In this, the first article for the New Year 2017, I wish to return to an issue that first appeared in this blog in the early part of 2015. At that time two articles, (“Caught in a trap”, 03.03.2015, and “Behind closed doors”, 30.03.2015) included information and argument about the UK’s dealings with the Chagossian Islanders. The situation is worth rehearsing.
In 1965, the British excised the Chagos Islands from the self-governing British colony of Mauritius. The latter had exercised oversight of the entire Chagos Archipelago since 1903. The Chagos Islands became a British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Essentially, the Chagos Islands and their peoples, the Chagossians, became a British Protectorate.
Then, in 1966, the British Labour Government of Harold Wilson used governmental Orders in Council – a method in government which by-passes Parliament and is considered by many to be unjust and undemocratic – in order to pass legislation that permitted the forced removal of the Chagossians from their homeland. This process took place between 1967 and 1973.
The whole of the above-mentioned affair was imposed unilaterally and without any referendum or consultation with – and made no provision for any democratic institutions for – the Chagossians. Under threat, around 2,000 Chagossians were removed to Mauritius and forbidden to re-enter their homeland. Mauritius got the people, but not the land!
In due course, the true nature and purpose for the forced expulsion and dispossession of the Chagossians was revealed. Behind closed doors, the Wilson government had agreed with the USA to “establish a United States air and naval base on Diego Garcia” (the main island of the Chagos Archipelago). This occupation by the troops and support staff of the USA began in 1971.
However, the story does not end there.
In a remarkable revelation of secrecy and duplicitous ‘behind closed doors’ deals at the heart of British government, the 2004 documentary film Stealing a Nation by the Australian journalist and film-maker, John Pilger (now readily available on YouTube and DVD), showed how successive Labour and Conservative British Governments had uprooted and disenfranchised the whole population of a British Crown Colony in order to appease and protect the military strategies and practices of the USA.
Today, Diego Garcia is one of the biggest USA military bases in the world. As the Pentagon describes it, the island fortress of Diego Garcia “is an indispensable platform for policing the world.” Furthermore, it was established and developed during the United States’ prosecution of the Vietnam War – a more than adequate cover for a colossal cover-up!
Some forty years after Harold Wilson’s chicanery involving the Chagos Islanders, Orders in Council were again controversially used by another Labour Government, that of Tony Blair in 2004, to overturn a UK court ruling which held that the exile of the Chagossians was unlawful.
By this time the island of Diego Garcia was being used by the USA as its major base for bombing raids on Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as and more sinisterly, for conducting the process and practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ (otherwise referred to as ‘torture flights’) associated with its wars in the Middle East and South East Asia. The British government denied any involvement with this practice.
In view of this denial, the words of Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary in 2005, are most apposite:
“Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.”
Ironically, in 2008, another Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was forced to admit that planes carrying ‘rendition’ victims had landed on Diego Garcia. What is it, therefore, that we are left to believe about Mr. Straw’s dishonest and discredited statement?
Perversely, the same New Labour government had, in June, 2006, successfully appealed against the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the Chagossians were entitled to return to their homeland. To heap insult on injury, the government’s appeal was to the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords – an unelected body!
In what could be viewed as an amazing act of collusion, if not an extreme dereliction of duty by this committee of Peers of the Realm, pre-eminence was given to the ‘behind closed doors’ decisions of the government and the view that “it was not for the courts to substitute their judgement for that of the Secretary of State as to what was conducive to the peace, order and good governance of the BIOT.” Are governments free, therefore, to operate outside of the rule of law?
Secrecy, it seems, still reigns supreme when it comes to exercising the privileges of power. This is repugnant in a democracy, whether this modus operandi is carried out by elected politicians or members of any of the institutions of the state. As with so much of the recent history of the Chagos Islands, and particularly Diego Garcia, there is ample evidence of cover-up, conspiracy, hypocrisy and blatant lying from a succession of British governments.
Through secrecy and subterfuge over almost half a century, the British government has stolen the heritage of the Chagossians for a mess of American pottage. The story, however, as with the scandals and disgrace involving British MPs, goes on.
I will return to the contemporary situation of the Chagos Islanders in my next article.