Britain ‘regrets’ Chagos eviction as UN top court hears islands row

Protesters outside the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, as judges listen to arguments in a case focused on whether Britain illegally maintains sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. (AP Photo)
Updated 03 September 2018
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Britain ‘regrets’ Chagos eviction as UN top court hears islands row

  • Britain in 1965 detached the Chagos Islands from its colony of Mauritius, which became independent three years later
  • The United States has leased the Chagos Islands’ biggest island, Diego Garcia, since 1966 and has built an air base there

THE HAGUE: Britain apologized Monday for the “shameful way” it evicted residents of the disputed Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean but insisted Mauritius was wrong to bring the increasingly bitter dispute to the UN’s top court.
Hearings opened Monday before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where judges are listening to arguments over the future status of the remote archipelago — home to a strategic US military base leased from Britain on territory claimed by Mauritius.
Britain in the early 1970s evicted almost 2,000 residents to Mauritius and the Seychelles to make way for the key base. For years Chagossians have dreamt of returning.
London “fully accepts the manner in which Chagossians were removed from the Chagos Archipelago,” British MP and Solicitor General Robert Buckland said.
“The way they were treated thereafter was shameful and wrong and (Britain) deeply regrets that fact,” he told ICJ judges.
But London did not believe the world court — which was asked by the United Nations General Assembly to give a legal opinion — was the right body to resolve the matter.
“This is a purely bilateral dispute,” between London and Port Louis, Buckland said, adding the ICJ’s judges should “decline the request for an advisory opinion.”
Earlier Monday, Mauritius’ lawyers said the British-ruled Islands were “integral” to its territory and that the Indian Ocean island chain was handed to London “under duress.”
“More than 50 years after independence... the process of decolonization of Mauritius remains incomplete,” former Mauritian president Anerood Jugnauth said.
This was “as a result of the unlawful detachment of an integral part of our territory on the eve of our independence,” he told the judges.

Mauritius tried to persuade judges at the World Court to find that it was illegally stripped by Britain of the Chagos Islands.
The case at the International Court of Justice in the Hague is a test of whether colonial-era deals struck by great powers and small states that later gained independence are legitimate, given the power imbalance.
Britain in 1965 detached the Chagos Islands from its colony of Mauritius, which became independent three years later while the sparsely populated Chagos remained overseas British territory.
The United States has leased the Chagos Islands’ biggest island, Diego Garcia, since 1966 and has built an air base there, while the entire population of around 1,500 people was forced to leave.
In 2017, Mauritius petitioned the United Nations to seek an ICJ advisory opinion on the legality of Britain’s colonial-era move.
Despite opposition from Britain and the United States, which views the Diego Garcia base as a vital military asset, the UN General Assembly referred the matter to the ICJ, commonly known as the World Court, in 2017 for an advisory opinion.
Although ICJ opinions are not binding, they carry weight under international law.
The case was argued by elder statesman Anerood Jugnauth, 88, who served for nearly 30 years during four stints as prime minister or president of Mauritius from 1982-2017, and now holds the post of “minister mentor” in a cabinet led by his son.
“The choice we were faced with was no choice at all: it was independence with detachment (of the Chagos archipelago) or no independence with detachment anyway,” Jugnauth told the 14-judge panel.
UK solicitor general Robert Buckland told the court it should decline to issue any opinion on the matter, which he argued was better suited to bilateral negotiations.
The people displaced from the Chagos Islands have lobbied for years to be able to return. In 2016, Britain’s Foreign Ministry extended Diego Garcia’s lease until 2036, and declared the expelled islanders would not be allowed to go back. Outside the court in The Hague, a small group of Chagossians gathered to protest. They unfurled banners denouncing “modern slavery” and called for Chagossians to be allowed self-determination. “I want the world to see that we are still suffering,” Isabelle Charlot, whose father was born on Chagos, told Reuters.
Buckland accepted that the removal of the Chagossians and their treatment thereafter “was shameful and wrong,” but said it had already been resolved in a 1982 agreement on compensation.
More than 20 interested parties, including the African Union, have asked to take part in the hearings. No date has been set for a decision.


Germany: Violent Paris riots were ‘terrifying’

French President Emmanuel Macron holds a meeting in Paris on Monday. (AP)
Updated 5 min 29 sec ago
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Germany: Violent Paris riots were ‘terrifying’

  • Minister promises a review of instructions given to police officers
  • Macron has vowed “strong” measures to quell the violence

PARIS: A German government spokesman said on Monday that the street violence that rocked central Paris during weekend “yellow vest” protests was “terrifying.”

“The outbreak of violence and destructive rage in Paris this past weekend was terrifying,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert.

“It has nothing to do with peaceful, democratic protests and the German government supports the French government in its efforts to guarantee public order.”

The famous Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris was hit by an arson and looting rampage by black-clad anarchists during a “yellow vest” protest on Saturday.

Police appeared overwhelmed as demonstrators ran amok on the avenue, with retailers there saying some 80 shops and businesses were vandalized.

Police used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to repel protesters who gathered at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe war memorial, which had already been sacked on Dec. 1.

It was the 18th consecutive weekend of demonstrations which began in mid-November.

Business owners on the iconic Champs-Elysees avenue were fuming on Monday as President Emmanuel Macron met with Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet to weigh their response to an 18th consecutive Saturday of “yellow vest” demonstrations.

The government’s failure to keep the protests from spiralling out of control has put a harsh spotlight on its law enforcement strategy.

“You have to take responsibility and engage, with the possibility that people will get hurt,” said Frederic Lagache of the Alliance police union.

For decades French authorities have usually preferred the opposite, putting down mass protests with tear gas and rubber bullets but avoiding physical clashes against large groups.

“They would rather see a building damaged, with insurance companies footing the bill, than risk direct contact between police and demonstrators that might cause serious injuries or death,” said Olivier Cahn at France’s CESDIP law enforcement research institute.

Macron has vowed “strong” measures to quell the violence, and has already pledged an anti-hooligan law that would let authorities pre-emptively detain protesters with a known history of violence.

“The idea seems to be, if the violence persists, you have to be more repressive,” Cahn said. “That doesn’t do anything except make the protesters even more determined,” he said.

Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez admitted on RTL radio that police “were less aggressive, less reactive than usual” over the weekend, promising a review of the instructions given to officers and their deployment.

But critics say that after more than three months of weekly protests, the government needs more than pledges of determined action, and should drastically rethink its approach for stamping out the rioting.

“There are techniques and strategies for separating violent demonstrators from the others,” Cahn said.

“Germany has strategies for de-escalating the tensions and separating protesters that are quite effective,” he said.

However French authorities have already been accused of a heavy-handed response to the yellow vest movement.

Rights groups have tried to have the controversial “defensive ball launchers” (LBD) banned, noting that France is one of only a handful of Western countries to use them.

But the government says they allow police to avoid potentially more risky contact with protesters hurling paving stones and wielding hammers and other makeshift weapons.

Yet pressure is increasing to find a way of quelling the violence, especially when authorities are well aware that a hard core of protesters are determined to cause havoc again next Saturday.

“Every Sunday large cities across France wake up to the same old story: Smoldering barricades and a strident declaration from Christophe Castaner,” leftwing daily Liberation wrote on Monday.