Refusal to uphold international rule of law is a serious matter of concern | Three articles from TML Weekly, John Pilger and Craig Murray
TML Weekly welcomes the February 25 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the Chagos Islands. In a majority decision of 13 to 1, with all the judges from EU countries amongst those finding against the UK, the ICJ ruled that the continued British occupation of the Chagos Islands is illegal and ordered the UK to return the islands to Mauritius “as rapidly as possible.” The islands were seized by the British in 1965 and the people forcibly removed in 1971 to permit the U.S. to build a military base on the island of Diego Garcia. This base plays a criminal role in the U.S. striving for world hegemony.
The British Parliament immediately rejected the ruling. A Foreign Office spokesperson gave the following self-serving response on February 25, “This is an advisory opinion, not a judgment. Of course, we will look at the detail of it carefully. The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organized crime and piracy.”
Former British diplomat Craig Murray scoffed at this announcement, “This represents a serious escalation in the UK’s rejection of multilateralism and international law and a move towards joining the U.S. model of exceptionalism, standing outside the rule of international law. As such, it is arguably the most significant foreign policy development for generations. In the Iraq war, while Britain launched war without UN Security Council authority, it did so on a tenuous argument that it had Security Council authority from earlier resolutions. The UK was therefore not outright rejecting the international system. On Chagos it is now simply denying the authority of the International Court of Justice; this is utterly unprecedented.” (See article below.)
The ICJ is the UN’s highest court, and the longstanding injustice against the Chagos Islanders was referred to it by the General Assembly in June 2017, vis-a-vis the UN process of decolonization, by a vote of 94 to 15 in favour of a resolution from Mauritius. In its 2018 submission to the ICJ, Mauritius’ lawyers argued it was coerced into giving up the Chagos Islands, in breach of 1960 UN Resolution 1514, which specifically bans the breakup of colonies before independence.
The ICJ ruling has no binding status but for the British to dispute it is not acceptable. As Craig Murray points out, Britain is outrightly flouting the International Rule of Law and this is a matter of serious concern because nothing justifies British and U.S. crimes against humanity committed in the name of high ideals.
When the British seized the islands, Diego Garcia was the largest and only inhabited island in the British Indian Ocean Territory, usually abbreviated as “BIOT.” The British brutally expelled the total population of the atoll – Chagossians or Chagos Islanders – to facilitate the establishment of the U.S. military base. Today Diego Garcia is one of the five control bases for the Global Positioning System operated by the United States military. The island provided a “fixed aircraft carrier” for the U.S. during the Iranian revolution (1978-1979), the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (1990), Operation Enduring Freedom (the U.S. global “war on terror,” 2001-2014) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2011). The atoll shelters the ships of the U.S. Marine Pre-Positioning Squadron Two. These ships carry equipment and supplies to support a major armed force with tanks, armoured personnel carriers, munitions, fuel, spare parts and even a mobile field hospital. Additionally, Diego Garcia was used as a storage section for U.S. cluster bombs as a detour from UK parliamentary oversight. The British government also colluded with the CIA to use the U.S. base for its extralegal renditions and torture.
Australian journalist and film-maker John Pilger has been one of the champions of the Chagos islanders. His 2004 film, Stealing a Nation, alerted much of the world to their plight. To view the film, click here.
1. “The Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370,” Tony Seed, TML Weekly, April 19, 2014.
Victory for the Chagos Islanders
By John Pilger
There are times when one tragedy tells us how a whole system works behind its democratic façade and helps us understand how much of the world is run for the benefit of the powerful and how governments often justify their actions with lies.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the British Government of Harold Wilson expelled the entire population of the Chagos Islands, a British crown colony in the Indian Ocean, to make way for an American military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island. In high secrecy, the Americans offered a discounted Polaris nuclear submarine as payment for use of the islands.
