Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Chagossian history.

Recently, my conversations with Labour party members have transformed solely in to yet more opportunities to preach the 40 year plight of the Chagossians and how at fault our party has been and still is. This sordid tale, remarkably, is unknown to most of the people I’ve been speaking to (as it was to me a few months ago) but after sharing the history, there is unanimous support for their cause and dismay at our policy that has caused a four decade long abuse of human rights. So here’s the story:

In the early 1960′s, the US government, concerned about Soviet expansion in the Indian Ocean, asked the British government to find an uninhabited island where the US could build a naval base. Returning the favour, the US would be willing to give $14 million in research and development fees for Britain’s Polaris missile program. The first island located was Aldabra, near Madagascar. Aldabra fitted the bill in terms of it’s location and vitally it was uninhabited. However, the island was a breeding ground for a rare species of tortoise and their mating habits may have been affected by a military base. Looking for an alternative, the US decided on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos Archipelago. This had the benefit of leaving tortoise mating undisturbed but the island was home to 1,800 Chagossians, or Ilois, who had inhabited the islands for over 200 years. The Chagossians were employed, grew their own food and fished and had built their own stores and a church. However, the courtesy for tortoises evidently didn’t apply to human beings. The government soon began a campaign to deal with the “population problem” to “maintain the pretense there [are] no permanent inhabitants.” This appalling attitude persisted and rather than seeing Diego Garcia as the society it was, it was regarded as a nuisance, summed up by the British diplomat Dennis Greenhill who said: “unfortunately along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Man Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius.”

They were “wished on to Mauritius”, as well as the Seychelles and the UK. This began in 1968 when residents who left Diego Garcia merely to visit Mauritius were refused return to the island. They were stranded in Mauritius, without any assistance in resettling or any compensation. To this day, the Chagossians in Mauritius still live in poverty. Soon after, the Americans began to arrive and the rest of the indigenous population were forced to leave. Only allowed to take clothes, their homes and possessions had to be abandoned and their pets were killed amidst threats that if they did not leave, they would otherwise be “bombed” and wouldn’t “be fed any longer.” All this was with the full knowledge and approval of Harold Wilson, Roy Jenkins and Denis Healey.

The inhumane treatment was compounded by the compensation later given to the Mauritius government. The £1.4 million only covered the debts incurred from resettlement and when it was dealt out to 595 Chagossian families, it was years later and significantly reduced by inflation. Another £6 million was paid in compensation but when the Chagossians claimed for it, they were required to endorse a renunciation form, written in English though they speak Creole, that forfeited their right to return home. This wasn’t even translated for them.

Injustice after injustice, finally in 2000 it was ruled that the forced removal was illegal and the right to return to the outer Chagos Islands was returned. This slight progress was then reneged when Jack Straw issued two Orders in Council in 2004 and the right to return was take away again. Even as soon as April this year, the Foreign Office proposed plans for a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Archipelago that erects a barrier to any return to the islands. The outright dismissal of their rights continues.

That’s the story. Tragic, inhumane and unlawful. We desperately have to make amends and the best place to begin is by changing our policy on Chagos and campaigning for their right to return. To achieve this, we need your support.

1 comment:

  1. USA was deeply concerned with the stability of the host nation of any potential base, and sought an unpopulated territory, to avoid United Nations’s decolonisation requirements and the resulting political issues of sovereignty or anti-US sentiment. The Chagossian right of occupation was violated by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office as a result of the 1966 agreement between UK & US governments The forced removal of the Chagossian people was an act of ethnic cleansing. The frustration of more than four decades of of exile for the Chagos islanders exacerbated by the refusal of successive UK governments to find a just solution kept breaking though. How can it be that a military settlement is lawful when the rightful inhabitants are not allowed to settle there? US & UK military squatters have taken over the rightful habitation of the islands. Each revelation about the UK’s dealings with Diego Garcia is more disgraceful than the previous, and still the cover-up continues.
    Presently about 50 British and 1,500 U.S. military personnel, and 3,000 support workers of various nationalities – primarily Sinhalese and Filipinos – reside at Diego Garcia.
    Most of the roughly 1,500 displaced Chagossians were agricultural workers and fisherman. Uprooted and robbed of their livelihood, the Chagossians now live in poverty in Mauritius’s urban slums, more than 1,500km from their homeland. A smaller number were deported to the Seychelles. About 800 islanders forced off Diego Garcia are alive today, and another 5,000 Chagossians have been born in exile. A 2003 60 Minutes segment and a 2004 documentary by Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger, “Stealing a Nation”, have done much to publicize the little-known plight of the islanders.
    In May 2006, the British High Court in London ruled that the Chagossians may in fact return to other Chagossian islands, and offered a withering assessment of the British conduct in the case, calling it “outrageous, unlawful and a breach of accepted moral standards.”
    “The suggestion that a minister can, through an Order in Council, exile a whole population from a British Overseas Territory and claim he is doing so for the ‘peace, order and good government’ of the Territory is repugnant.”
    The Chagossians have accepted that they cannot return to Diego Garcia because of the U.S. airbase, but the islanders want to move elsewhere in the Chagos archipelago, to the Salomon islands and Peros Banhos, which are more than 150km from Diego Garcia. USA is opposed to anyone other than military personnel and their employees living anywhere in the Chagos archipelago, asserting that security will be compromised. According to a US State Department official, Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., allowing civilians in the archipelago could potentially lead to “terrorists infiltrating the islands.”
    Visit to watch the documentary by John Pilger titled ‘Stealing of a Nation’ which discusses the current plight of these indigenous people who have been forcibly exiled by the so-called guardians of democracy and human rights, the British, for the benefit of their loyal friends, the Americans, so that the US has an unrestricted platform to launch attacks on other nations which do not comply with the so called ‘new world order’ as dictated by the US.
    -Nalliah Thayabharan