BRITAIN has apologised to the Chagos Islanders for the ‘shameful’ way it evicted them from the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
The apology came on the first day of a hearing on the future of the islands at the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The US and the UK have established a strategic military air and naval base on one of the islands, Diego Garcia, with a nuclear capacity to threaten Iran, Russia and China. It also houses a special US-UK torture facility for ‘interrogating’ suspected terrorists.
Mauritius has asked the ICJ for a legal opinion on sovereignty over the Chagos Islands on the grounds they were ‘unlawfully’ separated and incorporated into British Indian Ocean Territory ahead of independence.
The Chagos colonial clearances were carried out with considerable ruthlessness. All residents’ farms and dwellings were demolished, all domestic animals and pets were killed, and the residents were told that they would get the same treatment if they did not board the boats to Mauritius.
In fact, Britain paid Mauritius £3 million for the Chagos Islands, which it then reassigned to the British Indian Ocean Territory in 1965, before forcibly evicting over 2,000 local residents to make way for the massive airbase on the largest island, Diego Garcia.
The UK detached the Chagos Islands from its then UK colony of Mauritius in 1965, three years prior to offering Mauritius independence, but continued to keep the sparsely-populated archipelago part of the British Overseas Territories.
The evicted Chagossians and their descendants have been campaigning for the right to return home ever since. It is a matter of eternal shame that these colonial clearances were carried out by a Labour government led by Harold Wilson.
Anerood Jugnauth, a former Mauritian president, leading the island-state’s case, told the International Court that Wilson had bullied Mauritian leaders into signing off on the ‘unlawful’ sale of the islands and their people, three years before Mauritian independence.
Jugnauth continued: ‘The choice we were faced with was no choice at all: it was independence with detachment (of the Chagos Archipelago) or no independence with detachment anyway.’ He argued that the country had been deceitfully pressured to relinquish control during post-independence negotiations with their British colonisers and that it had only agreed to the temporary use of the islands for military objectives.
Jugnauth chose not to resist the imperialist Wilson and acquiesced to the Chagossians losing their island, their homes, and their properties. The UK Solicitor General said London ‘fully accepts the manner in which Chagossians were removed from the Chagos Archipelago.’ He added: ‘The way they were treated thereafter was shameful and wrong and (Britain) deeply regrets that fact.’
However, the UK government is refusing to right the wrong that has been done and end the years of misery that it has caused. The ICJ will hand down a non-binding ‘advisory opinion’ after the four-day hearing, although the final ruling could take weeks or months to be delivered.
A ruling in favour of Mauritius would strengthen the country’s hand in negotiations about the final status of the islands, which could lead to a formal claim for restoration. Twenty-two countries and the African Union are to make statements during the four-day hearing. Australia and the United States are to back Britain’s position that the matter should be decided bilaterally, not by the courts.
However, there is no way that the UK and US ruling classes will wind up their massive base and hand Diego Garcia back to the Chagossians. The Chagos Islanders will be lobbying the TUC Congress at 3pm on September 9th in Manchester.
They will be demanding that the trade unions pass an emergency resolution of full support for their right to return and also move an emergency motion at the following Labour Party conference that a Corbyn-led Labour government will shut down the Diego Garcia base, allow the Chagossians the right to return, and recognise their right to form their own liberation government.