Mauritius: Britain cites Lalit's support for Chagossians to oppose their return

By Lalit de Klas

July 16, 2008 -- According to attorney-at-law Robin Mardemootoo, who represented the Chagos Refugee Group at the House of Lords Judicial Committee, which acts as the ultimate court of appeal in London, last week, the Mauritian revolutionary organisation Lalit was referred to during one hour of pleadings by the UK government legal representative Jonathan Crow, QC. There are not official transcripts of this kind of hearing.

The British government has lost three court cases in its own judicial system over the right of Chagossians to return to the Mauritian islands of Chagos [which includes the strategic US base on Diego Garcia], and is now at the court of ultimate appeal. The main point of this line of argument by the British government about Lalit was to say that any return of the Chagossians to their native islands would be a security risk, because the Chagossians had worked with Lalit, which is known for being against the US military base there. Mardemootoo announced this in an interview in L’Express, the biggest newspaper in Mauritius, on 11 July, 2008 (No. 16578), and which is available in toto at http://www.lexpress.mu. Below is an extract of the interview, by reporter Nicolas Rainer, followed by Lalit's comments.

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`We were told Chagossians were a threat to peace and order of Diego Garcia'

Interview with Robin Mardemootoo, attorney of the Chagos Refugee Group, by Nicholas RAINER.

You were present at the House of Lords last week during the British government’s appeal against the overturning of the Orders in Council. What were your impressions?

First, we must understand the context of the appeal before the House of Lords. You must realise that the Chagossians have always had unanimous judgments in their favour regarding the return to the islands, whether in 2000, 2006 or 2007 before the Court of Appeal. So they went to the House of Lords with a lot of confidence about their right to return.

On the other side, the British government considers the appeal to be very important in terms of law issues, especially when it comes to the “reviewability” of Orders in Council. This had never happened before and they were concerned that whatever legislation Her Majesty the Queen was going to make could be subject to review. The British government was most upset by the rulings before the High Court and Court of Appeal, because the rulings innovated by declaring that Orders in Council are indeed “reviewable”. The British government had to contend not only with the Chagos islanders but also with a constitutional issue, of prime importance to them.

As well as the Americans…

Of course, the British government has always been required by the Americans to keep the islands closed. This is how both parties approached the appeal. It started on Monday [30th June] with very fine arguments from both sets of counsels. Jonathan Crow QC [the Foreign Secretary’s counsel] made a lot of sense; he explained the context in which the Orders in Council were issued and why the islanders should not be allowed to go back.

He also said that resettlement would pose “an unacceptable risk” for the base. How could resettlement of Peros Banhos and Salomon present a threat to Diego Garcia, which is located dozens of miles away?

Peros Banhos and Salomon are about 130 miles from Diego Garcia. What scares them is the fact that the islanders had participated in meetings and forums with LALIT, the Mauritian political party. According to the British government, LALIT is known, at least in Mauritius, to be anti-American and anti-military base. One of LALIT’s objectives was to organise an international flotilla that would go to Diego Garcia and prompt a confrontation with the Americans.

You’re telling me that the Chagos Refugee Group’s occasional affiliation with a left-wing political party that threatened to send a few boats to Diego Garcia poses a risk to the biggest American military base outside of the US?

As ridiculous as it sounds, it does according to the British government. We were told about LALIT for about an hour so, about their agenda and how Chagossians would be a threat for the peace and order of Diego Garcia because of their alleged link to LALIT.

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Lalit's comments on this interview

What is important, first, about this interview is that the UK and the US are deeply concerned about the anti-bases movement. It harms their imperial reign. Second, our process of working towards building a “flotilla” to go to Diego Garcia also worried them, it would seem. The process of building this flotilla was supported in Mauritius by the quasi-totality of the trade union and social organisations in the country, and by the whole of the NO BASES movement (then still called “No US Bases”) when it met in Mumbai at the World Social Forum in 2004. A resolution was passed to support the Flotilla. And this was voted in the general assembly of the worldwide anti-war movement, on a proposal of the anti-bases movement. Third, we are surprised that Mardemootoo refers to the Chagos Refugee Group’s “alleged” link to Lalit, because Mardemootoo was present at the World Social Forum NO U.S. Bases meeting himself, when Olivier Bancoult and Mrs. Anzie Jaffar of the group were there as part of the joint delegation with three Lalit members, Alain Ah-Vee, Ram Seegobin and Lindsey Collen.

To reiterate our position. We believe that it is politically wrong to give in on the struggle to close the base down. We believe that it is politically wrong to give in on the struggle to get the British colony dismantled and Mauritius fully decolonised. We believe that Chagossians have the right to return to the entirety of Chagos, including Diego Garcia, just as all Mauritians have the right to free circulation in the whole country. We believe that Chagossians and Mauritius have the right to live in a peaceful land without any weapons of war on it, and a land that is reunited with all the other islands making up the Republic of Mauritius.

We believe that the Chagossians have a right to reparations without the need to trade off this right in exchange for the right to be free of military bases and free of colonial powers. And we believe that the UN Charter must be respected with regard to breaking up territory around independence.

[First published at http://www.lalitmauritius.org/viewarticle.php?id=757. For more information on the struggle of the Chagossians and their support from Lalit, click HERE.]

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