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article imageOp-Ed: UN demands that the UK return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius

By Ken Hanly     May 23, 2019 in Politics
The UN General Assembly passed a resolution that demanded the UK hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius within six months. Britain separated the Indian Ocean Islands from Mauritius in 1965 to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
Islands used by both the UK and US militaries
Both countries have major military bases on the largest island Diego Garcia. The remote archipelago has been a source of tension for decades. The motion requiring the UK to give the islands back to Mauritius within six months was brought by a number African Nations.
The voted passed by a large majority
The vast majority of member states, 116 countries voted in favor of the resolution. Only six countries voted against: UK, US, Australia, Israel, the Maldives and Hungary. However 15 countries did not even vote and 56 abstained. Only Spain amid European countries voted for the motion.
The vote is not legally binding
The International Court of Justice (IJC) also ruled against the UK three months ago issuing an opinion that said the UK had acted illegally when it split the islands from Mauritius. However, neither vote is legally binding. No one will see that either vote is ever enforced. The UK and its partner the US have turned the islands called the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) into two giant military bases.
The US ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce argued that the military base on the largest island Diego Garcia "plays a vital role in keeping allies and friends, including Mauritius, in the region and beyond safe and secure" In other words the UK and the US play the role of area police not those in the area themselves. Some reports have suggested that the US base was used by the CIA as a place to render suspected terrorists for torture after the 2011 attacks.
The BIOT
Wikipedia describes the BIOT government: "The British Indian Ocean Territory, or in abbreviated form BIOT, is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. It is administered by a Commissioner, resident in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. In terms of law, the territory is governed by the laws of the UK, where applicable; and in the case of persons subject to United States military law a special agreement applies. The laws of the territory are based on the constitution, set out in the British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004, which gives the Commissioner full powers to make laws for the territory. The commissioner and administrator are both resident in the UK. The representative of the British government on the island is Cdr D. Howard RN. There are no elections on the territory; the position of the monarch is hereditary and the commissioner and administrator are appointed by the monarch."
In other words, BIOT is run by the military locally and with one person in London authorized to make its laws. The original local inhabitants have been driven out and not allowed to return. The only residents are members of the military or people who have contracts with them.
Residents of of Diego Garcia Island  in the Indian Ocean Chagos Archipelago  receiving news ijn 1971...
Residents of of Diego Garcia Island, in the Indian Ocean Chagos Archipelago, receiving news ijn 1971 that they will all be deported
MARCO LONGARI, AFP
The expulsion of the Chagossians
A WIkipedia article on the Chagoss islands gives the background: "In November 1965, the UK purchased the entire Chagos Archipelago from the then self-governing colony of Mauritius for £3 million to create the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), with the intent of ultimately closing the plantations to provide the British territory from which the United States would conduct its military activities in the region. On 30 December 1966, the United States and the United Kingdom executed an agreement through an Exchange of Notes which permit the United States Armed Forces to use any island of the BIOT for defence purposes for 50 years, until December 2016, followed by a 20-year optional extension (to 2036) to which both parties must agree by December 2014. As of 2010, only the atoll of Diego Garcia has been transformed into a military facility."
So the US can use any island for defense purposes until 2036 as the agreement has been extended. The UK did eventually close all the plantations with the result that the residents many of whom worked on the plantations had no jobs and left the islands voluntarily but were not allowed back.
In early March of 1967 the UK Commissioner who makes laws for the BIOT, issued an ordinance that enabled the Commissioner to acquire any land he liked for the UK government. The Commissioner bought all the plantations and other land of the Chagos Agalega Company. The plan was to take away any income from the resident Chagossians so they would leave "voluntarily"
In a memo from this period, Colonial Office head Denis Greenhill (later Lord Greenhill of Harrow) wrote to the British Delegation at the UN: "The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a committee. Unfortunately along with the Birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays whose origins are obscure, and who are being hopefully wished on to Mauritius etc."
An internal memo from gives the phony legal basis for the expulsion: "The Colonial Office is at present considering the line to be taken in dealing with the existing inhabitants of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). They wish to avoid using the phrase "permanent inhabitants" in relation to any of the islands in the territory because to recognise that there are any permanent inhabitants will imply that there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded and which will therefore be deemed by the UN to come within its purlieu. The solution proposed is to issue them with documents making it clear that they are "belongers" of Mauritius and the Seychelles and only temporary residents of BIOT. This devise, although rather transparent, would at least give us a defensible position to take up at the UN."
It is about a half century or so since the Chagossians were driven from their islands and banned from returning. This may not be ethnic cleansing exactly but certainly it was cleansing the Chagoss Islanders of their homes and jobs for the sake of the military of the largest present imperial power and its now junior partner.
The appended Pilger documentary on the issue notes that even the pets of the islanders were killed. The documentary shows the terrible situations of the islanders who were forcibly evacuated.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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