Forced into exile by UK in the 1960s. Still dispossessed in 2016
London, UK – 23 August 2016
Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, writes:
I first became aware of the plight of the Indian Ocean peoples of the Chagos Islands during the 1970s. Chagossians who had visited Mauritius were not allowed to return home and the other islanders were later forcibly removed.
It struck me as shockingly unfair that these people were being summarily exiled from their land and homes to serve the ‘big power’ political-military interests of the UK and US.
The UK caved in to US pressure. For the sake of the ‘special relationship’, the British government capitulated to Washington’s demands to use the largest of the islands, Diego Garcia, as a military base. The welfare and interests of the islanders was willfully disregarded.
Two large, rich nations victimised a poor, defenceless people, who were deemed expendable for the sake of Cold War advantage. The fact that they were sacrificed to make way for a military base in the midst of an East-West arms race made it even worse.
Read this timeline of the distressing mistreatment of the Chagos Islanders:
What happened – and is still happening – to the Chagos people is an abuse of human rights. Their right to self-determination – enshrined in the UN Charter – was trampled underfoot.
Taking advantage of their tiny population, distant location from the UK, public ignorance and lack of power and wealth, the UK and US have treated the Chagossians like a non-people. They still do. ‘Might is right’ seems to be their mentality. There is no ethical foreign or military policy when it comes to the Chagos Islanders.
What makes it worse, the Chaggosians have won a series of ‘right of return’ legal victories in the UK courts; only to see them overturned after appeals by the UK government.
This year’s 3-2 Supreme Court judgement, which endorsed a 2004 decision banning Chagossians from living in their own homeland, was another body blow for the islanders – and also to Britain’s reputation as a defender of human rights and indigenous peoples.
It fills me with shame to think that my government has been so heartless and inflexible with regard to the just and legitimate claims of the Chagossians.
Even if the UK government insists on maintaining the US military base and designating the Chagos Islands as a Marine Protected Area (MPA), this is no reason why the Chagossians should not be allowed to return and reestablish permanent settlements on some of their own islands. An amendment to the MPA and to the military agreement with the US could facilitate this option.
Whatever happens, the US and UK governments must recognise, consult and negotiate with Chagos Islanders to create a pathway for their return, including either a transitional or final settlement of the dispute that accords with the islander’s wishes and aspirations. They have a right to decide what is best for them. We must listen to, and support, their rightful claim for self-determination.
I applaud the magnificent efforts of the UK Chagos Support Association and join with them to express my solidarity. Justice for the Chagossians has been long delayed but it cannot, and must not, be denied.
• Find out more about the Chagos Islanders long struggle for justice: http://www.chagossupport.org.uk