Tuesday, October 28, 2008

UK House of Lords Denies Chagos Islanders (Ilois) Right-of-Return

UK House of Lords Deny Chagos Islanders (Ilois) Right-of-Return

Case exposes the role of US imperialism from the 1960s to the present

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

A decision by the British House of Lords, the upper house of parliament, has overturned a previous high court ruling to allow the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands to return to their homes. The Chagos Islands, the largest of which was known as Diego Garcia, are located in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Thousands of Chagos Islanders, also known as Ilois, are living in the UK after being evacuated during the 1960s and early 1970s when the territory was leased by the British to the United States for the construction of a naval and air base.

In a British court decision in November of 2000, the people of the Chagos Islands won their case which claimed that their forced removal was illegal. The then UK foreign secretary, Robin Cook, claimed that the government would immediately transport the Chagossians to the outer islands.

However, in 2004, the government decided to renege on the decision and appealed the initial verdict in favor of the Chagos Islanders. In another British high court decision in 2007, the original verdict was upheld and it was reiterated that the people were illegally expelled and should be given the right to repatriate.

Nonetheless, the British appealed to the House of Lords which delivered the most recent decision denying the right of the Chagos Islanders to return to their homeland. The decision was met with protests by the Chagossians and their supporters in Britain and throughout the world.

"There are a lot of Chagossian people in front of the court today (Oct. 22) and we are very sad about this decision," Hengride Permel, of the Chagos Island Community Association told Al Jazeera.

"It was a chance for the British Government to right a wrong...it is a shameful day for the government." Permel later said that the Chagossian people would deliver a letter of protest to Prime Minister Gordon Brown asking that he overturn the decision made by the House of Lords.

In addition to the forced relocation of the Chagossians to Britain, many were also taken to Mauritius, also located in the Indian Ocean.

According to the British-based solicitor Richard Gifford, who represented the Chagossians in their case: "It has been the misfortune of the Chagos Islanders that their passionate desire to return to their homeland has been caught up in the power politics of foreign policy for the past 40 years."

Gifford went to say that: "Sadly, their struggle to regain their paradise lost has been dismissed on legal grounds, but the political possibilities remain open for parliament, the British public and the international community to continue to support [their return]."

The Significance of the British and US Removal

During the mid-1960s the United States claimed that it was concerned about possible Soviet expansion in the Indian Ocean and wanted to establish a base in the region on an island with no population.

In a secret deal, which was never revealed to the US Congress or the British Parliament, a payment of $11 million was made to lease the territory from the UK, which controlled the area as a colony.

The first choice of the US was the island of Aldabra, just north of Madagascar. However, Aldabra was a breeding ground for giant tortoises, which interfered with potential military activity and whose removal could have drawn controversy from ecologists.

As an alternative they targeted the Chagos Islands, which was ruled by the British alongside neighboring Mauritius. At the same time there was an independence struggle going on demanding that Britain relinquish control of both territories.

In 1965 Britain agreed to grant independence to Mauritius only after the Chagos Islands were separated from the deal. The British then created what was called the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This unilateral act on the part of Britain stripped the Chagos Island residents of any rights to determine their destiny.

In a telegram sent to the UK mission at the United Nations in 1965 it framed the argument that would be made to the international community. The memo stated that: "We recognise that we are in a difficult position as regards references to people at present on the detached islands.

"We know that a few were born on Diego Garcia and perhaps some of the other islands, and so were their parents before them. We cannot therefore assert that there are no permanent inhabitants, however, much this would have been to our advantage. In these circumstances, we think it would be best to avoid all references to permanent inhabitants."

The people who were forced to leave the island were later refused re-entry. When the United States military forces arrived on Diego Garcia, the remaining residents were rounded up and deported to Mauritus.

Case Illustrates the Need to Close All US Bases Abroad

Even today in the United States military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the base established on the Chagos Islands during the 1960s is being utilized.

In a recent article published on the Al Jazeera web site, it points out that: "Diego Garcia has been used in US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the British government has argued that it would not be right for the Chagossians to be allowed home because of security concerns." (Al Jazeera, Oct. 22, 2008)

Consequently, the real reason why the Chagossians are not being allowed to return to their homeland is because of the imperialist aims of the United States and Britain. This is why anti-war forces must not only demand the withdrawal of military forces from both Iraq and Afghanistan, but they must also insist that all foreign bases be closed and that the indigenous inhabitants of these territories be given full rights to return to their homes.

The lessons of the seizure and occupation of the Chagos Islands points out that the imperialist states will create falsehoods to justify their military and territorial ambitions. The exposure of these lies sheds further light on the fact that the so-called "war on terrorism" is nothing but a continuation of the aims and objectives of world imperialism.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

America should be blamed for the occupation. If America leaves Chagos island today, the British will be compelled to return same to the original owners.

America is a country of ambivalent words. When it suits them, occupation is justified to fight cold war, war on terror, etc. When it does not suit them, occupation is illegal, inhuman and unacceptable.

How has the speech of Mr. George Bush at the APEC meeting on "free market, free trade and free people" related to the suffering of the Chagossians?

God bless.