The truth of this conspiracy did not emerge for another 20 years when secret official files were unearthed at the Public Record Office, in London, by lawyers acting for the former inhabitants of the coral archipelago. Historian Mark Curtis described the enforced depopulation in Web of Deceit, his 2003 book about Britain’s post-war foreign policy. The British media all but ignored it; the Washington Post called it a “mass kidnapping.”
I first heard of the plight of the Chagossians in 1982, during the Falklands War. Britain had sent a fleet to the aid of 2,000 Falkland Islanders at the other end of the world while another 2,000 British citizens from islands in the Indian Ocean had been expelled by British governments and hardly anyone knew.
The difference was that the Falkland Islanders were white and the Chagossians were black and, crucially, the United States wanted the islands – especially Diego Garcia – as a major military base from which to command the Indian Ocean.
The Chagos Islands were a natural paradise. The 1,500 islanders were self-sufficient with an abundance of natural produce, and extreme weather was rare. There were thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a railway and an undisturbed way of life – until a secret 1961 Anglo-American survey of Diego Garcia led to the deportation of the entire population.
The expulsions began in 1965. People were herded into the hold of a rusting ship, the women and children forced to sleep on a cargo of bird fertiliser. They were dumped in the Seychelles, where they were held in prison cells, then shipped on to Mauritius, where they were taken to a derelict housing estate with no water or electricity.
Twenty-six families died here in brutal poverty, there were nine suicides; and girls were forced into prostitution to survive.
I interviewed many of them. One woman recalled how she and her husband took their baby to Mauritius for medical treatment and were told they could not return. The shock was so great that her husband suffered a stroke and died. Others described how the British and Americans gassed their dogs – beloved pets to the islanders – as an intimidation to pack up and leave. Lizette Talate told me how her children had “died of sadness.” She herself has since died.
The depopulation of the archipelago was completed within 10 years and Diego Garcia became home to one of the United States’ biggest bases, with more than 2,000 troops, two bomber runways, 30 warships, facilities for nuclear-armed submarines and a satellite spy station. Iraq and Afghanistan were bombed from the former paradise. Following 9/11, America’s perceived enemies were “rendered” here and there is evidence they were tortured.
All the while, the Chagos remained a British possession and its people a British responsibility. After demonstrating on the streets of Mauritius in 1982, the exiled islanders were given the derisory compensation of less than £3,000 each by the British government.
When declassified British Foreign Office files were discovered, the full sordid story was laid bare. One file was headed, ‘Maintaining the Fiction’ and instructed British officials to lie that the islanders were itinerant workers, not a stable indigenous population. Secretly, British officials recognized they were open to “charges of dishonesty” because they were planning to “cook the books” – lie.
In 2000, the High Court in London ruled the expulsions illegal. In response, the Labour government of Tony Blair invoked the Royal Prerogative, an archaic power invested in the Queen’s “Privy Council” that allows the government to bypass Parliament and the courts. In this way, the government hoped, the islanders could be prevented from ever returning home.
The High Court again ruled that the Chagossians were entitled to return and in 2008, the Foreign Office appealed to the Supreme Court. Although based on no new evidence, the appeal was successful.
I was in Parliament – where the highest court then sat in the House of Lords – on the day of the judgement. I have never seen such shame-faced judges in what was clearly a political decision.
In 2010, the British government sought to reinforce this by establishing a marine nature reserve around the Chagos Islands. The ruse was exposed by WikiLeaks, which published a U.S. Embassy diplomatic cable from 2009 that read, “Establishing a marine reserve might indeed, as the FCO’s [Colin] Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or descendants from resettling.”
Now the International Court of Justice has decided that the British government of the day had no right in law to separate the Chagos Islands from Mauritius when it granted Mauritius independence. The Court, whose powers are advisory, has said Britain must end its authority over the islands. By extension, that almost certainly makes the U.S. base illegal.
Of course, the indefatigable campaign of the Chagossians and their supporters will not stop there: not until the first islander goes home.
