Sometimes one single story makes us understand the meaning of evil. This is about how a whole population was forced to go live 1,600 km away, while their island was turned into a secret military base. These people’s dogs were killed and were threatened with the same fate if they didn’t abandon their island. You may be thinking about some ghastly dictator somewhere. Think again. This heinous crime was committed by the UK and the US. It didn’t happen in the dark days of colonialism either, but in 1971.
The victims are the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, an Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) like Curaçao. It belongs to the UK and is smaller in size than Sint Maarten. Diego Garcia, once a paradise–like island, lies midway between Africa and Asia. In the 1960s it was illegally snatched from Mauritius and via a UK-US deal Diego Garcia was made a secret US military base called Camp Justice. All of the 2,000 inhabitants, the Chagossians, were deported as part of this deal.
In response to the unwillingness of the inhabitants to leave voluntarily, the Chagossians were deprived of basic supplies and terrified into leaving. In 1971 all of the pet dogs on the island, about one thousand of them, were rounded up and gassed to death. The Chagossians threatened with the same faith, shortly afterward abandoned their homeland. They were put on a cargo ship, given one mattress per family and allowed to take only one suite case per person. When they arrived in the Seychelles they were imprisoned. Then they were taken to their final destination, Mauritius, which lies 1,000 miles west of Diego Garcia. The Chagossians were described by a top official in London as, “people with little aptitude for anything other than growing coconuts.” In Mauritius not surprisingly cases of suicide, abysmal poverty and prostitution abounded among them. In 1981 each evicted islander got U.S. $ 4,000 from the UK.
Today there are about 2,000 American Troops, 30 ships, including nuclear-armed aircraft carriers on Diego Garcia ready to jump into action against ‘evil in the world’. The Chagossians’ houses, for a great part now overtaken by the jungle, can still be seen with furniture and personal belongings of those forced into exile.
In the year 2000 the UK High Court ruled that the Chagossians were wrongly evicted. But four years later the so-called “royal prerogative” was invoked to nullify the decision. The International Court of Justice in 2019 handed down an advisory opinion which stated that UK’s claim to Diego Garcia was illegitimate. A subsequent non-binding UN resolution passed by an overwhelming majority, demanded that the UK withdraw from Diego Garcia. In 2021, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) confirmed Mauritius’ sovereignty over Diego Garcia. Yet, neither the UK nor the US are willing to abandon Diego Garcia.
Isn’t US’ and UK’s refusal to comply with the ITLOS ruling exactly the same as China’s refusal to accept the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 award on the South China Sea? It is only with a shocking lack of self-awareness and a high dosis of hypocrisy that either country could accuse Russia, China, Iran and others of undermining the global rules-based order.
“Camp Justice” still exists whilst the Chagossians are denied to get their island back. No protests anywhere in Europe, the “cradle of human rights”. No ‘Je suis Diego Garcia’, or mention of them in the Pope’s weekly sermons. The Chargossians yearn to see their country again. They want to go back to their homes, beaches and loved ones who are buried there. Unfortunately nobody cares.