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Profile: Chagossians

 
  

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Chagossians actively participated in the following events:

 
  

1963-1965      US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

       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. [CBS News, 6/13/2003; BBC, 11/03/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; Sunday Times, 9/21/1975 Sources: House of Representatives. The debate over the base and the island's former inhabitants. 6/5/1975, House of Representatives. The debate over the base and the island's former inhabitants. 11/4/1975] 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. [BBC, 11/03/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003 Sources: House of Representatives. The debate over the base and the island's former inhabitants. 6/5/1975, House of Representatives. The debate over the base and the island's former inhabitants. 11/4/1975] 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. [BBC, 11/03/2000; Sunday Times, 9/21/1975] Most of them are descendents 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 pretence 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, 11/03/2000]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians
          

1967- 1968      US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

       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. [BBC, 11/03/2000; The Washington Post, 9/9/1975; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000 Sources: British Royal Court, Case No: HQ02X01287, 10/3/2003] 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, 11/03/2000] 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, 11/03/2000]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians, Edward Heath, Harold Wilson
          

1971      US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

       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, 9/01/2000]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians
          

January 24, 1971      US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

       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. [Sources: British Royal Court, Case No: HQ02X01287, 10/3/2003]
People and organizations involved: John Rawling Todd, Chagossians
          

July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973      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, 11/03/2000; CNN, 6/18/2003; CBS News, 6/13/2003] 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. [CNN, 6/18/2003; Pilger, 10/22/2004; CBS News, 6/13/2003] “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.” [Pilger, 10/22/2004] Marie Therese Mein, another Chagossian, later says US officials threatened to bomb them if they did not leave. [Pilger, 10/22/2004; Foreign Policy in Focus, 1/28/2002] 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.” [The 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. [CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003; BBC, 11/03/2000] Before the eviction, the Chagossians were employed, grew their own fruit and vegetables, raised poultry and ducks, and fished. [The Tribune (Bahamas), 11/17/2003; Sunday Times, 9/21/1975; Foreign Policy in Focus, 1/28/2002 Sources: British Royal Court, Case No: HQ02X01287, 10/3/2003] On the island of Diego Garcia, there was a church, a school as well as a few stores. [Sunday Times, 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, 9/21/1975; Church Times, 1/7/2005] Many commit suicide during and after the eviction campaign. [Pilger, 10/22/2004] 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.”
People and organizations involved: Chagossians, Lisette Talatte, Marie Therese Mein, Marcel Moulinie, Sir Bruce Greatbatch
          

1977-1978      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. [Sources: British Royal Court, Case No: HQ02X01287, 10/3/2003]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians
          

1983      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. [The Tribune (Bahamas), 11/17/2003 Sources: British Royal Court, Case No: HQ02X01287, 10/3/2003]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians
          

November 3, 2000      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. [Church Times, 1/7/2005; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; Guardian, 11/4/2000; BBC, 11/3/2000; BBC, 10/31/2002] 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. [Foreign Policy In Focus, 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). [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; Guardian, 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]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians
          

December 2000      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]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians
          

December 20, 2001      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. [Foreign Policy in Focus, 1/28/2002; The Washington Post, 12/21/2001]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians
          

August 2002      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]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians, Bush administration
          

October 9, 2003      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 Sources: British Royal Court, Case No: HQ02X01287, 10/3/2003]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians
          

June 2004      US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

       The British government issues an Order in Council, reneging on an earlier promise to the former residents of the Chagos Islands that they would be permitted to return to their homes. 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.” [Church Times, 1/7/2005; Pilger, 10/22/2004]
People and organizations involved: Chagossians, Bill Rammell
          

'Passive' participant in the following events:

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