the Disillusioned kid: Sovereignty Schmovereignty
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Saturday, April 02, 2005

Sovereignty Schmovereignty

This blog has over the last year or so (when I started posting consistently) taken in a huge range of issues. I have covered some more comprehensively than others and many have unfortunately fallen by the wayside (it's months, for instance, since I wrote anything about Israel-Palestine). One of the issues I have followed very closely has been the developments regarding the Chagos Archipelago and the islanders who were forced from it in the 60s and 70s in order to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island.

Regular readers may recall that one of the developments in this area has been Mauritian attempts to reassert its sovereignty over the archipelago. Prior to independence (in 1968) it had been considered Mauritian territory, but in 1965 the British carved it off as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), an entity almost nobody else recognises, in order that they could retain control over the islands so that the Americans would be able to establish their base. This is the only new British colony established since decolonisation and was also probably a breach of international law (a key element of the Mauritian government's case for sovereignty).

This exercise violated UN Declaration 1514 of 1960 which asserted the inalienable right of colonial peoples to independence and Resolution 2066 of 1965 (which Britain never signed). This called on the UK to "take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate [its] territorial integrity". Unconcerned by any of this, Britain retains the islands promising to return them to Mauritius when they and the US are done with them, although rumours that the US wishes to extend its lease over Diego Garcia until 2016 suggest that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

None of this is really newsworthy and will be familiar to anyone who has followed the story over the last few years. What is newsworthy (at least in my opinion) is India's declaration of support for Mauritius' sovereignty claim. The issue figured in talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Mauritius counterpart Paul Berenger according to Indian Officials. Shashi Tripathi, Secretary (West) in the external affairs ministry said that India reiterated its commitment to the territorial integrity of Mauritius and "stands by the stance taken" by the government regarding Chagos. The importance which India attaches to Mauritius is demonstrated by the fact that this was Singh's first bilateral visit since his election last year.

This is a potentially important development. Recall that India is one of the world's fastest growing economies and a potential future superpower. The issue also came up during Berenger's recent visit to China (although it was less clear what was said), suggesting that Mauritius may soon have some very powerful backing for its claim. This all seem to be broadly positive (I won't bother with the hypocrisy of Chinese support for the cause while they continue their brutal occupation of Tibet), but it should be borne in mind that the Chagossians themselves seem largely removed from all if this, as ever they are considered irrelevant to the machinations of power. It is to be hoped that if Mauritius were to regain control over the archipelago the islanders would be allowed to return and live largely autonomously (total independence is probably unrealistic, particularly given the relatively small population). It's up to those of us concerned about their plight to do what we can to make sure this happens.

Update 4/4/05: Further to my concerns about Maritius' lack of concern for the islanders, I found the following passage which may help to put the above into context:
In August [2000? - Dk], the leader of the UK Chagossians, Olivier Bancoult, told the UK based Mauritius News that "we are fighting for our rights, and I am concerned with our rights and our own interests", to the thunderous applause of his compatriots. "All the time that Mauritius has been talking to the British Government, the Mauritius Government never bothered to bring in the islanders or to consult with them. Why should we worry about Mauritius."

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