos.

 

THE HISTORY OF THE FIGHT

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British conquered Maurice from the French after the French defeat at Waterloo; they recognized it as their colony. In 1965, the United Kingdom bought from the Mauritian Autonomous, but not independent Chagos, making it a British territory of the Indian Ocean. Two and a half years later, Maurice had gained independence and protested against the division of his territory. The situation was similar to that of the “Epars Islands”. Similarly, before the declaration of independence of Madagascar, the French took possession of part of the island linking it to the island of Reunion and making it a French territory in the Mozambique Channel.

In December 1966, the Chagos Archipelago was leased to the United States for a period of 50 years. To build a base, the United States demanded that the islands be liberated from all inhabitants. These actions were motivated by the fact that there had never been an indigenous population in this territory, but only employees. It was a lie, because at that time 800 Ilua families (descendants of Africans and Indians) lived in the archipelago, including 800 directly on Diego Garcia. Many residents of the island committed suicide, most were sent to Mauritius, where they settled in shantytowns.

From the first years of its independence, Mauritius declared its rights on the Chagos Archipelago, as well as the rights of displaced persons. Formed in 1982, the Mauritian coalition government passed a law declaring that Diego Garcia was part of Mauritian territory. A very important act in this struggle was the adoption by the Mauritian Parliament, on July 6, 1982, of an amendment to the legislation in force confirming the sovereignty of Mauritius over the entire Chagos Archipelago as an integral part of the territory of the State and it belonged to the economic zone of the country.

In April 1990, the delegations of the United States, Great Britain and France announced their withdrawal from the United Nations Special Committee for the Indian Ocean, whose main task was to prepare an international conference and discuss issues related to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Proclamation of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace. In July 1990, at the regular session of the United Nations Special Committee on the Indian Ocean, six other States refused to participate in its work. The participants in the resolution emphasized that such events stand in sharp contrast to the many positive changes in international politics and the desire of States to find mutually acceptable solutions to difficult problems.

In July 1990, Mauritius proposed the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the southwestern Indian Ocean, in southern Africa and around the Chagos Archipelago. In case of signature of the treaty, France was also asked to comply with these provisions, as it possessed the so-called overseas territories located in the Indian Ocean area, in particular the Reunion Island and the island of Epars.

The Mauritian leadership has repeatedly negotiated with the British government on the return of the Chagos archipelago. But if, in principle, the British side does not reject the sovereign right of Mauritius on this archipelago, it postpones in practice, under various pretexts, the solution to this problem. For example, in July 1992, the British party officially informed Mauritius that it recognized him as the only state entitled to claim sovereignty over the Chagos, but only after London renounced sovereignty over the archipelago.

For the demilitarization of Diego Garcia, as well as for the Indian Ocean in general, are the broad masses of Mauritius and social organizations. In 1998, the committee was created for the demilitarization of the Indian Ocean, which included the Federation of Progressive Trade Unions, the General Federation of Workers, and a group of expelled persons from the Chagos Archipelago, the Reform Party and the United States Party. Lalit left. The main objective of this organization is the restoration of the sovereignty of Mauritius on the archipelago of Chagos and the demilitarization of the island of Diego Garcia.

In July 2000, the London Supreme Court ruled that the expulsion of the islanders from Chagos was illegal. The British government has decided that they could visit their home islands with a group of 100 people. The US government opposed this decision on the grounds that it is impossible to visit the islands because they are too close to the US naval base and can be used by “terrorists and spies who can use electronic jammers”. The first group of islanders visited the Chagos only in 2006. They could barely recognize their homes, turned into ruins in 40 years.

DECOLONIZATION CONTINUES

The world seemed to be evolving in a time machine half a century ago. The question of the archaic vestiges of colonialism is again on the agenda. Mauritius insists on the injustice of the separation of the Chagos archipelago when granting independence. Mauritius claims support from 22 countries. Only the rooms of historical museums are reminiscent of the great empires that once formed around the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. It seemed that the problem of colonialism was forever in the shadow of world politics, but the dispute between Mauritius and Britain brought the agenda up to date.

It suddenly appeared that the empire is still with us. Today, there are around 50 overseas territories in the world, devoid of political sovereignty, armed forces and totally dependent on their metropolitan areas. In general, these are exotic islands, many of which, by the way, are built by ingenious lawyers in international offshore projects.

Nevertheless, the decision of the United Nations Court will have a direct impact on the final and equitable resolution of the problems related to the colonial heritage. The metropolises of the 21st century are not only Great Britain, but also France, the United States, Spain, the Netherlands and even poor Portugal with Madeira and the Azores.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Credit image: google image/Chagos islands

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