(johnpilger.com, February 25, 2019)
UK rejects International Court of Justice Opinion on the Chagos Islands
In [the British] Parliament, [MP] Alan Duncan for the government has just rejected yesterday’s [February 25] stunning result at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where British occupation of the Chagos Islands was found unlawful by a majority of 13 to 1, with all the judges from EU countries amongst those finding against the UK.
This represents a serious escalation in the UK’s rejection of multilateralism and international law and a move towards joining the U.S. model of exceptionalism, standing outside the rule of international law. As such, it is arguably the most significant foreign policy development for generations. In the Iraq war, while Britain launched war without UN Security Council authority, it did so on a tenuous argument that it had Security Council authority from earlier resolutions. The UK was therefore not outright rejecting the international system. On Chagos it is now simply denying the authority of the International Court of Justice; this is utterly unprecedented.
Duncan put forward two arguments. Firstly that the ICJ opinion was “only” advisory to the General Assembly. Secondly, he argued that the ICJ had no jurisdiction as the case was a bilateral dispute with Mauritius (and thus could only go before the ICJ with UK consent, which is not given).
But here Duncan is – against all British precedent and past policy – defying a ruling of the ICJ. The British government argued strenuously in the present case against ICJ jurisdiction, on just the grounds Duncan cited. The ICJ considered the UK’s arguments, together with arguments from 32 other states and from the African Union. The ICJ ruled that it did have jurisdiction, because this was not a bilateral dispute but part of the UN ordained process of decolonization.
The International Court of Justice’s ruling on this point is given at length in paras 83 to 91 of its Opinion. This is perhaps the key section:
- The Court therefore concludes that the opinion has been requested on the matter of decolonization which is of particular concern to the United Nations. The issues raised by the request are located in the broader frame of reference of decolonization, including the General Assembly’s role therein, from which those issues are inseparable (Western Sahara, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1975, p. 26, para. 38; Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 2004 (I), p. 159, para. 50).
- Moreover, the Court observes that there may be differences of views on legal questions in advisory proceedings (Legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (South West Africa) notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 276 (1970), Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1971, p. 24, para. 34). However, the fact that the Court may have to pronounce on legal issues on which divergent views have been expressed by Mauritius and the United Kingdom does not mean that, by replying to the request, the Court is dealing with a bilateral dispute.
- In these circumstances, the Court does not consider that to give the opinion requested would have the effect of circumventing the principle of consent by a State to the judicial settlement of its dispute with another State. The Court therefore cannot, in the exercise of its discretion, decline to give the opinion on that ground.
- In light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that there are no compelling reasons for it to decline to give the opinion requested by the General Assembly.
As stated at para 183, that the court did have jurisdiction was agreed unanimously, with even the U.S. judge (the sole dissenter on the main question) in accord. For the British government to reject the ICJ’s unanimous ruling on jurisdiction, and quote that in parliament as the reason for not following the ICJ Opinion, is an astonishing abrogation of international law by the UK. It really is unprecedented. The repudiation of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention over Julian Assange pointed the direction the UK is drifting, but that body does not have the prestige of the International Court of Justice.
The International Court of Justice represents the absolute pinnacle of, and embodies the principle of, international law. In 176 decisions, such as Nigeria vs Cameroon or Malaysia vs Indonesia, potentially disastrous conflicts have been averted by the states’ agreement to abide by the rule of law. The UK’s current attack on the ICJ is a truly disastrous new development.
I have taken it for granted that you know that the reason the UK refuses to decolonize the Chagos Islands is to provide an airbase for the U.S. military on Diego Garcia. If Brexit goes ahead, the Chagos Islands will also lead to a major foreign policy disagreement between the UK and U.S. on one side, and the EU on the other. The EU will be truly shocked by British repudiation of the ICJ.
I have studied the entire and lengthy ICJ Opinion on the Chagos Islands, together with its associated papers, and I will write further on this shortly.
Craig Murray is a former British diplomat.
(www.craigmurray.org.uk, February 26, 2019)