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Context of 'June 2004: British Order in Council Prohibits Return of Chagos Islanders'

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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)

Britain agrees to pay £650,000 (about $1.4 million) to the Mauritius government for costs associated with the resettlement of the Chagossians, who are being evicted from their homes in the Chagos Islands by the British (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). It is paid in March 1973. No help is provided to Seychelles, which has also received displaced islanders. [Washington Post, 9/9/1975; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003] Most of the money goes toward repaying debts the Chagossians have incurred. [Tribune (Bahamas), 11/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

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

Former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands deliver a formal petition to the British embassy, asking Britain to see that the Mauritanian government provides them with plots of land, a house for each family, and jobs. The Chagossians, who were evicted from their homes by the British a few years before (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973), say that absent this help, they would prefer being allowed to return to the islands. Copies of the petition are delivered to the American embassy, Mauritian Prime Minister Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, and several opposition leaders of the Mauritian government. [Washington Post, 9/9/1975]

Entity Tags: Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Chagossians

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

US military officials tell Congress that the US needs to develop naval support facilities on the island of Diego Garcia. The Pentagon wants to lengthen the runway at Diego Garcia from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, increase the available petroleum, oils, and lubricants storage, and dredge its harbor. It would also like to build additional barracks, a pier to facilitate cargo handling, as well as additional utility and recreational facilities. The officials argue that expanding the base at Diego Garcia is needed to safeguard US oil interests in the Persian Gulf and to counter the Soviet Union’s presence in the region, which the military claims is increasing rapidly. They attempt to allay Congress’ concerns that expanding the base would provoke competition in that region with the Soviet Union. At one point during the hearing, George Vest, Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs of the Department of State, says the island is “uninhabited,” making no reference to the fact that it had been made so by the US and British only a few years before (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). When further questioned on the subject, Vest repeats that there are “no inhabitants” at all on the island. [US Congress, 6/5/1975; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George Vest, US Congress

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

The Washington Post is the first Western newspaper to report about the forced relocation of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands. US officials had previously claimed that the island of Diego Garcia was “uninhabited,” (see June 5, 1975) and (see March 6, 1975) conveniently ignoring the fact that the island had been depopulated by Britain and the US (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). [Washington Post, 9/9/1975; Washington Post, 9/11/1975]

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

A congressional subcommittee of the Committee on International Relations holds a hearing on the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the US military facility at Diego Garcia island. The hearing focuses on the forced eviction of the archipelago’s inhabitants (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973).
Testimony of George T. Churchill - In his statement to Congress, George T. Churchill, director of International Security Operations at the Department of State, attempts to defend the State Department and Pentagon from accusations that they misled Congress about the inhabitants of Diego Garcia. He asserts that the island’s population had consisted mainly of “contract laborers and their families whose livelihood depended on the coconut plantations and whose ties to the island were tenuous.” Their settlements, he says, “appear to have been something more than work camps but considerably less than free indigenous communities.” Churchill argues that resettlement was necessary because the islanders would not have had work once the plantations were replaced by US military facilities. When it was time to go, he claims, the residents “went willingly.” He also contends that he could find no evidence in government files that there was a “lack of concern for the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands.” He admits that his report is based entirely on US and British sources and that no attempt was made to interview the former inhabitants or request information from the Mauritius government—despite his acknowledgment that on many issues, there “simply wasn’t enough data.” Churchill argues that it was Britain’s responsibility to see to the islanders’ welfare after resettlement and denies that the US has any obligation—moral or legal—to the islanders, even though their eviction had been a condition of the US’ 1966 agreement (see December 30, 1966) with Britain to use the island. [US Congress, 11/4/1975]
Testimony of Commander Gary Sick - Pentagon official Gary Sick addresses accusations that the military has misled Congress about Diego Garcia’s population. In his testimony he cites instances where passing references were made about the islands’ population, including a 1964 Washington Post article mentioning the possibility that an “indigenous population” might exist on the island; a 1969-1979 Pentagon spending proposal which referred to the islanders as “rotating contract personnel engaged in harvesting copra”; and a 1970 congressional hearing in which it was stated that the “British [had] gone a little farther about removing the population from there now.” [US Congress, 11/4/1975]

Entity Tags: Gary G. Sick, US Congress, George T. Churchill

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

The Mauritius government disperses the £650,000, received by the British in 1973 (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973), to 595 Chagossians families. Since 1973, inflation has significantly reduced the value of the resettlement sum. [British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

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

The British government pays roughly $6 million in compensation to the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands who were forcibly removed from their homeland to make way for a US military base between 1971 and 1973 (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). When Chagossians go to the Social Security Office to collect their compensation they are required to endorse, by signature or thumbprint, a renunciation form forfeiting their right to ever return home. Though Chagossians speak Creole, the forms are written in English and are not translated for them. [British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003; Tribune (Bahamas), 11/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

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)

