the Disillusioned kid: Have you left yet?
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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Have you left yet?

This (via) is intriguing:
The President of Mauritius said on Wednesday his country would be prepared to quit the Commonwealth in its row with Britain over the forced expulsion of the people of the Chagos Islands.

In an interview on BBC radio, Anerood Jugnauth said he sympathised with the islanders expelled by Britain from the Chagos archipelago in the 1960s and 1970s who have been fighting for decades to be able to return home.

"I think ultimately we will have to go to court ... to the International Court of Justice," Jugnauth said.

Asked whether he would be prepared to pay the price of leaving the Commonwealth to pursue the legal battle, the president said: "I believe that yes".
Of course, this raises a number of questions. Not least the context in which the issue of Mauritius' exit from the Commonwealth was raised. Was it simply a hypothetical advanced by the interviewer, essentially out of the blue, or is there a real possibility of such a move taking place? The report on the BBC's own website states that Jugnauth "threatened to leave the Commonwealth," (my emphasis) which is clearly a very different thing to merely entertaining the possibility in response to questioning.

Presumably anybody seeking clarification could find it by searching for the interview online using the BBC's "listen again" feature, but it's hard to know where to start looking. The Reuters article gives few clues (in fact there's nothing beyond the fact that it took place on BBC radio on Wednesday), while the BBC's report bizarrely makes no mention of where this so called "threat" was made, not even admitting that the story emerged on its own radio show.

Whatever the provenance of Jugnauth's threat his remarks on Mauritian sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago seem fairly unequivocal: "We have always claimed Chagos from the British. Our position has always been very clear on that," he said. "We were the first victim, we were deprived of part of our territory and this is against all the United Nations resolutions." Whatever the merits of Mauritian victimhood, his claims that the country was the "first victim," is dubious. Mauritius became independent in 1968, by which point the British had already carved off the Archipelago in order to allow the US to set up base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands. The eviction of the islanders began in 1967 when the British government bought out the islands' plantation owners, closed the plantations and stopped the regular supply ship. By my reckoning, that means the Chagossians became victims before Mauritius even existed, hence it is in fact them who get the dubious honour which Jugnauth seeks to claim.

As I've discussed previously (see e.g. here, here and here), the Mauritian government has an ambiguous relationship with the Chagossian struggle to return home. While government officials have got considerable rhetorical mileage out of the islanders' exile, the Chagossians appear to be less than enthusiastic about Mauritius' sovereignty claims:
In August [2000], 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?"
Perhaps nowdays, almost seven years later, this relationship is more cordial, but then again, maybe not.


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