The latter half of the 20th century can be characterised as a period of battles for self-determination, statehood and decolonisation.
As such, we now supposedly live in a period that is widely understood to be ‘post-colonial’. As it turns out, however, there are still parts of the world, like the African Chagos Islands, that have remained under colonial rule.
Which brings us to a battle, taking place between Mauritius and Britain, over the sovereignty of Chagos, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, south of the Maldives.
If you’re having trouble processing this, you aren’t alone. This isn’t the kind of news story I expected to be writing in 2018.
Here’s Quartz with some context:
The British excised the archipelago from Mauritian territory three years ahead of Mauritius’ independence.
This meant that whilst Mauritius obtained independence in 1968, the islands remained under British control. The Chagos had been part of Mauritius and home to Chagossians before the entire population of around 2,000 people was forcibly removed by the British government and the US to make way for a strategic US military base.
This was described in a leaked British diplomatic cable as the removal of “some few Tarzans and Man Fridays”. Since 1971, only the atoll of Diego Garcia is inhabited and solely by military and civilian contracted personnel.
As an aside, it’s a pity we can’t retroactively deal with those British and American diplomats like we dealt with Adam Catzavelos.
Back to colonialism in our time. This month the International Court of Justice (ICJ) began a three-day public hearing convened to determine the fate of the Chagos Islands. The hearing involved 22 nations, who took part in the proceedings.
On Britain’s side stands three countries, Australia, Israel and the United States.
Mauritius’ side outnumbered its opponents, with the support of 17 countries: Argentina, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Cyprus, Germany, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Marshall Islands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Serbia, South Africa, Thailand, Vanuatu and Zambia. The African Union also made an oral pleading on behalf of Mauritius.
The ICJ took on the case after the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a Mauritius backed resolution to seek a legal opinion from the court. Though the ICJ’s verdict will carry weight, it is not legally binding.
Back in 1971, around the time that most now-formerly-colonised countries were fighting for and achieving independence, an immigration order preventing Chagossians from going back was issued.
Chagossians have lobbied unsuccessfully for the right to return. In fact, some Chagossians face deportation from the same country that forcibly removed them.
Britain’s solicitor general Robert Buckland told Reuters his country accepted the removal of the Chagossians and their treatment thereafter “was shameful and wrong”, but that a 1982 payment of £4 million ($5.2 million) and land worth £1 million worth to Mauritius had provided resolution.
Throwing money at something like forced removal doesn’t make it go away. Ask anyone who used to live in District Six.
At least we can rest easy knowing our country was on the side of sanity in those court proceedings.
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