OT 423: Written Evidence from HE Mr Abhimanu Kundasamy, High Commissioner of Mauritius
on the uk proposal for the establishment of a marine protected area around the chagos archipelago
1. As Under both Mauritian law and international law, the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, is under the sovereignty of Mauritius. The creation of any marine protected area (MPA) around the Chagos Archipelago would therefore require the agreement of the Government of Mauritius.
2. Since there is an on-going bilateral Mauritius-UK mechanism for talks and consultations on issues relating to the Chagos Archipelago, it is inappropriate and insulting for the British Government to pursue consultations globally on the proposal for the establishment of an MPA around the Chagos Archipelago outside this bilateral framework. This position was brought to the attention of the British Government by way of Note Verbale dated 23 November 2009 issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade of the Republic of Mauritius to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have not received any answer yet whilst the FCO continues to defy our deep concerns on this process.
3. The manner in which the Marine Protected Area proposal is being dealt with makes us feel that it is being imposed on Mauritius with a predetermined agenda.
4. The establishment of an MPA around the Chagos Archipelago must be compatible with the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos Archipelago. Any endorsement of the proposed unilateral initiative of the FCO's, particularly in some scientific quarters, would be tantamount to condoning the violation of international law and the enduring human tragedy.
5. Moreover, the issue of resettlement in the Chagos Archipelago, access to the fisheries resources, and the economic development of the islands in a manner which would not prejudice the effective exercise by Mauritius of its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago are matters of high priority to the Government of Mauritius.
6. The exclusion of such important issues from any MPA project and a total ban on fisheries exploitation would not be compatible with resolution of the issue of sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago and progress in the ongoing talks between Mauritius and the United Kingdom.
7. The existing framework of talks between Mauritius and the UK on the Chagos Archipelago and the related environmental issues should not be overtaken or bypassed by the public consultation launched by the British Government on the proposed establishment of an MPA around the Chagos Archipelago.
8. The establishment of any MPA around the Chagos Archipelago should also address the benefits that Mauritius should derive from any mineral or oil that may be discovered in or near Chagos Archipelago (as per the undertaking given in 1965).
9. Why is the FCD in a hurry to establish a marine protected area around the Chagos Archipelago?
Is it because of the case which the Chagossians have brought before the European Court of Human Rights?
Is it because the Lease Agreement concluded by the UK and US Governments on 30 December 1966 for the use of the Chagos Archipelago for defence purposes will expire in 2014?
Why is it that the excision of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in breach of two United Nations General Assembly resolutions is not being considered as a gross violation of international law by the British Government?
10. Lastly, the Government of the Republic of Mauritius unequivocally reaffirms its firm commitment to achieving the highest international standards for environment, including the marine environment and its ecosystems. The Government of the Republic of Mauritius is currently implementing a very comprehensive, all-encompassing and long-term multi-sectoral programme entitled "Maurice lie Durable", adopted in 2008 and underpinning the overall national development strategy. And last week at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2010, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) was released in Davos. The 2010 EPI is developed for 163 countries and is based on twenty five indicators grouped in ten policy categories: Environmental burden of disease, Air pollution (effects on humans), Water (effects on humans), Air Pollution (effects on ecosystem), Water (effects on ecosystem), Biodiversity &Habitat, Forestry, Fisheries, Agriculture and Climate Change. Mauritius was classed 6th in the world ahead of UK which was classed 14th.
4 February 2010
The text of Resolution 2066 is very significant and it stands out as an affirmation of the Territory of Mauritius as a single unit of self-determination:
'The General Assembly,
Having considered the question of Mauritius and other islands composing the Territory of Mauritius.
Having examined the chapters of the reports of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples,
Regretting that the administering Power has not fully implemented Resolution 1514 (XV) with regard to that Territory,
Noting with deep concern that any step taken by the administering Power to detach certain islands from the Territory of Mauritius for the purpose of establishing a military base would be in contravention of the Declaration, and in particular of paragraph 6 thereof,
1. Approves the chapters of the reports of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples relating to the Territory of Mauritius and endorses the conclusions and recommendations of the Special Committee contained therein:
2. Reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of the Territory of Mauritius to freedom and independence in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV);
3. Invites the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to take effective measures with a view to the immediate and full implementation of the Resolution 1514 (XV):
4. Invites the administering Power to take no action which would dismember the Territory of Mauritius and violates its territorial integrity:
5. Further invites the administering Power to report to the Special Committee and to the General Assembly on the implementation of the present resolution;
6. Requests the Special Committee to keep the questions of the Territory of Mauritius under review and to report thereon to the General Assembly at its twenty-first session.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted Declaration 1514 (XV) on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples.
The UN Declaration Paragraph 5 clearly stated that the transfer of powers to the peoples of those territories which have not yet attained independence should be effected "without any conditions or reservations".
Paragraph 6 of the same Resolution very explicitly lays down that "any attempt aimed at partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of United Nations."
The Declaration 1514 is not only a resolution about the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples but it is an affirmation of fundamental rights and a pillar in the UN Charter.
August - A joint US/UK military survey of the islands took place. The UK/US first choice was the island of Aldabra, north of Madagascar.
Unfortunately, Aldabra was the breeding ground for rare giant tortoises, whose mating habits would have probably been upset by the military activity and whose cause would have been championed noisily by publicity-aware ecologists.
The alternative was the Chagos Islands, part of Mauritius, then a British territory campaigning for independence and inhabited by Chagossians .
A Special Committee on Decolonisation was created by General Assembly Resolution 1654 to implement Declaration 1514 (above) and to make recommendations on its application. In October 1964, the attention of the Special Committee was drawn to a report that the United Kingdom and the United States of America were "examining the recommendations of an Anglo-American naval Mission which had selected the island of Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago which was dependency of Mauritius" for the establishment of a joint military base.
