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January 1, 2011

The Plight of the Chagossians

by D. O’Dea

Prior to 1968 the Chagos Archipelago, a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, was inhabited by a people known as the Îlois or Chagossians.

Originally of combined African (in particular Madagascar, Mozambique and Mauritius – many having once been held as slaves to the French colonists) and Indian heritage, generations of Chagossians had settled in Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos, Egmont Islands, Eagle Islands and the Salomon Island Chain. Life wasn’t easy, but they had succeeded in establishing a largely self-sufficient society and spoke their own – now endangered – language. The Îlois were -and remain – a people recognised under international law with a sovereign right to the land which holds the graves of their ancestors.

Unfortunately the British saw things differently.

The Chagos Archipelago was previously part of the colony of Mauritius. Throughout the years of Western colonialism Mauritius was ‘owned’ by the Dutch (who named it in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau), then the French and eventually the British, who ‘won’ it during the Napoleonic Wars.  In 1965 Mauritius was well on the way to independence, so the British brokered a deal which would allow them to hang on to territory in an area of immense strategic importance to both the British and American military. As part of their independence agreement the Mauritians were required to hand over the Chagos Archipelago – and the future of 5000 Chagossians – to the British and the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was established.

Almost immediately after the formation of the BIOT Britain secretly leased Diego Garcia to the US for 50 years (expiring in 2016), with the option of a 25 year extension (which would take the occupation to 2041). As this was the height of the Cold War the US promptly built a nuclear military base called ‘Camp Hope’. Diego Garcia has been of central strategic importance to the US  ever since. In the last decade Diego Garcia has been used to launch bombing raids against Iraq and Afghanistan. Camp Hope, like its more famous Guantanamo counterpart, is also believed to be a CIA black site. George W Bush admitted to the existence of black sites years ago, but European democratic states have maintained blanket denial despite the existence of a European Union report adopted on February 14, 2007, by a majority of the European Parliament which concluded that it was not possible to contradict evidence that secret detention centres were operated in Poland and Romania.

In 1967 the British government shut down the plantations and stopped supply ships from landing in the BIOT area. Then, with no warning or consultation, the islanders were told that they were all being evicted. Their livestock was slaughtered and their homes were destroyed. In the following years, from 1967 to 1973, some 2000 Chagossians were expelled from their homeland by the British government. Despite the fact that the Chagossians were entitled to dual British citizenship, the British state falsely declared that the Chagossians were in fact citizens of the Republic of Mauritius, and so the evictees found themselves living, often in very poor conditions, in Mauritius and the Seychelles.

The Chagossians have been fighting to return to their homelands ever since. Subsequent British governments, both Tory and Labour, have continued to oppose them all the way, denying their status as a people and their right to settle in the islands of the Chagos Archipelago. Despite a landmark decision by the High Court in November 2000 which ruled that the expulsion of the Chagossians was indeed unlawful, and regardless of the then Foreign Affairs Secretary, Jack Staw, being forced to concede on May 21, 2002 that Chagossians were, in fact, British citizens (which itself may yet be a poison chalice used to deny the Chagossians a right to claim compensation), the British state is still stopping the Chagossians from returning home – saying that Britain has an obligation to the treaty it signed with US!

The most disturbing ploy so far used by the British government to deny the Chagossians their homeland was exposed by a Wikileaks Cable leak:

“Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO’s Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the BIOT. End Comment.” – HMG Cable May 2009 (09LONDON1156)

In other words the British government consciously used the widespread environmental concerns of people from around the world to ensure the ongoing existence of a military base (I hope they’re using Green Bombs!), or as Ben Fogle, co-patron of The UK Chagos Support Association, said in a letter to the Guardian on December 8th, 2010:

Forty years ago, thousands of people were forcibly and illegally removed from their homeland, the British Indian Ocean Territory, to make way for Diego Garcia, a US military base. The expulsion has been described by some as UK foreign policy’s darkest day. Since then the islanders have fought for the right to go home. They won it from the high court, but the privy council took it away. It now seems, from US information released by WikiLeaks (Foreign Office accused of misleading public over expelled ‘Man Fridays’, 4 December), that the Foreign Office has no regrets over its illegal action, and has been planning to destroy the islanders’ campaign by making their former home a marine sanctuary, in which no one would be allowed to live.

As a long-term advocate of conservation, I am horrified that the UK government has used this to keep the islanders from returning to their rightful home, and that I was duped into supporting the creation of the marine sanctuary under false pretences. According to the leaked documents, Colin Roberts, the FCO’s director of overseas territories, told the US that there would be no “Man Fridays” on the islands and said: “We do not regret the removal of the population.” The FCO described the all-party parliamentary group campaigning for the Chagos people’s right to return as a “persistent” but relatively non-influential group. I now regret my support of the marine sanctuary and look forward to joining the islanders in their campaign to return home.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. Skeptic permalink
    January 2, 2011 8:11 am

    If anyone believes that load of rubbish they are more gullible than is good for them. This nonsense does the Chagossian cause no good at all. Stick to facts which can be proven and you will be listened to. Rave like this and you will be rightly ignored.

    • January 3, 2011 11:51 am

      If ‘gullible’ means understanding that modern capitalism rests on the widespread expulsion of people from land which was rightfully theirs then count us in 😉

      O’Dea should never have given in to Skeptic and Bob, they’re the naïve ones! As O’Dea tried to show, the modern world has been shaped by land-grabbing rich scum – anyone happy with this fact is a either a dupe or a lackey.

      Not that their naïvety is entirely their own fault, history being the mythology of the dominant class many historians have helped to hide the facts. As O’Dea and the Liberi have both previously mentioned The Land magazine we’d like to go for the hat-trick and recommend the following article as important reading for middle class liberals like Bobbie & Skeppie…

      We ARE all Chagossians!!!

  2. IslandBob permalink
    January 2, 2011 11:36 pm

    The writer is using the hapless Chagossians to advance his or her muddled agenda of anarchy. God knows they have suffered enough. It is a cheap tactic and I am offended.


    • January 3, 2011 11:59 am

      “agenda of anarchy” – hmmm, by definition the only ‘agenda’ anarchists have is to free themselves from the tyranny of power and wealth.

      Can’t believe O’Dea kowtowed to a liberal muppet who thinks it’s possible to reason with the British state.

  3. D O'Dea permalink
    January 3, 2011 9:43 am

    In light of the above comments I have asked The Liberi to remove all but the basic facts relating to the case. I can assure you I have no ‘agenda’, anarchist or otherwise, but to highlight the plight of the Chagossians. I am an emotive person and admittedly prone to a rant (especially with regard to land issues as I am a member of the traveler community in Britain who has experienced some particularly harsh treatment at the hands of the state), but my intention was simply to show that the vast majority of people have far more in common with the Chagossians than they do with the mechanisms of global power.

  4. The Liberi permalink*
    January 3, 2011 10:08 am

    We’ve altered (censored) the original piece as requested. But we do feel that there were some very valid points regarding ‘ownership’ of land which we’d like to highlight here…


  1. The Land Will Remain « The Liberi

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