Free the Chagos Islands – Britain’s own Guantánamo Bay!


ON WEDNESDAY the General Assembly of the United Nations delivered a stunning vote which overwhelmingly condemned the continuing occupation of the Chagos Islands.

By 116 votes to 6 the nations of the UN voted to support a motion demanding that Britain leaves the Chagos Island chain within a deadline of six months to complete this process of ‘decolonisation’. This vote upheld the earlier ruling by the International Court of Justice which found that the islands were under ‘illegal occupation’.

The six countries supporting continuing British occupation were America, Israel, Hungary, Australia and the Maldives; a further 56 countries abstained including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland and Romania while the rest of the EU nations voted against Britain.

The overwhelming vote was a massive blow to not just Britain but to the US which has been engaged in a massive campaign of diplomatic pressure on countries to vote against the motion put forward by Mauritius.

The reason for their frantic round of arm-twisting is the fact that the largest of the Chagos Islands, Diego Garcia, has long been the main base for US military forces and armed interventions in the region.

In 1965 Britain, under the Labour government of Harold Wilson, ‘purchased’ the Chagos Islands from Mauritius for £3million (re-naming the islands British Indian Ocean Territory – BIOT) with the threat that if they didn’t agree to the sale then Britain would deny Mauritius independence.

Having taken control through blackmail, the British commenced to ethnically cleanse every island of its indigenous population. Between 1967 and 1973 British troops brutally evicted the islands’ entire population to make way for a joint military base with the US.

Every Chagossian was shipped off to Mauritius, and to make sure they went their farms were burnt down, their animals slaughtered and they were sent packing with a warning that if they tried to return they would face the same fate.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Mauritian Prime Minister Pravid Kumar Jug-Nauth told the General Assembly the forcible eviction of Chagossians was akin to a crime against humanity.

Immediately after this crime against humanity Britain handed over Diego Garcia to US imperialism to build its biggest war base. While nominally under the control of the British it is a US controlled military base, home to dozens of US ships and nuclear armed bombers as well as being a main ‘intelligence and surveillance’ and torture site.

US planes have been sent from the base to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq. The facility was also reportedly used as a ‘black site’ by the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects. In 2016, the lease for the base was extended until 2036.

The response of the British Foreign Office to this massive defeat at the UN was to insist that it stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States.

It stated: ‘As the US government has made clear, the status of BIOT as a UK territory is essential to the value of the joint facility and our shared interests – an arrangement that cannot be replicated.’

It is essential to US imperialism as a base from which to launch more wars against its enemies in the Middle East such as Iran while China is also in easy reach.

The British working class owe a huge debt to the Chagossian people for the crimes committed by the past Labour governments of Wilson, crimes that were perpetuated under Tony Blair whose government allowed all the torture and illegal rendition carried out by the CIA, denying that this existed until the evidence became overwhelming.

At last year’s TUC conference, Chagossians lobbied demanding the trade union movement support their right to return to their homeland – the support they received must now be translated into action.

Workers must demand that the TUC act by putting an end to this collapsed Tory government and bringing in a workers government that will return all the Islanders back to their homes, with massive compensation for their nearly 50 years of forced exile, and that will recognise their Independent Republic of the Chagos Islands. Only a workers government can undo the dirty work of the Wilson government!