The UK has committed “crimes against humanity” in treating a little-known island community, New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has claimed.
In 1967, the United Kingdom forcibly evicted thousands of people from the Chagos Islands, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, to make way for the construction of the US military base at Diego Garcia.
And in 2021, the United Nations ruled for the third time that Britain and the US have no sovereignty over the islands and cede them to Mauritius. London and Washington have ignored the verdict.
In a 106-page report, Human Rights Watch says the UK’s historic treatment of the Chagossians amounted to “crimes against humanity” and “racial persecution” and calls for their return to the islands.
“The UK today is committing an appalling colonial crime and treating all Chagossians as people without rights,” said Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch and lead author of the report.
“Britain and the US, who worked together to drive the Chagossians from their homes, should make full reparation for the damage they caused.”
Between 1967 and 1973, around 2,000 Chagossians were forcibly deported by Britain and left to fend for themselves in Mauritius and Seychelles to make way for the Diego Garcia military base, which remains an important part of US Indo-Pacific strategy to this day.
In 2002, British citizenship was offered to Chagossians originally born in the islands. However, citizenship was not fully extended to their families and only their children born between 1969 and 1983 received British passports, leading to family separation.
Since then, Chagossians in Britain have engaged in expensive legal battles to obtain citizenship for their relatives. Much of the community living in the UK continues to live in poverty with high levels of homelessness.
As recently as November last year, the law was changed to allow all Chagossian descendants to apply for British citizenship. The move came after Mauritius officially asserted its claim to the archipelago.
“It is time for the world to recognize that the Chagossian community was treated as a people without trust and without rights – as ‘Tarzans’ and ‘Men Fridays’,” according to a declassified British document from the time of our exile said Frankie Bontemps, chairman of Chagossian Voices.
“We have had to fight racism and discrimination wherever we have lived and it is time that Britain and the US – whose airbase caused our exile – took responsibility for the suffering and hardship they caused.”
Just £808,380 of a £40 million UK government fund earmarked to support the Chagossian community in 2016 has been spent, a Freedom of Information filing in 2021 has revealed.
The Human Right Watch report describes the Chagossians as an “indigenous people” with a right to self-determination.
Chagossian leaders say they have been sidelined in ongoing talks between London, Port Louis and Washington over the future of the archipelago. They are firmly opposed to the ceding of the islands to Mauritius, where they have also been discriminated against.
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