Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 22/10/08

Justice Denied...Forever?

I sometimes find it difficult to write pieces like this one.

Some things which happen are just so manifestly wrong that I struggle to find a way to express my opinions in anything other than a howl of rage. This is so in spades when I see the powerful conniving against the powerless (which happens all the time, of course) and getting away with it (which happens in the vast majority of instances). The anger affects my ability to type as well, which will account for any typos in what follows - that's my excuse, anyhow.

The case of the Chagos Islanders is a case in point.

The Chagos Islands are part of the 'British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT)', a convenient fiction manufactured by the British in the 1960s. The islanders got on with their lives more than adequately, until...

At the end of 1966, the government of Harold Wilson made a secret agreement with the US which made the whole of BIOT available for American military use for a minimum of fifty years, with the possibility of a twenty-year extension thereafter.

(There are those in the cohorts of the deluded collectively called 'The British Left' who still praise Wilson for keeping UK troops out of America's criminal enterprises in South East Asia. There are few of their number who care to recall that Wilson was a schemer and chancer who wasn't averse to being Washington's bitch when it suited him.)

The US wanted the island of Diego Garcia for an air base, seeing it as a prime location in their attempts to prevent the 'wrong sort' of self-determination being practised by the countries of south Asia. There was a teensy lickle problem - Diego Garcia and the surrounding islands in the archipelago were inhabited by people who had been there for generations. What to do?

Clearly the situation was desperate - after all, the 'friendly' superpower could not be denied support by Wilson, otherwise Washington might think they were dealing with a bunch of red-lovin' pussies. How could the problem be resolved?

By the Spring of 1969, Wilson's Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart had come up with an elegant answer. Despite the fact that he knew that the Chagossians were indigenous to their islands, he proposed in a secret memo to Wilson that the entire population of two thousand men, women and children be 'reclassified' as 'contract workers', and that the forced deportation of the islanders therefore be presented to the United Nations and other concerned bodies as merely a 'change of employment'. Five days after receiving Stewart's memo, Wilson agreed the plan.

The first part of the plan involved mere trickery: any Chagossians requiring urgent medical care in Mauritius (hundreds of miles away) were prevented from returning home afterwards.

Then the policy became more sinister and brutal.

In the early part of 1971, the plantations which provided employment for the islanders were closed as the US military moved in. Then between July of that same year and May 1973, the entire population of the archipelago was forcibly removed. In order to 'encourage' them, the British governor of the Seychelles (who was in charge of the operation) ordered the islanders' pet dogs to be rounded up and killed by the exhaust fumes of US military vehicles in an industrial furnace. If that were not enough, American military officials warned that anyone who refused to leave the islands would be bombed.

The islanders were forced onto small boats, being allowed to take no more that a suitcase of clothes each, and were transported to the Seychelles. There they were imprisoned until they could be deported a second time - to Mauritius. There, without homes, work or land, the Chagossians congregated in slums which had no water or electricity. At a time of high poverty and unemployment rates amongst the native population of Mauritius, these victims of what is now known euphemistically as 'ethnic cleansing' were prime targets for discriminatory and hateful behaviour from the Mauritian government and population alike.

In 1972, the British government agreed to compensate the government of Mauritius to the tune of a mere £650 000. The Mauritian government held on to the money for some five years before doling it out - by which time inflation had severely curtailed its already meagre value.

In the meantime, the US was expanding the Diego Garcia base, claiming all the while that the islands had been 'uninhabited' except by 'contract workers' - which suggests that Michael Stewart's barefaced lie of some years before had been accepted as the policy gospel in Washington as well.

In 1983, the Thatcher government in London agreed to pay the deported Chagossians a total of £4 million in settlement. However, in order to receive a single penny of it, the Chagossians had to sign (or thumbprint) a renunciation of all claims on their homeland. Moreover, the forms which required this of them were in English and were not translated into the Chagossian's native creole.

The silence of the British media in the face of all of this was, of course, deafening. With very rare exceptions (John Pilger being prominent amongst them), the Chagossians were ignored or, when their plight (which included not only poverty but numerous suicides) was brought to any degree of public attention, they were dismissed as primitive ingrates.

Their fight continued, however, and in November 2000 the British High Court deemed that the deportation of the islanders had been unlawful. However, the government insisted that, although the islanders might be permitted to return to some of the islands, Diego Garcia itself (where most of the Chagossians had lived) was totally out of bounds because the US was leasing it. A few weeks later, the US stated that not only could the Chagossians not return to Diego Garcia, they wouldn't even be allowed to use the airstrip there to bring people and materials to the islands to assist in reconstruction.

