Chagossians was a participant or observer in the following events:
Sir Bruce Greatbatch, governor of Seychelles, says in a Foreign Office memorandum how the US has made the depopulation of the Chagos Islands “virtually a condition of the agreement.” Describing the islands’ inhabitants, he says, “[T]hese people have little aptitude for anything other than growing coconuts.” They are “unsophisticated and untrainable,” he remarks. [Guardian, 10/2/2004; ZNet, 10/22/2004]
Concerned about the prospects of Soviet expansion in the Indian Ocean, the US government asks Britain to find an uninhabited island where the US can build a naval base. [US Congress, 6/5/1975; Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; US Congress, 11/4/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003] In return, the US says it is willing to waive up to $14 million in research and development fees related to Britain’s Polaris missile program. [US Congress, 6/5/1975; US Congress, 11/4/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003] The US puts its sights first on the island of Aldabra, located north of Madagascar. But the island is a breeding ground for rare giant tortoises, whose mating habits would likely be disturbed by military activities. Fearing that ecologists would bring publicity to US activities on the island, the US looks for an alternative. The US decides on Diego Garcia, the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago. It is strategically located in the heart of the Indian Ocean just south of the equator. There is one problem, however. The islands have a population of roughly 1,800 people (who are known as Chagossians, but also referred to as Ilois) who have inhabited the 65-island archipelago for more than 200 years. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000] Most of them are descendants of African slaves (see 1770s) and Indian plantation workers. [BBC, 1/10/2001] To deal with this “population problem,” British politicians, diplomats and civil servants begin a campaign “to maintain the pretense there [are] no permanent inhabitants” on the islands. They fear that if the international community learns about the existence of the population, it will demand that the Chagossians be recognized as a people “whose democratic rights have to be safeguarded.” [BBC, 11/3/2000]
Commenting on the US and Britain’s plan to evict the inhabitants of Diego Garcia so the two countries can establish a military base on the island (see 1963-1965), British Colonial Secretary Anthony Greenwood warns that it must be presented to the United Nations “with a fait accompli.” [BBC, 11/3/2000]
A telegram sent to the UK mission at the United Nations describes how the US and Britain are conspiring to hide the fact that the planned relocation of residents from the island of Diego Garcia will include inhabitants who have lived there for generations. The US intends to establish a military base on the island (see 1963-1965). “We recognize that we are in a difficult position as regards references to people at present on the detached islands,” the telegram says. “We know that a few were born in 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.” [BBC, 11/3/2000]
During negotiations with Mauritius over independence, Prime Minister Harold Wilson insists that Britain retain the Chagos Archipelago. [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; BBC, 1/10/2001] Britain plans to forcibly remove the archipelago’s inhabitants from their homes so the largest island, Diego Garcia, can be leased to the US, which intends to establish a military presence on the island (see 1963-1965).
