The U.S. has a military base Diego Garcia (DGAR), located 1.100 miles south of India and halfway between Africa and Indonesia, it is nearly in the middle of the Indian Ocean. This geographic position enables American access to the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and the vast Indian Ocean. Past events show that for multiple lines of operations Diego Garcia is the point of support. Sometimes called Washington's "unsinkable aircraft carrier", DGAR played a critical part in the First and Second Gulf Wars, the invasion of Afghanistan, and in the conflict in Libya. Diego Garcia casts a huge shadow for a speck of territory that only measures 38 miles in length.
Following the 1991 conflict, as part of the overall strategy of American forces to push eastward away from European installations, the Pentagon continued transforming the archipelago into one of a handful of large "forward operating bases". For many in the American government, the fantasy was the opportunity to reach every place on the earth from Louisiana's Barksdale Air Base, Guam in the Pacific, and Diego Garcia. Since the September 2001 attacks on the United States, the base has obtained much greater significance in the eyes of the military commanders. Within weeks of September 11, the Pentagon moved 2,000 Air Force staff to a new massive 30-acre training base dubbed "Camp Justice". Another advantage of the location of Diego Garcia is that it is the only U.S. base on the Indian Ocean littoral where there are not as many accessibility problems as many bases. It is, after all, rented by America's most committed friend, England, and the only residents are the two nations' military and civilian security staff – there are no locals at all since they were deported in 1971.
Essentially a part of the Archipelago of Chagos, DGAR is the largest of around sixty very tiny islets (about sixty-five square miles) that comprise the archipelago. The island was a Mauritius territory until 1965 it was separated for absorption into the newly formed British Indian Ocean Territory. Britain has leased the base on it to the Americans up to 2036. The two countries concluded secret talks about Diego Garcia through an "exchange of notes" in 1966: it essentially established an agreement that circumvented all senators and congressmen. Separate hidden arrangements included $14 million in confidential US payments to enable Britain to establish the territories and implement certain "administrative measures" necessary to deport the Chagossians.
These "administrative measures" meant that beginning in 1968; islanders leaving Chagos for vacation or medical treatment were barred from returning home and left stranded. Between 1968 and 1973, U.K. and U.S. officials forcibly removed around 2,000 people, called Chagossians, 1,200 miles away to islands in the western Indian Ocean to Mauritius and Seychelles, and/or prevented them from returning. First, British authorities proceeded to limit imports to the islands, and by the turn of the decade, more Chagossians fled because food and drugs were scarce. Additionally, in collaboration with U.S officials, the British devised a political marketing strategy as one official described it “to maintain the fiction", that the Chagossians were migrant contractual labourers, rather than citizens with origins in Chagos for five decades.
International Response: Analysis of The Actions Taken in Past Under Different Conventions and Treaties
There's also significant international litigation calling into question the legitimacy of the British mandate over DGAR and the reason as to how the UK managed to remove Chagos islanders in 1971. In 1997, with the launch of a case against the Uk Government, the Chagossian dispute was reopened. The removal was declared unconstitutional by the British Supreme Court in November 2000. Many Chagossians pursued additional cases in US and Uk courts in 2001 and 2002, requesting the freedom to return and fair compensation for their expulsion and colonization of their islands.
Ultimately, the US suit was quashed because; the judiciary was unable to overrule the executive branch on foreign policy and military decisions. The Chagossians were more successful in Great Britain. They secured the right to full UK citizenship in 2002; since then over 1,000 Chagossians have migrated to Britain in search of a better living. Twice more, British courts decided in favor of the citizens, with judges finding the government's actions "repugnant" and "abuse of power." Reports by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2002 and 2006 concluded that the Chagossians' exile was unconstitutional. Britain argued that compensation in 1982 had resolved the issue and that a process of decolonization had been completed.
In 2011, the British Government sought to create a marine protected area (MPA) which was subject to an arbitral tribunal case launched by Mauritius and was decided under Annex VII of the United Nations Sea Law (UNCLOS). Mauritius directly opposed the UK’s plans of such an MPA in the arbitration against those territories across the Chagos since the UK did so without even informing Mauritius. The controversy concerns mainly the validity of the UK's MPA under the law in light of existing sovereignty conflicts, whereas such constituted a "mixed dispute" concerning questions of overlapping disputed ownership of the land and maritime rights.
The MPA’s functional impact is that waters around Diego Garcia will become off-limits; particularly fishing inside the exclusive economic zone around the Chagos Islands, which is two hundred nautical miles. Mauritius argued it had water resource rights and the MPA infringed those rights. So the United Kingdom cannot unilaterally take such decisions. Mauritius claimed that the UK was not allowed to create an MPA or other maritime areas because it was not, for the requirements of maritime law, a "coastal state" – that is, not legally sovereign over the Chagos Islands. It also argued that the MPA infringed Mauritius' fishing entitlements and clearly meant to block the Chagossians from returning to the archipelagos in violation of international law. The arbitral tribunal eventually found that the MPA's decision was not in line with UNCLOS requirements.
In 2012, the 1,786 Chagos descendants residing in the UK initiated a case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), stating that their human rights were infringed owing to their "callous and shameful" expulsion from DGAR and lack of due process. In a brief opinion, the Court ruled in 2012 that the islanders' descendants had received modest compensation and renounced their claims in writing, their claims were disallowed. The basic contention of the UK is that it upheld all parts of the commitments it established in the Lancaster Understandings to the Mauritian colonial government in 1965. It paid Mauritius £ 3 million, and it continues to promise to cede the islands back to Mauritius when "no longer needed for defense purposes." Mauritius objected at the time, agreeing reluctantly only after the U.K threatened to withdraw its independence offer.
Mauritius continues to argue that the Chagos Islands are an integral part of Mauritius and could not be disassembled and should remain with Mauritius; then and now. They argue that the so-called 1965 Lancaster House Undertakings with the United Kingdom were "obtained under duress and coercion conditions" and did not constitute an arrangement involving two independent nations, i.e. it was just an arrangement from one part of the UK government and another. The settlement agreed that Mauritius would have access to the Chagos Archipelago waters for fishing and other economic activities, including oil and mineral prospecting, but did not envisage extracting permits being issued.
However, the retention of control was conditional upon a promise to restore the islands to Mauritius when the islands were no longer required for defensive purposes (in the absolute discretion of the United Kingdom). The British insist to have paid the entire amount due to Mauritius and the former inhabitants claim that Chagos, particularly DGAR, is an important defense facility.
Contemporary diplomatic dialogue between Mauritius and the United Kingdom suggests that the UK would remain in control over the Islands. Therefore it is necessary to raise uncomfortable questions concerning the continued American occupation of Diego Garcia and the interests of the US in the region. Our current crisis needs a reappraisal of international political and economic structures such as the UN and the WTO whose primary function has been to assert Western dominance over the planet during the last few decades no longer reflects geopolitical reality.
Tilte Image Source: CNN
The article has been written by Niranjan Jose, who is a fourth-year law student from National Law University Odisha (NLUO). He is inclined towards variety of subjects such as contemporary international politics, international monetary economics, and international trade law.