Conversation on Chagos

The Council on Foreign Relations-Mauritius

The Council on Foreign Relations-Mauritius (CFRM) hosted its first official function, with a Conversation on the Chagos Archipelago, preceded by a Luncheon at the St Georges Hotel, Port Louis on Thursday 14 September 2017. It was a well attended event. Participation was by invitation and guests composed of former cabinet ministers, former senior government officials, former ambassadors, members of the diplomatic community, representatives of the private sector, civil society and academia among others. The keynote speaker was Jean Claude de L’Estrac.

In his opening remarks, the president of the Council spoke briefly on the main objectives of the council which he said were to act as a Think Tank and a Research Group with a view to promoting a knowledge of international relations and to help shape a reasoned Mauritian foreign policy; to provide a forum for interaction and exchange of ideas and views on the dramatic changes taking place in the political, economic and social fields particularly in Africa, Asia and Europe. The Council also envisages to enhance its scope and activities by establishing linkages with similar associations at the national, regional and international levels.

Mr Jean Claude de L’Estrac commended the setting up of the Council as an excellent initiative and for having chosen to bring to the fore the story of Chagos to start with. Based on his intensive and thorough research and analysis of the declassified documents on Chagos at the London Archives, he gave a detailed description in a chronological order on the circumstances leading the excision of the Chagos by the British colonial power in the sixties prior to the independence of Mauritius. He kept his audience spell bound for over an hour when he recounted in a superb manner the tragic and sad story that has unfolded about the Chagossians after their evacuation from the chagos Archipelago; a population sold in “en toute connaissance de cause” he insisted.

In short the excision of Chagos took place at the peak of the Cold War era and the rivalry between the United States and the defunct Soviet Union. The Americans weary of the growing influence of the Soviets in the Indian Ocean after the withdrawal of the British from many bases in Asia and Africa wanted a stronghold in the Indian Ocean, which accounted for more than 60 per cent of the shipping and commercial route for the Americans. The choice of Chagos, Diego Garcia, in particular, fitted squarely in the American context of “Island Strategic Concept” because it provided the ideal choice for a military base in a strategic geo-political position in the Horn of Africa and Asia and also a permanent location, instead of an aircraft carrier in the heart of the Indian Ocean. In the run up to the excision of Chagos before the independence of Mauritius, the British colonial power fully cognizant of the UN Resolutions 1514 of 1960 and 2066 of 1965 indicated to the Americans that the consent of the political leaders of the colonial government was necessary to legalize the deal. In this respect, the British colonial power during one of the final constitutional conferences met on a one and one basis with Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Sir Abdool Razack Mohamed, Sookdeo Bissoondoyal, Jules Koenig as well as Maurice Paturau.

Jean Claude de L’Estrac drew the attention of the audience that he has consulted 3600 declassified documents on Chagos from the London Archives to write his book bearing the title “L’an prochain à Diego Garcia”. The documents inter-alia include terms like “briber” and “donner quelques douceurs” used by the colonial power and their associates in their quest to acquiesce the support of the representatives of the colonial government. The facts are verifiable, he further said. He stood the ground that the colonial power had obtained the consent of the pre-independence colonial government for the excision of Chagos and reiterated that Diego Garcia was sold for three million British Pound Sterling and the secret code used for the sale by Accountant General was “accountable”.

Referring to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution sponsored by the African Group on behalf of Mauritius seeking an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, on the question of sovereignty of Mauritius on Chagos, his question was what next even if the ICJ gives an advisory opinion which goes in favour of Mauritius. Will it be sufficient to regain our sovereignty on Chagos including Diego Garcia, given the complexity of the issue? His contention was that it would not be so even in the next 100 years. Pursuant to this line of thought therefore, he suggested that we might as well in the meanwhile explore the avenues of engaging in negotiations for a win-win situation wherein Mauritius can take advantage of the other islands such as Banon and Peros and Solomon which form part of the Chagos Archipelago and which are not being used for defense purposes.

In closing the secretary, Dev Seechurn thanked the participants, in particular, the keynote Speaker, Mr Jean Claude de L’Estrac for his presentation, which was at the same time thought-provoking and full of insight. He expressed the firm intent of the Council to put up similar events on topics of national interest in the coming months with the support of the members, well-wishers and prospective sponsors.

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