the Disillusioned kid: The Other Anglo-American Occupation
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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Other Anglo-American Occupation

Guantanamo Bay is a name which has become familiar to everyone not buried in a hole in the ground for the last two years. The facility on Cuba where the US has been detaining terrorist "suspects" without charge has become infamous and attracted considerable protest. However this is not the only such detention facility. According to the New Internationalist that a number of such "suspects" are held in Camp Justice on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia
for a process of interrogation known as rendering: a process where non-co-operators are kept standing or kneeling for hours on end, hooded or cladded in spray painted goggles. At times they are held in painful or awkward positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights under 'stress and duress' (a tactic employed at Guantanamo Bay). (New Int, 368, p. 6)
Reports suggest that the head of Jemaah Islamiah (the group accused of the Bali bombing) and members of the Iraqi leadership are held on the island, although it is impossible to confirm this.

As if what appears to be going on the island wasn't bad enough the US can only maintain a presence on the island (which it has also used to launch bombing attacks against Iraq and Afghanistan) because the island's indigenous population, the Ilois or Chagossians, were dispossessed. Before anyone suggests that this is some anti-American rant I should stress that the island is "owned" by the British and it is they who removed the Ilois and continue to work to prevent their return.

Mauritius was a British colony and when it achieved independence in 1968, the British excised Diego Garcia (also known as Chagos) in contravention of the UN Charter which prohibits the breaking up of colonies on independence. Lalit, a Mauritian socialist group (their name translates as 'struggle') active around the issue note,
Chagos is today what the UK and USA call by the name "British Indian Ocean Territories" (BIOT), a colonial "fiction" recognized by no other State in the world. (The Government of Seychelles has since the initial invention of this fiction, subsequently successfully reclaimed its stolen Islands - Aldabra, Farquar and Desroches which, together with Chagos, made up the original BIOT). (Lalit communique, 23/6/04)
The removal of the indigenous population took place between 1965 and 1973. Mark Curtis describes how this was carried out:
Some Chagossians were tricked into leaving on the promise of a free voyage; others were physically removed. Most ended up living in the poverty-stricken slums of the Mauritian capital, Port Louis, where some died of starvation and many, without livelihoods or hope, committed suicide. Many in the Chagossian community, now numbering around 8,000, continue a life in poverty. (Red Pepper, Jul 2004)
In order to carry out this policy the British Government developed what Curtis calls
[t]he giant lie at the heart of British policy... that the Chagossians were never permanent inhabitants of the islands but simply "contract labourers". Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart wrote to Wilson in a secret 1969 note that "we could continue to refer to the inhabitants generally as essentially migrant contract labourers and their families" and that it would be helpful "if we can present any move as a change of employment for contract workers rather than as a population resettlement". This set the policy and seven successive British governments maintained the fiction.

Until a few months ago, visitors to the Foreign Office website were told that there were "no indigenous inhabitants" on the islands. Then the wording suddenly changed and now acknowledges that there was a "settled population" - 35 years since the beginning of the depopulation, the truth has quietly been admitted. (Ibid.)
One can imagine the reaction if an official enemy were to act in a similar way, yet this crime passes virtually unmentioned in the mainstream media and elite culture.

The Chagossians sought to achieve justice through the British court system. In 2000 they won a case in the High Court which awarded them the right to return to the island. However on June 10 2004 the British Government passed Orders in Council (apparently this is an executive power deriving from the Crown) prohibiting the Chagossians from returning to the island and indeed anyone from going there. These orders are being challenged in the British courts.

Alongside this legal challenge campaigners have tried a number of other approaches: contacting the Red Cross to encourage them to inspect the facilities on the island; seeking a UN General Assembly Resolution; considering going to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. One of the most interesting is the Peace Flotilla to the island being planned by Lalit and the Chagos Refugee Group. They had originally planned that a single boat would make the trip, but after the idea was taken to the World Social Forum earlier this year in Mumbai where it apparently received considerable support and developed into the idea of a flotilla. Support came from, among other places, the newly established "No US Bases" network who listed Diego Garcia as one of their four priorities worldwide along with Okinawa, South Korea and Iraq. The idea has also inspired groups among the world. Messages of solidarity have come from groups both large and not so large groups and individuals from around the world.

On March 20 2004, an international day of action against war and occupation, groups involved in the idea met in Port Louis, Mauritius and issued the Common Declaration on the Peace Flotilla to Diego Garcia. In this the vision for the project was set out and various Mauritian groups declared their support. There is still much which must be done before the flotilla can be launched, but there is clearly some momentum behind the idea. Unfortunately the Orders in Council will make the project more difficult (that it, they make it illegal) and the cynic in me wonders if this is not the reason for the move, although there could, no doubt, be a number of explanations, few of them praiseworthy.

The Chagossians have been the victims of an injustice which has lasted almost 30 years, perpetrated by my government. It's time something was done about it. At the end of a recent communique Lalit note, "We count on you. For your continued support, and for your continued work to spread the news about the coming action on Diego Garcia." This is my response to that request, insignificant as it is, and I urge anyone who reads this to do what they can.

Recommended Reading: Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit (Vintage, London, 2003), Chapter 22

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