The Chagos Islands are Closed
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Just south of the equator in the middle of the Indian Ocean lies the Chagos Islands. Diego Garcia is the biggest of the 65-island archipelago. The Chagos islands along with the Seychelles make up the many-islanded state of Mauritius. But these islands have been at the centre of global power struggles for centuries. Wellington's victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 marked the end of French influence and the beginning of British colonial rule that continues to this day.
In 1966, as Mauritius was about to assert its independence from Britain, Labour prime minister Harold Wilson sold the island of Diego Garcia, the biggest and most populated of the Chagos Islands, to the United States on a 50 year lease with a further 20 year option. In return the US government provided Britain with Polaris nuclear missiles below the market value - missiles that are still in place today.
Both the British and US governments claimed that the islands were uninhabited except for what one British official at the time said were a few Tarzans or Men Fridays and some contract labourers. The reality was that 2,000 people had for generations lived on the Chagos Islands all of whom were forcibly removed to accommodate a US military base from which the first Gulf war and subsequently the war on Afghanistan were launched.
To accommodate the construction of the US military base, Aurelie Talate and her six children were among the 2,000 people forcibly removed from their homes and dumped in squalid slums on the main island of Mauritius.
Former Chief Justice Rajsoomer Lallah was absolutely clear that the forced evictions were illegal.
'What happened to the people of the Chagos islands was illegal. It was illegal according to international law. The United States of America and the UK government were complicit in this illegality.and they were removed in terrible conditions, their dogs were shot, their animals were shot dead and they were threatened with being deprived of food and were told that ships would no longer come there. What happened was gross intimidation, gross inhumanity'.
The islanders took the British government to court in London. Sensationally, the British court found that the British government had acted illegally. Led by Tony Blair, the British government appealed the decision and in a stinging rebuke of British government policies the Courts again found in favour of the islanders. In a last throw of the legal dice, the British government has appealed the High Court decision to the House of Lords. This time the hot potato of Diego Garcia and the Chagos islands has been passed to current British prime minister Gordon Brown. A decision is expected this year.