West News Wire: Human Rights Watch has warned that the forced exile of people in the 1960s and 1970s amounted to a crime against humanity and that the UK and US should provide full restitution to the Chagos Islanders who have been displaced.
In a report released on Wednesday, the advocacy group asserted that the islanders’ exile had led to decades of economic suffering and emotional ruin.
The treatment of indigenous people who were evicted from the islands by the British government to make room for the construction of a US military installation on Diego Garcia was described in depth in the study.
According to Clive Baldwin, senior legal consultant at Human Rights Watch, “The UK is currently perpetrating a terrible colonial crime, treating all Chagossians as a people without rights.”
“The UK and the US, who together expelled the Chagossians from their homes, should provide full reparations for the harm they have caused.”
He added that both governments “should right the wrongs” of the past “starting with the political and financial commitment to return the Chagossians to their homeland with dignity”.
The Chagos Archipelago comprises 60 islands in the Indian Ocean. In 1814, France ceded Mauritius and its dependencies, which included the islands, to the UK.
In 1965, as part of negotiations leading up to Mauritius gaining independence in 1968, the UK created the British Indian Ocean Territory separating the islands from Mauritius.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, British authorities forced residents to leave the islands, with many settling in the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles.
Displaced Chagossians have long campaigned for their right to return. But the UK has argued that it would not support resettlement “on the grounds of feasibility, defence and security interests, and cost to the British taxpayer”.
In an advisory opinion in 2019, the UN International Court of Justice said the UK was “under an obligation” to end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago “as rapidly as possible”, arguing that the islands were not lawfully separated from Mauritius.
UK foreign secretary James Cleverly announced in November last year that the British and Mauritian governments were in negotiations on “the exercise of sovereignty” with the aim of reaching a deal in early 2023.
Cleverly said the talks were intended to “secure an agreement on the basis of international law”.
The UK government also launched a route for people of Chagossian descent to gain British nationality, which opened on November 23 last year.
In 2016, ministers also launched a £40mn support package aimed at providing funding to improve the lives of Chagossians across a period of 10 years.
“We respect the work Human Rights Watch does around the world, but we categorically reject this characterisation of events,” said the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
“The UK has made clear its deep regret about the manner in which Chagossians were removed from BIOT in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” it continued.
The US state department said: “The US remains steadfast in its respect for and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals around the world and acknowledges the challenges faced by Chagossian communities. The manner in which Chagossians were removed is regrettable.”
“And we welcome the advocacy of Human Rights Watch to promote respect for human rights globally.”