It can be a cause of some frustration amongst Chagossians and their allies that human rights abuses in Diego Garcia only attract serious media attention in relation to allegations of its use in ‘rendition’ flights. The decades of human rights abuse suffered by thousands of Chagossians rarely gets anything like the attention, despite being openly admitted by all involved. (To help us campaign and raise awareness, please consider donating or signing the petition [see sidebar for both])
Nevertheless, Chagossians rightly take a concerned interest in any allegations their homeland is hosting further abuse. Indeed, as the Chagos Islands remain a British Overseas Territory, no British citizen should be comfortable with suggestions made in some quarters over the weekend about the usage of Diego Garcia military facilities.
Chagossians are confident they could live alongside a continuing US military facility, but US support for Chagossian resettlement must be a condition of an extension of the US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia, which expires in 2016.
Like the rest of the world, we can not say anything on the truth of some of the below allegations. This is, however, how the issue has been covered in the UK press.
The recent spike in interest in US-operated military facilities on Diego Garica comes after a the publication of a US Senate report into the use of torture by US intelligence agencies over the past fifteen years. (link to CNN coverage and full report) Diego Garcia, and the work of British intelligence services generally, was notable by its absence. The Telegraph noted that pages and “names of countries,” had though been “redacted”, whilst referencing suspicions Diego Garcia may have been used as “Black Site” for detention, transfer of detainees and even torture.
A Guardian article similarly acknowledged these allegations, without endorsing them, which largely stem from an Al-Jazeera America report earlier this year. The piece quoted an anonymous source who predicted that an unredacted Senate report would reveal a so-called “black site” was operated in Diego Garcia with the full cooperation of the British Government.
The case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the Libyan dissident who claims to have been transited through Diego Garcia whilst undergoing CIA torture, has also been referenced in media reaction to the report, including an article by prominent human rights lawyer Amrit Singh.
Calls for further action have come from a variety of sources. Phillipe Sands QC, writing in the Daily Mail, has called for a “full judicial inquiry.” In his piece he forwards that the complete absence of Diego Garcia from the report suggests that “officials may have taken steps to remove anything that would blemish our reputation.”
Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, meanwhile, has argued that he will ensure the Intelligence and Security Committee has the powers to investigate the matter fully. RT, which has followed the developments of the story closely, has noted that former Prime Minister Tony Blair may be made answer questions about Deigo Garcia as part of the Committee’s inquiry.
Controversy has also broken out over whether the UK had requested these redactions, especially concerning Diego Garcia. Home Secretary Teresa May stated that she did not. It has been admitted previously, however, that UK officals and representatives met members of US Senate Committee in relation, and that some redactions were made on “national security grounds.”
We’ll continue to follow coverage of the story as it develops. Hopefully it focus the national conversation on the future of the islands.
The history of UK and US intervention in the Chagos Archipelago has thus far generated nothing but bad news. Let’s hope next year positive headlines are made as the Government finally decides to grant Chagossians a measure of justice after decades of suffering.