from HANSLEY NABAB in Port Louis, Mauritius
PORT LOUIS, (CAJ News) – THE United Kingdom’s announcement of plans to enhance its footprint in the Indo-Pacific is a blatant reminder of its defiance of international court orders to return the Chagos Islands to its rightful owner, Mauritius.
However, indications are that this disobedience could escalate into a diplomatic tangle with India, a country that has emerged as one of the key partners of the Indian Ocean island nation.
In March, as part of a planned revamp of its foreign, trade and defence policy, the UK announced an Indo-Pacific strategy, for the geographic concept that spans two regions of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans.
The move, through the release of the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, follows the adoption of Indo-Pacific strategies by key European Union members — France, Germany and the Netherlands, over the past three years.
This slant towards the strategic Indo-Pacific is driven by economic as well as security reasons.
UK’s exit from the EU (Brexit) apparently fuelled the latter’s shift.
However, Mrityunjaya Dubey, the research intern at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), the UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt is fraught with challenges, emanating from the flagrant defiance of court orders on Chagos.
The Chagos was home to the indigenous a Bourbonnais Creole-speaking people for more than a century and a half until the UK evicted them between 1967 and 1973 to allow the United States to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands.
British retained possession of the islands after Mauritius gained independence in 1968.
In February 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ ) ruled that the UK was under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago “as rapidly as possible.”
In May that year, the United Nations General Assembly debated and adopted a resolution that affirmed Chagos formed an integral part of the territory of Mauritius.
“The resolution ordered the UK to withdraw its colonial administration unconditionally within a period of no more than six months.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in January ruled that Chagos is part of Mauritius rather than UK, further dealing the British a blow.
The former coloniser remains defiant. This in spite of its claimed epitome of upholding human rights.
Dubey said London’s reluctance to transfer Chagos to Mauritius stood in contradiction with the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity under the envisioned Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
“This raises questions over the UK’s commitment to a ‘rules-based-order’, particularly in context of the ICJ ruling that ‘urged the UK to cooperate with Mauritius and to pose no impediment to realise its right to self-determination’,” the researcher stated.
Dubey noted in basing its policy on this so-called residual presence’ in the Indian Ocean, the UK would also have to resolve divergence with India.
India supports Mauritian sovereignty over Chagos, with the researcher pointing out this backing is grounded in history and in consideration of legal precedents.
“The process of decolonisation of Mauritius remains incomplete both technically and in substance as long as the Chagos archipelago continues to be under UK’s colonial,” Venu Rajamony, the Indian Ambassador to the Netherlands, told the ICJ at The Hague in 2019.
In contrast to UK’s relations with Mauritius being at their lowest ebb, ties between India and Mauritius are on a crescendo.
“Moreover, the India-Mauritius dynamic is unique, with the two sides signing the first of its kind trade-pact, the ‘Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement’ (CECPA) in February 2021,” Dubey said.
Mauritius became the first African country in the Indian Ocean islands to secure comprehensive trade ties with India.
India and Mauritius also signed security agreements, mainly on India’s transfer of aircraft and a helicopter on lease to Mauritius.
India is Mauritius’ largest trading partner and has been the largest exporter of goods and services to Mauritius since 2007.
Nigel Adams, the Minister of State at Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office maintained the UK’s defiance when fellow Conservative member, Adrew Rosindell, enquired about possible discussions with the Mauritius government on Chagos.
“There are no current plans for discussions with the Government of Mauritius on the future of the Chagos Islands. We remain open to dialogue with Mauritius on matters of shared interest, including BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) and its Marine Protected Area (MPA),” Adams responded.
– CAJ News