A British Foreign Office official writes of “convert[ing] all the existing residents [of the Chagos Islands] into short-term, temporary residents” in order to justify their removal to make room for US naval facilities planned for the island of Diego Garcia (see 1963-1965). [Guardian, 10/2/2004; ZNet, 10/22/2004]
Sir Paul Gore-Booth, a senior official at the Foreign Office, writes to diplomat Dennis Greenhill about the “population problem” on the island of Diego Garcia where the US and Britain want to establish a military base (see 1963-1965). “We must surely be very tough about this,” he says. “The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours… There will be no indigenous population except seagulls… The United States Government will require the removal of the entire population of the atoll by July.” In his reply, Greenhill says, “Unfortunately along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Man Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius.” [BBC, 11/3/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; National Post, 3/1/2001; CBS News, 6/13/2003; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003; Guardian, 10/2/2004; ZNet, 10/22/2004]
Under the heading “Maintaining The Fiction,” an unnamed British official recommends in a memo that Britain reclassify the residents of the Chagos Archipelago as “a floating population.” He also suggests making “up the rules as we go along.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004]
On two separate voyages, plantation workers and residents leave the Chagos Islands on the Mauritius, a ship operated by Rogers & Co., to Port Louis, Mauritius’s capital. Many of the passengers are going to Mauritius only temporarily and intend to return to the island. But when they try to return to the Chagos Islands in 1968, they are refused passage and told they will not be permitted to return to their homes. The islanders are thus left stranded in Mauritius, without resettlement assistance or compensation. [Washington Post, 9/9/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003] Olivier Bancoult later recounts to the BBC how his 11-member family went to Mauritius in 1968 so that his ill sister could see a doctor. After she died, family members tried to return to the islands, but “were told the land had been given to the Americans for a US military base.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000] The British also purchase the islands’ copra plantations and shut down their medical facilities. [BBC, 11/3/2000] Ships carrying food and medicine to Diego Garcia are turned back. [CBS News, 6/13/2003] These measures are taken with the knowledge of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his Conservative successor, Edward Heath. [BBC, 11/3/2000]
Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart writes that “by any stretch of the English language, there was an indigenous population and the Foreign Office knew it.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004]
British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Chancellor of the Exchequer Roy Jenkins and Secretary of State for Defense Denis Healey approve plans to completely evacuate the Chagos Islands in order to make way for the construction of a US communications facility on Diego Garcia, the archipelago’s largest island. [British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003]
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).
British Prime Minister Harold Wilson approves a recommendation (see April 21, 1969) by Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart to mislead the UN about the population of the Chagos Islands. [ZNet, 10/22/2004]
A British ordinance denies the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago the legal right to return once they have been evicted from the islands. The British government claims that the measure is necessary in order to ensure “the peace, order and good government of the territory.” [Guardian, 9/1/2000]
The administrator of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), John Rawling Todd, tells the remaining inhabitants of Diego Garcia that Britain intends “to close the island in July.” The islands of Peros Banhos and Salomon will remain open for the time-being. [British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003]
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.”
The United States prohibits former inhabitants of Diego Garcia from visiting the graves of their ancestors, despite a letter from the British government urging the US to grant them permission. [CNN, 6/18/2003]
When the US military base at Diego Garcia is completed, employment recruiters are instructed not to hire former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands. Benoit Emileien, a former employee of the base, later recalls, “I was given instruction to be careful. They don’t want any kind of claim or demonstration.” Emileien also says discussion of the island’s former inhabitants was taboo. [CNN, 6/18/2003 Sources: Benoit Emileien] Instead, the US hires workers from the Philippines and Mauritius. [Guardian, 12/13/2000]
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]
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]
Eric Newsom, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, sends a letter to Richard Wilkinson, the director for the Americas at Britain’s Foreign Office, urging the British government to prohibit former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands from returning to any of the islands in the 65-island archipelago. The former inhabitants want to resettle two islands, Salomons and Peros Banhos, which are located about 140 miles from Diego Garcia where a major US military base is located. The letter claims that allowing the islands’ former residents to resettle their homelands “would significantly degrade the strategic importance of a vital military asset unique in the region.” He explains: “If a resident population were established on the Chagos Archipelago, that could well imperil Diego Garcia’s present advantage as a base from which it is possible to conduct sensitive military operations that are important for the security of both our governments but that, for reasons of security, cannot be staged from bases near population centers…. Settlements on the outer islands would also immediately raise the alarming prospect of the introduction of surveillance, monitoring and electronic jamming devices that have the potential to disrupt, compromise or place at risk vital military operations.” He also informs Wilkinson of US plans to expand the base. “In carrying out our defense and security responsibilities in the Arabian Gulf, the Middle East, south Asia and east Africa, Diego Garcia represents for us an all but indispensable platform. For this reason, in addition to extensive naval requirements, the USG is seeking the permission of your government to develop the island as a forward operating location for expeditionary air force operations—one of only four such locations worldwide,” the letter goes on to say. [Guardian, 9/1/2000]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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