Chagossians file a class action suit against the US government suing for reparations and the right to return to their homes on the Chagos Islands. They were evicted from the islands in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) so the US could build a military base on the island of Diego Garcia. The suit accuses the US government, as well as numerous past and present officials, with trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, forced relocation, racial discrimination, torture, and genocide. The Chagossians are not asking the US government to abandon the island and say they are willing to work on the base. [Washington Post, 12/21/2001; Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

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

Former residents of the island of Diego Garcia request permission from the Bush administration to visit their former homeland. They were forcibly relocated from their homes between 1971 and 1973 (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) to make way for a US base. In response, the Bush administration says in a letter: “Because of the vital role the facility plays in the global war on terrorism, British authorities have denied permission to visit Diego Garcia. We concur and support the decision.” [CNN, 6/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians, Bush administration (43)

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)

The British high court in London decides in favor of the Chagos islanders, ruling that the British government’s 2004 decision (see June 2004) to block the return of the islanders to their homes was unlawful. Lord Justice Hooper and Justice Cresswell write in their ruling: “The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an order in council, exile a whole population from a British overseas territory and claim that he is doing so for the ‘peace, order and good government’ of the territory is, to us, repugnant.” The ruling—which is the fourth time in the past five years that the courts have deplored the government’s treatment of the islanders—paves the way for the islanders’ return. [Guardian, 5/12/2006] But on June 30, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will file an appeal. [Guardian, 7/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Margaret Beckett, Chagossians

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

The British Royal Court of Appeal rules that the Chagossians were tricked, starved, and even terrorized from their homes by the British government 30 years ago (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973), and can return to their homes immediately. The islanders had previously won a ruling in 2006, however foreign secretary Margaret Beckett had appealed that ruling (see May 11, 2006). Explaining the court’s decision, Lord Justice Sedley says that “while a natural or man-made disaster could warrant the temporary, perhaps even indefinite, removal of a population for its own safety and so rank as an act of governance, the permanent exclusion of an entire population from its homeland for reasons unconnected with their collective well-being cannot have that character and accordingly cannot be lawfully accomplished by use of the prerogative power of governance.” The British Foreign Office says it is “disappointed” with the decision and says it may file an appeal with the House of Lords. [Guardian, 5/23/2007]

Entity Tags: Chagossians, Stephen Sedley

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

The USS Peleliu.The USS Peleliu. [Source: Zack Baddor / AP]Human rights groups claim that the US is operating “floating prisons” as detention facilities for prisoners taken in the “war on terror.” The groups claim that the US is keeping prisoners aboard ships such as the USS Ashland, the USS Bataan, and the USS Peleliu (see December 27, 2001), and say that the Americans refuse to admit to the existence of such detainees. The human rights group Reprieve has asked that the US list the names and whereabouts of such “ghost detainees” held aboard US vessels. The existence of the detainees has come to light from a number of sources, including statements from US military officials, information provided by the Council of Europe and other parliamentary bodies, and prisoner testimonies (see June 2, 2008).
Details of Detentions - Reprieve says the US has used as many as 17 ships as “floating prisons” since 2001. While aboard, the prisoners are interrogated, then rendered to undisclosed locations. Fifteen of those ships may have operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia, which hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973 and After February 7, 2002). According to information obtained by Reprieve, in early 2007, the Ashland was involved in the detention and rendering of over 100 individuals abducted by Somali, Kenyan, and Ethiopian forces during an upsurge of fighting in Somalia, and then interrogated by FBI and CIA agents. Those individuals have now disappeared, but many are believed to be held in prisons in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantanamo Bay, among other possible sites. One prisoner released from Guantanamo has retold the account of a fellow inmate’s detention: “[H]e was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantanamo.” Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s legal director, says the US military “choose ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their legal rights.… By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been ‘through the system’ since 2001 (see November 17, 2005). The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them.”
British Officials Ask for Accountability - Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, says both the US and British governments must own up to their practices of rendition and “ghost detainees.” “Little by little, the truth is coming out on extraordinary rendition,” he says. “The rest will come, in time. Better for governments to be candid now, rather than later. Greater transparency will provide increased confidence that President Bush’s departure from justice and the rule of law in the aftermath of September 11 is being reversed, and can help to win back the confidence of moderate Muslim communities, whose support is crucial in tackling dangerous extremism.” Tyrie has requested that an investigation into the use of Diego Garcia as a rendition refueling stop be undertaken (see June 2, 2008). Liberal Democrat MP Edward Davey adds: “If the Bush administration is using British territories to aid and abet illegal state abduction, it would amount to a huge breach of trust with the British government. Ministers must make absolutely clear that they would not support such illegal activity, either directly or indirectly.” A US Naval spokesman says that none of its vessels have “detention facilities,” but admits that some detainees had been put on ships “for a few days” during their initial days of detention. He refuses to comment on reports that US Naval vessels stationed in or near Diego Garcia had been used as “prison ships.” [Guardian, 6/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Council of Europe, Andrew Tyrie, Central Intelligence Agency, Clive Stafford Smith, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Edward Davey, Reprieve

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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