Disgraceful! Disgusting! Shameful! The British Governments treatment of the Chagos Islanders

Just some of the comments (appropriately) attributed to today’s decision at the British High Courts of (In)Justice to thwart the Chagos Islanders’ decades long legal battle for the right to return to their homeland

Chagos-IslandOne of the most ignominious episodes in British foreign policy, involving political parties of all colours, was the forced eviction of some 2,000 Illois people from their homeland, the beautiful Chagos island group (formerly part of the Territory of Mauritius) in the Indian Ocean and the continued denial of their right to return home.

In blatant violation of UN Resolution 2066XX, which reaffirmed the inalienable right of the people of the Territory of Mauritius to freedom and independence in accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), Britain created a new colony in the 1960′s – the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Mark Curtis explains in his outstanding book, Web of Deceit, which uses declassified government papers to piece together the buried truth:

This included the Chagos island group which was detached from Mauritius, and other islands detached from the Seychelles. Mauritius had been granted independence by Britain in 1965 on the barely concealed condition that London be allowed to buy the Chagos island group from it – Britain gave Mauritius £3 million.

In December 1966 the Wilson government signed a military agreement with the US leasing the BIOT to it for military purposes for fifty years with the option of a further twenty years. Britain thus ignored UN Resolution 2066XV passed by the General Assembly in December 1965 which called on the UK ‘to take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity’.

Beginning in 1968, consecutive British governments have denied the truth of this gross violation of human rights; consecutive British governments have abandoned their own citizens and watched their desperate situation grow worse by the year; consecutive British governments have conspired to misinform the UK public and deny the right of the people of Diego Garcia to ever return home.

The Chagosians were once described by a Foreign Office official in a secret file: ‘unfortunately along with birds go some few Tarzans or man Fridays whose origins are obscure’. The deceit continued decade after decade. In 1990 Margaret Thatcher deliberately lied when she told the House of Commons that:

Those concerned worked on the former copra plantations in the Chagos archipelago. After the plantations closed between 1971 and 1973 they and their families were resettled in Mauritius and given considerable financial assistance. Their future now lies in Mauritius.

MPAIn the latest twist, the British Foreign Office has decided to create a marine park in the archipelago with the sole intention of ‘protecting’ the Chagos islands from their rightful inhabitants. In 2010 under the instructions of then foreign secretary David Milliband, British diplomat Colin Roberts, in his role as commissioner for BIOT created the Marine Protected Area (MPA). All those involved could see this for what it was; a cynical ruse to prevent the Chagosians from returning home.

The Mauritian prime minister, Navinchandra Ramgoolam, said that the decision to establish a 545,000 sq mile marine reserve was carried out in defiance of assurances given to him at the time by the then prime minister, Gordon Brown.

This perverted plan to prevent the return of the Chagosians was confirmed by a US diplomatic cable (leaked to Wikileaks) in which Roberts acknowledged that “we need to find a way to get through the various Chagossian lobbies.” He admitted that HMG is “under pressure” from the Chagossians and their advocates to permit resettlement of the “outer islands” of the BIOT. He noted, without providing details, that “there are proposals (for a marine park) that could provide the Chagossians warden jobs” within the BIOT. However, Roberts stated that, according to HMG’s current thinking on a reserve, there would be “no human footprints” or “Man Fridays” on the BIOT’s uninhabited islands. He asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents.

Lord Justice Richards

Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in London, ruled that the Marine Protected Area was compatible with EU law. They also decided that the leaked cable, which was cited by lawyers for the islanders as support for their accusations that the MPA was only created to prevent their rightful return, was inadmissible in evidence thanks to the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964.

Mr Justice Mitting

Roberts denied under cross-examination at the high court that the marine park was created for the “improper purpose” of keeping the Chagossians out as the US wanted, and said it was for environmental and conservation purposes.

The judges accepted his evidence. Richards said “a truly remarkable set of circumstances” would have to have existed for the case on improper purpose to be right, involving a long-term decision “somewhere deep in government” to frustrate Chagossian ambitions by promoting the MPA. Lord Justice Richards should be made to watch John Pilger’s eye-opening documentary, Stealing A Nation, perhaps then he won’t be so dismissive of the decades long conspiracy to surpress the truth and deny British citizens the right to return to their homes.

US airbase on Diego Garcia has been used for the bombing of afghanistan and Iraq
US airbase on Diego Garcia has been used for the bombing of afghanistan and Iraq

Of course protecting marine life is a commendable ambition but the transparency of the not-so-clever ruse is revealed when one considers the juxtaposition of the US air-base on Diego Garcia which has been used for amongst other things the bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan, the secret rendition program and CIA torture flights as well as a secret storage facility for banned cluster weapons.

Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and human rights activist, Craig Murray reveals that although the UK government signed the ban, Wikileaks documents reveal that in May 2009 the Foreign Office suggested to the US government that agreement on a clever loophole that would allow the continued storage of US cluster munitions on British soil (the island of Diego Garcia) should be delayed until after the UK Parliament had ratified the ban thus avoiding scrutiny from MPs! Protecting marine life indeed…

Today’s ruling is a flagrant breach of articles 9 and 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which stated that ‘no one should be subjected to arbitrary exile’ and ‘everybody has the right to return to his country’. It should be obvious to anyone with even a limited knowledge of British foreign policy that human rights rarely, if ever, figure in the machinations of those civil servants, diplomats and politicians tasked with implementing British government policies.

It’s clear to most of us that a different set of principles apply here when compared to the Falkland Islanders. As Mark Curtis astutely observes, high principles are defended only where violations occur against us. They rarely apply (or are even mentioned) in cases where the British government commits them. This hypocrisy is examined in detail in David Cromwell’s book Why Are We The God Guys:

One of the unspoken assumptions in the Western world is that ‘we’ are great defenders of human rights, a free press and the benefits of market economics. Mistakes might be made along the way, perhaps even tragic errors of judgment such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the prevailing view is that ‘the West’ is essentially a force for good in the wider world.

That the west is a force for good in the wider world is one of the most tragic myths of our time. With our governments’ relentless worship of privately created debt-based money, along with the ceaseless expenditure on the military-industrial-intelligence network this system demands, western states have exported poverty, deprivation, disease and misery to the four corners of the globe. There is nothing admirable, altruistic or even noble about this modern day colonialism.

The flagrant and deliberate lies and deceits along with the perpetual, systemic and unashamed abuse of legal systems for almost half a century are unforgivable. The only way Her Majesty’s Government can ever atone for the deplorable manner in which the Chagos Islanders have been treated is to not renew the lease with the US, in fact demand that the US leave following the restoration of the islands to their former pristine paradise and then hand them back to the rightful inhabitants. We owe them much more but a reasonable start would be to allow the brave, determined Chagosians to return home and live in peace.


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