Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, is one of the biggest US military bases outside the USA. To clear space for it, the people of the islands were deported by the British government, the former colonial ruler. 2,000 people and their children were forcibly removed and abandoned on the dockside in Port Louis, on Mauritius main island.
For 30 years the forcible removal of the Chagossians was kept “secret”, mainly through the use of the UK Official Secrets Act. In 2000, however, the Chagossians won a case in the UK courts for the right of return, only to lose another court case in 2003.
At the beginning of 2004 a group of socialists from Mauritius, LALIT, took a ship to Diego Garcia to demand the removal of the base and the people’s right to return. Their report on the progress in their campaign follows.
The report begins with “special thoughts” for people living in the aftermath of the cataclysmic tsunami in the north east of the Indian Ocean. Incidentally, the Mauritian island of Rodrigues and the Reunion Island were affected, while Mauritius main island hardly felt it. The Pentagon say Diego Garcia was unaffected.
By Lindsey Collen for LALIT (Struggle) in Mauritius
Under political pressure, the Mauritian government, for the first time, publicly threatened to take the UK Government to the UN International Court of Justice at the Hague. To do this, the Prime Minister said he would withdraw Mauritius from the Commonwealth. This was necessary because Britain had accepted the jurisdiction of the ICJ from only non-Commonwealth countries. Tony Blair got his UN representative to change Britain’s guidelines for ICJ jurisdiction! Now it refuses to accept jurisdiction for disputes involving any country that was ever in the Commonwealth, and only for disputes that date from before the 1960s.
The British Government then got an “Order in Council”, which for the first time banned all Chagossians from any of the Chagos Islands, not just from Diego Garcia island. This is an order from the Queen, acting behind the back of the British parliament.
The British Government has, however, agreed to the Chagossians visiting Diego Garcia and the other islands in April 2005.
This must be due to more public knowledge of the issue. That is due to our campaign and to the beautiful John Pilger film Stealing a Nation.
The Red Cross has said that it is possible that prisoners are being held (or have been held) on Diego Garcia or in a ship based at Diego Garcia. We are calling for journalists to be allowed to visit the base, as well as the Red Cross to be allowed to visit.
Now the NO US BASES network that LALIT is in (against all foreign military bases) is preparing for an international conference against military bases for the second half of 2005.
Detailed articles and a full account of the issues are at www.lalitmauritius.com
What to do:
1. Write to your MP, asking them to bring up the issue with the Prime Minister. Mention:
• Decolonisation of Diego Garcia and the Chagos and re-unification of Mauritius.
• Immediate base closure!
• The right to return, and full compensation to all Chagossians.
• To let the Red Cross and journalists come and investigate the allegations that there are prisoners on Diego Garcia.
• Demand an ecological clean-up of Diego Garcia.
2. Your letter can also become a “petition” from a group of people or union branch.
3. Join and support the No US Bases campaign, whose aim is to “Close down all military bases worldwide”.
4. Get a copy of the John Pilger film and organise a showing so that other people can join the campaign. Write to Video Library, ITV1, Gas Street, Birmingham B1 2JT for a copy.
5. Let Lalit know what you are doing.