In addition, the Blair régime blocked any possibility of return for the islanders until a 'feasability study' had been completed into whether the other islands could be resettled. Curiously, this 'study' claimed that the islands were sinking (although they did not state whether the weight of US military personnel, their weaponry and their leisure facilities might be a possible cause); and so the Chagossians were blocked again.

In October 2003, the same High Court which had ruled that the removal of the Chagossians was illegal nevertheless denied the islanders the right to return home, and denied them the right to adequate compensation. The government still maintained not only that their predecessors had acted in good faith, but augmented the obscenity by claiming that the islanders had not opposed what had been done to them.

Then, in perhaps the most tawdry and immoral act in this whole imbroglio of unethical actions, in June 2004 the British government issued an Order in Council under the Royal Prerogative which, with the stroke of an official's pen and without any resort to Parliament or the courts, unilaterally overturned the High Court decision of November 2000, thus prohibiting the Chagossians from returning home.

Still the Chagossians and their supporters fought on, and in May 2006, the High Court ruled that the Order in Council was unlawful, stating that:

"The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an order in council, exile a whole population from a British overseas territory and claim that he is doing so for the 'peace, order and good government' of the territory is, to us, repugnant."

The Foreign Office appealed the decision, but lost the case again in May 2007.

(In the meantime, the US uses Diego Garcia as one its 'black holes' for detaining people it has (or has had) kidnapped in the so-called 'War on Terror'. The Pentagon sees the base as crucial to its war on the nations of south west Asia, and claims that allowing the Chagossians back home would present a risk of terrorism to them. No, really, that's what they've said).

The government again appealed, this time to the House of Lords.

Which is where we now find ourselves, because today five 'Law Lords' decided by a vote of three to two that the government appeal should be upheld, and the Chagossians - having been violated, deported, brutalised and made destitute and homeless - can never go home.

In a judgment which I am sure will echo down the future years as a mark of shame on England's judiciary, Hoffmann, Rodger and Carswell stated that the government had every right to remove the right of abode of the Chagossians in their own country, adding cynically:

"The law gives it and the law may take it away."

During the hearing, Jonathan Crow, chief brief for the government, sneered:

"The Chagossians do not own any territory...they have no property rights on the island at all."

Of course they don't, you cunt! They were evicted under threat of being starved or bombed to death! For fuck sake!

Crow then added:

"What is being asserted is the right of mass trespass."

'Mass trespass'. On your own country's land. Really?

The man giving Crow his orders is the current Foreign Secretary, David Milliband. Even just reading his response to the judgment would make anyone with any sense of ethical propriety want to look for the nearest ice-pick in order to bring it into intimate contact with this over-promoted oily twat's cerebellum. One can so easily see in one's mind's eye Mulligrub's not-altogether-successful attempt to keep the smirk off his eminently-punchable face and the unction out of his voice as he said:

"We do not seek to excuse the conduct of an earlier generation."

No, you shit, but you're quite willing to ride on the back of it, aren't you? Despite the fact that the conduct of the British (and US) governments in this whole sordid affair quite clearly meets the post-Nürnburg criteria of a crime against humanity? Besides which, isn't something which is repugnant and appallingly wrong still repugnant and appallingly wrong even after the passage of four decades?

"This required us to take into account issues of [...] security of the archipelago..."

And the two thousand plus US goons on Diego Garcia are going to be given the willies by the possible return of fewer than one thousand people to the outlying islands of the archipelago? Rah-rah! Go US!!

"...and the fact that an independent study had come down heavily against [...] lasting resettlement of the outer islands..."

You mean the 'independent' study which was produced by your own department, you arsehole?

So this is, once again, what we find: that a government in a supposed democracy can lie, deliberately mislead international organisations, forcibly expel two thousand people from their own country, leave them destitute in another land with which they had no connection, fight every attempt at a just solution through the courts and other nasty devices, and still get away with it.

I have a suggestion for you: the next time you hear some pompous get from a British government (of whatever party, because they're all the same at the politico-genetic level) pronouncing on the supposed misbehaviour of another country in relation to whatever it may be, shout "What about the Chagossians, you smug bastard?" at them. For this has been Britain's smallpox-impregnated blankets, showing that so-called 'liberal humanitarianism' is almost always a cover for atrocity of some sort or another.

(For a timeline of the whole story, see History Commons, and for a fuller picture of what I've only been able to outline, see this 2004 piece by the aforementioned John Pilger.)