UK Foreign Policy: Eviction, Dispossession, Ethnic Cleansing & Cultural Genocide

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Diego Garcia, Chagos Archipelago. Courtesy: Open Source

By Ann-Marie de Veer
Saturday 4 October 2014

In the late 1960's and early 70's, the once mighty but withering British Empire (BE), carried out an egregious injustice upon the native peoples' of the Chagos Archipelago; the people were forcibly evicted from their native islands of over two hundred years in an act of ethnic cleansing, dispossessed of their homes, lands and title and subjected to cultural genocide. The fact that the military base subsequently established on the island of Diego Garcia was named Camp Justice is in itself a perverse contradiction of events, although it does serve to epitomise the very antithesis of the nefarious activities of both the UK and US regimes in not only achieving this objective, but much more.

As is now commonly known and a matter of public record, the purpose of this illegal action was simple, both the UK and the US, the current leaseholder of the largest island of the archipelago, Diego Garcia, was in need of a strategically placed military base in the Indian Ocean. Thus, the wholesale removal of approximately two thousand Chagossians by the UK regime was seen as a minor obstacle in their quest to gain complete control over the territory and get some rocks that would remain theirs.

Naturally, the Chagossians resisted these illegal acts but were continually harassed by both the British and the Americans who were eager to take up residence. As the slow, methodical and unremitting plan unfolded, the islanders found themselves being stripped of their livelihood and their ability to remain on the islands diminished day by day. Eventually they were threatened with deadly force if they did not leave.

Diplomatic Cable signed by D.A. Greenhill calling for the depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago, 24 August 1966. Courtesy: Open Source

It was at this point, having been evicted from their homes and lands, and under the threat of physical coercion, the islanders had no option but to leave the archipelago. As they did so, the UK regime forced them to relinquish their rights and title over the territory in return for peppercorn payments. By early 1973 all native dwellers had been evicted, deported and dispossessed: the islands had in fact been ethnically cleansed and the area was now ready for the US regime.

As history tells us: most of the Chagossians were shipped to Mauritius, a former colony of the BE that had gained independence in 1968 after having been illegally stripped of its territorial rights to the Chagos Archipelago in 1965. Others were sent to the Seychelles, while some were even taken to the UK. As the years have passed, the number of Chagossians have grown to over four thousand people and although the UK bound minority have fared OK, their counterparts in Mauritius and the Seychelles continue to live in abject poverty.

Thus, for many years the issue remained dormant albeit for the occasional challenge that led to a partial victory, that is until 2006. Then, in a legal challenge to the restrictions on the Chagossians right of return to the islands, the UK High Court of Justice ordered on the 11th May 2006 that the islanders were entitled to return to the Chagos Archipelago. The UK regime immediately filed an appeal to the ruling in June 2006 but the Court of Appeal upheld the judgement in favour of the plaintiffs. Undeterred, the UK regime then appealed to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords who eventually found in their favour on 22nd October 2008 in a 3-2 verdict that effectively ended the legal process for the Chagossians in the UK.

Clearly the UK regime were rattled by this challenge to their authority and decided to take whatever action was necessary to prevent it happening again. On the 1st April 2010 they announced the establishment of a marine nature reserve around the Chagos islands which came into force on the 1st November 2010. However, on the 1st December 2010, WikiLeaks released a leaked US Embassy (London) diplomatic cable dating back to 2009 that exposed the UK and US regimes' discussions in creating the marine nature reserve. The cable details the exchanges between the US Political Counselor Richard Mills and the UK Director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Colin Roberts in making it very difficult, if not impossible, for the resettlement claims of the Chagossians to gain any traction. As the summary of the cable states:

HMG would like to establish a "marine park" or "reserve" providing comprehensive environmental protection to the reefs and waters of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official informed Polcouns on May 12. The official insisted that the establishment of a marine park -- the world's largest -- would in no way impinge on USG use of the BIOT, including Diego Garcia, for military purposes. He agreed that the UK and U.S. should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that U.S. interests were safeguarded and the strategic value of BIOT was upheld. He said that the BIOT's former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.

In light of the evidence provided by this cable, and other documentation in support of their claim to resettlement, the Chagossians mounted an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords who agreed to hear the case. Not unexpectedly, while the evidence was aired in court and the writer of the cable, Roberts, perjured himself by refuting its ulterior motive, the court refused to accept the new documentary evidence stating that to do so would breach diplomatic privilege. The court then went on to hand down its decision in June 2013, refusing the appeal, and even sought to justify its decision by claiming that the marine nature reserve was compatible with EU law.

Nonetheless, the issue is still not at rest as evidence emerges that the US Navy have dumped hundreds of tonnes of waste and sewage into the protected lagoon of Diego Garcia, thus committing a gross act of negligence and willful damage to the area. The irony that it is the military who have committed this atrocity upon a former pristine environment and yet the islanders have been repeatedly refused permission to return to the islands for fear of them committing the very same acts of pollution is completely lost of the UK and US regimes.

That the people of the Chagos Archipelago, (aka. Bassas de Chagas) from Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos, the Salomon Islands and other neighbouring islands were forcibly evicted and dispossessed of their homes, lands and territory is known:

The behaviour of the UK regime in these events clearly constitutes acts of ethnic cleansing upon the Chagossian people.

What is also known is that the UK regime have continued to obfuscate, dissemble and intentionally make false statements in order to retain territory that legally belongs to the Chagossian people and thus deprive them of their cultural identity for the sole purpose of maintaining a strategically positioned military outpost in the Indian Ocean.

The result of the UK's ethnic cleansing of the Chagos Archipelago constitutes an act of cultural genocide upon the Chagossian people.

As of April 2014, the rights of the Chagossian people will finally be heard in the international Permanent Court of Arbitration in Istanbul, Turkey. The hearings are expected to last for some time but the prognosis does not look good: the US military would like to retain Diego Garcia as its strategic outpost in the Indian Ocean and the British regime are aware of its vast reserves of oil and gas.

Neither the UK, nor the US, will be going anywhere soon.

Empires, past and present, cannot escape the scrutiny of the people but justice is considerably more elusive.
Ann-Marie de Veer