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Context of 'November 3, 2000: British Court Rules Removal of Chagos Islanders Illegal'

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The US and Britain secretly agree to make the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) available “for the defense purposes of both Governments as they may arise” for a period of 50 years, and thereafter for 20 years during which time either government will have the right to terminate the agreement. [US Department of State, 12/30/1966; United Kingdom, 12/30/1966; Guardian, 9/1/2000; BBC, 1/10/2001; BBC, 11/11/2004]

Entity Tags: David Kirkpatrick Este Bruce, George T. Churchill

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

In a secret memo to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart proposes that Britain mislead the UN “by present(ing) any move as a change of employment for contract workers—rather than as a population resettlement.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004] Five days later, Wilson approves the recommendation (see April 26, 1969).

Entity Tags: Robert Maitland Michael Stewart, Harold Wilson, Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Plantations at Diego Garcia cease their operations with the arrival of American Navy Seabees. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; US Congress, 11/4/1975; Diego Garcia, 1/5/2005; CBC News, 3/7/2005]

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

With the arrival of the first Americans at Diego Garcia, the largest atoll of the Chagos Archipelago, the island’s remaining residents are told they must leave. [BBC, 11/3/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] Recalling the massive forced relocation, Marcel Moulinie, the manager of a coconut plantation on the island, tells CBS 60 minutes in 2003 that he was ordered to ship the people out. “Total evacuation. They wanted no indigenous people there,” Marcel Moulinie explains. “When the final time came and the ships were chartered, they weren’t allowed to take anything with them except a suitcase of their clothes. The ships were small and they could take nothing else, no furniture, nothing.” To make it clear to residents that there would be no compromise, Sir Bruce Greatbatch, governor of the Seychelles, orders the killing of the Chagossians’ pets, which are rounded up into a furnace and gassed with exhaust fumes from American military vehicles. [CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003; ZNet, 10/22/2004] “They put the dogs in a furnace where the people worked,” Lisette Talatte, a Chagossian, will later tell investigative journalist John Pilger. “[W]hen their dogs were taken away in front of them our children screamed and cried.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004] Marie Therese Mein, another Chagossian, later says US officials threatened to bomb them if they did not leave. [Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002; ZNet, 10/22/2004] And the Washington Post interviews one man in 1975 who says he was told by an American official, “If you don’t leave you won’t be fed any longer.” [Washington Post, 9/9/1975] The Chagossians are first shipped to the nearby islands of Peros Banhos and Salomon and then 1,200 miles away to Mauritius and the Seychelles. [BBC, 11/3/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] Before the eviction, the Chagossians were employed, grew their own fruit and vegetables, raised poultry and ducks, and fished. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003; Tribune (Bahamas), 11/17/2003] On the island of Diego Garcia, there was a church, a school as well as a few stores. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975] But now, after being removed from their homes and dumped into foreign lands without compensation or resettlement assistance, they are forced to live in poverty. [CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] The uprooted Chagossians find shelter in abandoned slums, which have no water or electricity. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; Church Times, 1/7/2005] Many commit suicide during and after the eviction campaign. [ZNet, 10/22/2004] Lisette Taleti loses two of her children. [Guardian, 5/12/2006] Describing the plight of the Chagossians at this time, the British High Court writes in 2003: “The Ilois [Chagossians] were experienced in working on coconut plantations but lacked other employment experience. They were largely illiterate and spoke only Creole. Some had relatives with whom they could stay for a while; some had savings from their wages; some received social security, but extreme poverty routinely marked their lives. Mauritius already itself experienced high unemployment and considerable poverty. Jobs, including very low paid domestic service, were hard to find. The Ilois were marked by their poverty and background for insults and discrimination. Their diet, when they could eat, was very different from what they were used to. They were unused to having to fend for themselves in finding jobs and accommodation and they had little enough with which to do either. The contrast with the simple island life which they had left behind could scarcely have been more marked.”

Entity Tags: Sir Bruce Greatbatch, Chagossians, Marcel Moulinie, Marie Therese Mein, Lisette Talatte

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

In London, Lord Justice Laws and Justice Gibbs rule that the US and Britain’s forced removal of some 1,800 people from the Chagos Islands (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) was illegal, thereby granting the islands’ former inhabitants the right to resettle the archipelago. [BBC, 11/3/2000; Guardian, 11/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; BBC, 10/31/2002; Church Times, 1/7/2005] The court also awards the Chagossians with the costs of resettling [Guardian, 11/4/2000] but does not order the government to provide them with compensation. [Guardian, 12/13/2000] The judges also find that the two governments deliberately misled the United Nations and their own legislative bodies when they claimed that the displaced population consisted entirely of seasonal contract workers from Mauritius and the Seychelles and had no right to remain there (see April 21, 1969). Additionally, the ruling criticizes the two governments for not seeing to the welfare of the islanders after they were evicted. [Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002] Within hours of the ruling, the British Foreign Office accepts the judgment but says that the islanders will only be permitted to resettle on the islands of Penhos Banhos and Salomon. No one will be permitted to return to Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, where most of the Chagossians once lived. The US is leasing the island until 2016 (see December 30, 1966) and is operating a very large naval base there (see March 1971). [Guardian, 11/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000] Commenting on the case, an unnamed US Defense Department official tells the Los Angeles Times: “The United States does have a strategic interest on Diego Garcia. But this is a matter between the British authorities and the individuals who brought the case. We have no comment on the merits of the case.” The official adds that Diego Garcia “has played a primary role in the support of naval and Air Force units operating in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

After a British court rules that the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands have a right to return home (see November 3, 2000), the US, which is leasing the archipelago’s largest island, Diego Garcia, says it will not allow the islanders to return to Diego Garcia and will not allow them to use the island’s airstrip. The cost of building an airstrip on one of the other islands would likely cost more than $100 million. Without access to an airfield, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the islanders to resettle any of the islands. [Guardian, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The British High Court rules that the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands have no grounds for bringing a claim against the British government and no realistic prospect of succeeding, even though a ruling in 2000 (see November 3, 2000) had determined that Britain’s mass eviction of the islanders in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) had been illegal. In his 750-page ruling, Justice Ouseley complains that the plaintiffs did not provide reliable evidence that individual Chagossians had been “treated shamefully by successive UK governments.” He did however acknowledge that the mass eviction was not just and that compensation received so far by the Chagossians was inadequate. “Many were given nothing for years but a callous separation from their homes, belongings and way of life and a terrible journey to privation and hardship,” he says. During the trial, the attorney general and British Indian Ocean Territory Commissioner claimed that the islanders had not opposed being removed from their homes and shipped to a foreign land with little or no assistance. They also denied allegations that the mass eviction had been implemented dishonestly or in bad faith. [BBC, 10/9/2003; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The British government issues an Order in Council, reneging on an earlier decision (see November 3, 2000) to the former residents of the Chagos Islands that they would be permitted to return some of the islands in the Chagos Archipelago. The royal decree prohibits any of the islanders from returning to any of the islands. The Chagossians had been forcibly removed from their homes in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) so the US could build a base on Diego Garcia. The government claims that according to a feasibility study, which did not consult the former residents, the costs of resettlement would be prohibitively high, with an initial cost of about £5 million and annual costs of between £3 and £5 million. The study also claims that the islands are “sinking.” British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell tells John Pilger: “The tax-payer is being asked to pick up the financial tab. You have to make choices about how you spend money.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004; Church Times, 1/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Bill Rammell, Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

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