the Disillusioned kid: Sugaring the Chagossian Pill
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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Sugaring the Chagossian Pill

Regular readers (assuming such people exist) will be familiar with the story of the Chagos Archipelago, a British controlled chain of islands who's population was expelled to make way for a US military base. I've written about this scandal at length. One issue which I have focused on has been the relationship between the islanders and the Mauritian government.

When Mauritius acheived independence in 1968, the Archipelago should have become part of its territory. The British government, however, had carved the islands off in 1965 by forming the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), an entity which almost nobody else recognises. This allowed them to retain control over the islands in order that the US could establish a base on the largest island Diego Garcia.

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.

Promises aside, the Mauritian government have not been best pleased by all of this and have become more agressive about asserting their sovereignty in recent years (although intriguingly it doesn't seem to have featured as an issue in the recent general election there). This is all well and good, but the Chagossians have been very critical of the Mauritian government who they point out have not made any efforts to involve them in negotiations with the British. Chagossian leader Olivier Bancoult even went so far as to ask, "Why should we worry about Mauritius?"

Despite the reality of Mauritian policy, it seems that it is as unusual there as it is here or in the States to acknowledge such realities. This article from Mauritian paper l'express (via the Chagos discussion list) is an exception to that rule and makes the case for using the American presence on Diego Garcia to wring concessions out of the US, UK and the EU on sugar exports. Note that the Chagossians simply don't feature; they are the classic example of "unpeople", those considered unimportant, even irrelevant to the machinations of power.

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