On the advice of the Special Committee on Decolonisation, the General Assembly adopted United Nations Resolution 2066 (XV). "Noting with deep concern that any step taken by the administrative power to detach certain islands from the territory of Mauritius for the purpose of establishing a military base would be in contravention of the Declaration and in particular paragraph 6 thereof
... invites the administrating power to take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate the territorial integrity. (Attached key text)
The UN Genaral Assembly has since repeated its disapproval of UK'S action by adopting Resolution 2232 and 2357."
Chagossians visiting relatives and friends in Mauritius were not allowed to return to the Chagos. They were informed that "The Islands are closed". This, and other tactics, continued until 1973.
December- Britain secretly leased Diego Garcia to the US for 50 years, with the option of an extension. This was done behind the veil of the Cold War, to the detriment of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Mauritius and in gross violation of International Law.
What we saw was the forcible evictions of Chagossians from then onwards.
March: The Colony of Mauritius which had comprised, inter alia, the Chagos Archipelago was granted independence but without Chagos.
However the Constitution of Mauritius reads as follows: (Sec. 111): "Mauritius includes-( a) the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega, Tromelin, Cargados Carajos and the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia and any other island comprised in the State of Mauritius".
The colonial authorities cut off food imports to the Chagos islands. After 1968 food ships did not sail to the islands.
Britain began an illegal removal of 1,500 natives from the Chagos islands, including Diego Garcia, following agreement to lease the islands to the US.
11th September: The act of forcible evictions of Chagossians was described in an editorial in the Washington Post as "This act of mass kidnapping"
Report of the Select Committee on the Excision of the Chagos Archipelago was published. The 7th Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, when it met in New Delhi, India voted a resolution for the dismantling of the base and for the retrocession of Diego Garcia and Chagos to Mauritius.
The UN Economic, Social and Cultural (UNESCO) Rights Committee drew attention to the fact that self determination has not been implemented in the case of Mauritius because of illegal occupation of Chagos in its Concluding Observations, when Mauritius country report was being reviewed.
Victory in Bancoult case as Chagossians was granted permission to fight for the right to return.
African Union Position: Decision by the Heads of States of the African Union on Chagos Archipelago
The Assembly inter alia:
1. Expressed Concern that the Chagos Archipelago was unilaterally and illegally excised by the colonial power from Mauritius prior to its independence in violation of UN Resolution 1514;
2. Noted with Dismay that the bilateral talk between Mauritius and UK on this matter has not yielded any significant progress;
3. Urged the UK Government to immediately enter into direct and constructive dialogue with Mauritius so as to enable the early return of the sovereignty of Mauritius.
June-The European Court of Human Rights' investigation into the case of the Chagossians right of return is under way.
September: II Africa-South America Heads of State Summit (Venezuela, 26 and 27 September of 2009)
Declaration of Nueva Esparta- Resolution No. 40 urged "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Mauritius to pursue negotiations in order to find, as a matter of urgency, a fair, peaceful and definitive solution to the issues regarding the sovereignty over Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, and the surrounding maritime spaces, in accordance with the resolutions of the United Nations and the other pertinent regional and international organizations".
The legal position of UK:
"The British Government has always acknowledged that Mauritius has a legitimate interest in the future of these islands and recognizes the Government of the Republic of Mauritius as the only State which has a right to assert a claim to sovereignty.... The British Government has therefore given an undertaking to the Government of the Republic of Mauritius that, when the islands are no longer needed for the defence purposes of the United Kingdom and the United States, they will be ceded to Mauritius."
Mindset of FCO's officials during the 1960s
British politicians, diplomats and civil servants began a campaign - in their own words-"to maintain the pretence there were no permanent inhabitants" on the islands.
The Colonial Office stated that the "prime objective of BlOT exercise was that the islands...hived off into the new territory should be under the greatest possible degree of UK control".
The Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office noted in a secret file: "We would not wish it to become general knowledge that some of the inhabitants have lived on Diego Garcia for at least two generations".
A Foreign Office legal advisor noted that it is important "to maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of the Chagos are not a permanent or semi-permanent population". He also noted that "we are able to make up the rules as we go along and treat the inhabitants as not 'belonging' to it in any sense".
One British official noted that British strategy towards the Chagossians should be to "grant as few rights with as little formality as possible". In particular, Britain wanted to avoid fulfilling its obligations to the islanders under the UN charter.
The Foreign Office stated that the islanders were to be "evacuated as and when defence interests required this", against which there should be "no insurmountable obstacle". This was vital, because proper residents would have to be recognised as people "whose democratic rights have to be safeguarded".
The inhabitants therefore became non-people. To the outside world, there must be no inhabitants, merely people living there temporarily- migrant workers and other transients.
A telegram sent to the UK mission at the United Nations in November 1965 summed up the problem:
"We recognise that we are in a difficult position as regards references to people at present on the detached islands.
"We know that a few were born in Diego Garcia and perhaps some of the other islands, and so were their parents before them.
"We cannot therefore assert that there are no permanent inhabitants, however much this would have been to our advantage. In these circumstances, we think it would be best to avoid all references to permanent inhabitants."
Sir Paul Gore-Booth, senior official at the Foreign Office, wrote to a diplomat in 1966: "We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours ... There will be no indigenous population except seagulls ...". Indeed the FCO promised Americans that deportations could be "timed to attract the least attention", leaving "no indigenous population except seagulls."
The diplomat, Dennis Greenhill, replied: "Unfortunately along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Man Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius."
As far back as 1965, Colonial Secretary Anthony Greenwood had warned that it was "important to present the United Nations with a fait accompli".
Mauritius High Commission
London, January 2010