As Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May fights for her political life, one is reminded of Shakespeare’s depiction of the assassination of Julius Caesar. She has been stabbed, in a manner of speaking, multiple times by friend and foe alike, but she has not said “Et tu Brute” though there are many who would wait for [...]


Shame on you Britain, shame


As Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May fights for her political life, one is reminded of Shakespeare’s depiction of the assassination of Julius Caesar. She has been stabbed, in a manner of speaking, multiple times by friend and foe alike, but she has not said “Et tu Brute” though there are many who would wait for her last words.

One did not need a soothsayer to predict what was in store for her. Those who have followed Britain’s Brexit saga closely could have seen it coming. The Ides of May was not far away. It seemed that May would go in May.

But at the time of writing, she was clinging on tenaciously to No 10 as though she was waiting for the end of the month like some determined tenant to make maximum use of the monthly rent though she does not pay any.

At least she is far more civilised than some of our ministers and officials, who refuse to vacate their premises even though they lost their positions years earlier. What happens in British politics in the coming months, as the Conservatives engage in vicious infighting in a leadership struggle and Tories and Labour engage in acrimonious debate ahead of coming elections, would be worth watching.

All this savours very much of the dirty infighting that is going on in our own political patch in Sri Lanka, as the president searches for any trick in the book that would allow him to stay and have good time with family and friends.

But at least it might be said for Theresa May that her determination to stay in power and see something of a Brexit deal negotiated with the European Union is because she wants to complete the task even though she has been severely wounded by her own party as well as those outside.

While political attention in the UK and continental Europe has been concentrated in recent days on May’s struggle to survive, a diplomatic defeat for Britain has gone virtually unnoticed in the ongoing fray.

That is the vote passed last week at the UN general assembly over Britain’s continued occupation of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, situated south of the Maldives.

In more recent times, Britain duplicitously renamed this archipelago British Indian Ocean Territory in the hope of continuing to claim ownership of it and deny Mauritius the legal right to the islands.

When the motion giving Britain six months to withdraw from the islands and reunite it with Mauritius, Britain and its partner in crime, the US, launched a diplomatic offensive to win more support if they cannot defeat the motion.

In the event, the unpopularity of the Atlantic partners became self-evident when the vote was taken. Britain suffered an ignominious defeat with 116 member states voting for the motion that called for Britain to withdraw within six months and only six countries opposing it. Those who opposed it were Trump’s US, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives. As many as 56 nations abstained, a sign that some of them were not ready to yield to pressure.

Admittedly the motion is not binding, and one cannot see the British quitting, having leech like suction tubes. But it is the impact of this vote on the world outside and the UK’s overblown reputation and image that have taken a beating. It was a clear indication of the standing of old and new colonial powers in the world today.

The history of the Chagossian people is a pitiful story which cannot be told now for reasons of space. But it revolves round Diego Garcia, the most important of the Chagos archipelago for geostrategic reasons. It is home to one of the biggest US naval bases in this part of the world and has been a bone of contention from the time it was constructed after Britain handed over the territory to the US somewhere in 1965.

Though the Chagossian people went to British courts to win the right to return to Diego Garcia from where they were unceremoniously ousted, the UK renewed the agreement with the US two years ago, thereby ending any opportunity of return.

But Mauritius has laid claim to the archipelago from which the islands were plucked away for a paltry sum and promise of independence for the Mauritians.

It might be recalled that declarations of the Non-Aligned Movement’s summits in the early years almost always carried a reference to Diego Garcia and a call for closing down the US base, which in more recent years, was used as a facility for questioning (and torturing?) terrorist suspects. The base was also used for air attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

The battle to recover the Chagos archipelago, especially Diego Garcia, has been going on for decades. More recently (in February 2019) the International Court of Justice in its Chagos advisory opinion found that the separation of the Chagos archipelago from the British colony of Mauritius was contrary to the right of self-determination. Accordingly, the de-colonisation of Mauritius was not completed in conformity with international law.

As a consequence, the court found that the UK’s continuing administration of the archipelago which includes Diego Garcia is a continuing international wrong.

Britain, along with the US, has committed a serious violation of human rights by uprooting a whole population from their homes and dumping them in Mauritius and some in the Seychelles.

This was done surreptitiously and the people there were given a few hours notice to quit their homes with a single bag.

This is but one of the instances of how British colonialism has treated populations and people under their rule. Families of Kenyans killed by British troops as Mau Mau rebels are fighting in British courts for reparations. Hundreds of Gurkha soldiers who fought for King/Queen and country in several wars in which many sacrificed their lives, were treated so badly that they, too, had to fight cases in British courts for some to gain the right to live in Britain. The Indian community in Hong Kong that contributed much to the economic growth of the British administered territory, too, had to conduct a long campaign to gain the right of abode in the UK.

What sticks in the craw is that Britain preaches us homilies on human rights and civil liberties, while it violates the rule of law when it suits it.

Sri Lankans will recall that it was the US and now the UK which led the charge at the UN Human Rights Council with extremely damaging resolutions against Sri Lanka, alleging human rights and international humanitarian law violations.

Yet it is these two countries which continue to violate the rule of law. The vote in the UN last week should be a sharp reminder to British politicians that they are no longer a big power though they sit on the Security Council.

One can understand Donald Trump parading around as though the world is another Trump Tower. But the British trying to play big power games is downright silly. And when they leave the European Union they will only have Trump to hold their hand.


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