Africa: Mauritius Court Declares Anti-Agoa, Anti-War Protest Legal

12 January 2003

Washington, DC — Mauritian Supreme Court Justice Eddy Balancy declared on Friday that the police had acted outside the law in banning a demonstration against the free trade policies of the United States. The protest is timed to coincide with the opening of the Agoa Ministerial Forum in Mauritius. The judge ordered the police to authorise the demonstration, planned for January 15.

The Platform Against Bush Politics, a coalition of local trade union federations, women's organizations, small agricultural producers and civil society groups, are organizing the demonstration to protest what they believe are the negative impact of Agoa trade law.

The groups also oppose the US plans for a war against Iraq and a number of other US policies, including the refusal of the Bush administration to sign the Kyoto Agreement on global warming.

When the demonstration was announced two weeks ago, the Commissioner of Police in Mauritius banned the gathering, arguing that his officers did not have the capacity to both provide security for the Agoa meetings and a demonstration. But the demonstrators took the police to court and on Friday, the Supreme Court Justice ruled that police could not violate the demonstrators "fundamental right to assemble and express opinions."

The Agoa meeting, formally known as the U.S.Sub-Saharan African Trade and Cooperation Forum, is mandated by the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa) signed into U.S. law in May 2000. Next week's forum is the second such meeting. The first was held in Washington, DC in October, 2001, when President Bush called Agoa, "a roadmap for how the United States and Africa can tap the power of markets to improve the lives of our citizens."

"It is a big victory for democratic organizations and democracy in Mauritius," said Rajni Lallah, a spokesperson for the Platform Against Bush Politics. In a telephone interview from Port-Louis, she added: "the march is going to go ahead on Wednesday at 14h30." She said the member groups were concerned, however, that they now only had four days to organize the protests.

The Platform, which includes the General Workers' Federation, the Féderation des Syndicats de Corps Constuées, and Planteurs du Nord, among others organizations, also plan a "Peoples' Forum" on Monday, January 13, and Wednesday, January 15.

Lallah said participants in the meetings are opposed to the conditions included with the US' Agoa legislation which, they believe, push the government of Mauritius to privatize state-owned companies and to adopt policies that benefit private companies but not the people. "What these overt and other covert conditionalities in Agoa amount to is a recolonization of Africa," she said.

Beyond the Agoa-related issues, the groups are also protesting against U.S. plans for a war against Iraq and the continuing U.S. use of a military base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The protesters, and many others in Mauritius, consider Diego Garcia and the other islands in that area to be a part of their country that were illegally stolen by the British.

Lallah also blasted a parallel Forum for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that is part of the official Agoa activities, which she charged was organized primarily by US-based NGOs and involved mainly government "front groups" from Mauritius.

One U.S. participant in the official NGO Forum, while refusing to get involved publicly in a debate about this forum, told allAfrica that the Mauritian groups could make a more positive contribution by attending the official NGO meeting rather than protesting.

In addition to groups from Mauritius, Lallah said that Jubilee South (South Africa), the African Trade Network, the pan-African women's network, Women in Law and Development and the Southern African Peoples' Solidarity Network would be participating in the People's Forum events.

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