US-UK-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Project: History of US Interventions
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck




1770s: Companies Allowed to Established Plantations on Chagos Islands


France issues leases to companies permitting them to establish coconut oil and copra plantations on the Chagos Islands. Enslaved Africans from Madagascar and Mozambique are brought in for labor. [GIFFORD, 5/27/2004; ZNET, 10/22/2004]





1814: Mauritius Ceded to Britain


The French colony of Mauritius, which includes the Chagos Archipelago, is ceded to Britain as part of the Treaty of Paris. [GIFFORD, 5/27/2004]





1950s: Diego Garcia Makes Favorable Impression on Traveler


Traveler Robert Scott tours the Chagos Archipelago and later writes of a thriving settlement at East Point on the island of Diego Garcia. “East Point has a look of a French coastal village miraculously transferred whole to this shore,” he writes. He recalls “the touches of old-fashioned ostentation in the chateau and its relation to the church… the neighborly way in which whitewashed stores, factories and workshops, shingled and thatched cottages, cluster round the green. The lamp standards along the roads and the parked motor lorries.” He notes how the islanders owned their own boats, fished, gardened and raised livestock. “Roots have been struck and a society peculiarly suited to the islands have [sic] been developed,” he observes. He also reports that there are three or four other villages on the island and numerous smaller hamlets. [SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975]


Entity Tags: Robert Scott



1965: Governor of Seychelles Says US Has Made Depopulation of Chagos Islands ‘Virtually a Condition’


Sir Bruce Greatbatch, governor of Seychelles, says in a Foreign Office memorandum how the US has made the depopulation of the Chagos Islands “virtually a condition of the agreement.” Describing the islands’ inhabitants, he says, “[T]hese people have little aptitude for anything other than growing coconuts.” They are “unsophisticated and untrainable,” he remarks. [GUARDIAN, 10/2/2004; ZNET, 10/22/2004]


Entity Tags: Sir Bruce Greatbatch, Chagossians



1963-1965: US Asks Britain to Give It Diego Garcia as Naval Base


Concerned about the prospects of Soviet expansion in the Indian Ocean, the US government asks Britain to find an uninhabited island where the US can build a naval base. [US CONGRESS, 6/5/1975; SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975; US CONGRESS, 11/4/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000; LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000; CBS NEWS, 6/13/2003] In return, the US says it is willing to waive up to $14 million in research and development fees related to Britain’s Polaris missile program. [US CONGRESS, 6/5/1975; US CONGRESS, 11/4/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000; LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000; CBS NEWS, 6/13/2003] The US puts its sights first on the island of Aldabra, located north of Madagascar. But the island is a breeding ground for rare giant tortoises, whose mating habits would likely be disturbed by military activities. Fearing that ecologists would bring publicity to US activities on the island, the US looks for an alternative. The US decides on Diego Garcia, the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago. It is strategically located in the heart of the Indian Ocean just south of the equator. There is one problem, however. The islands have a population of roughly 1,800 people (who are known as Chagossians, but also referred to as Ilois) who have inhabited the 65-island archipelago for more than 200 years. [SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000] Most of them are descendants of African slaves (see 1770s) and Indian plantation workers. [BBC, 1/10/2001] To deal with this “population problem,” British politicians, diplomats and civil servants begin a campaign “to maintain the pretense there [are] no permanent inhabitants” on the islands. They fear that if the international community learns about the existence of the population, it will demand that the Chagossians be recognized as a people “whose democratic rights have to be safeguarded.” [BBC, 11/3/2000]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



1965: British Minister Says Eviction of Inhabitants from Diego Garcia Must Be ‘Fait Accompli’


Commenting on the US and Britain’s plan to evict the inhabitants of Diego Garcia so the two countries can establish a military base on the island (see1963-1965), British Colonial Secretary Anthony Greenwood warns that it must be presented to the United Nations “with a fait accompli.” [BBC, 11/3/2000]


Entity Tags: Anthony Greenwood, Chagossians



April 1965: British Minister Travels to Mauritius to Negotiate Independence


British Secretary of State for the Colonies Anthony Greenwood travels to Mauritius to negotiate terms of independence for Mauritius. He says Britain expects to retain the Chagos Archipelago when Mauritius becomes independent.[SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975]


Entity Tags: Anthony Greenwood



November 1965: Telegram Shows Britain, US Are Aware Diego Garcia Has Permanent Inhabitants


A telegram sent to the UK mission at the United Nations describes how the US and Britain are conspiring to hide the fact that the planned relocation of residents from the island of Diego Garcia will include inhabitants who have lived there for generations. The US intends to establish a military base on the island (see 1963-1965). “We recognize that we are in a difficult position as regards references to people at present on the detached islands,” the telegram says. “We know that a few were born in Diego Garcia and perhaps some of the other islands, and so were their parents before them. We cannot therefore assert that there are no permanent inhabitants, however much this would have been to our advantage. In these circumstances, we think it would be best to avoid all references to permanent inhabitants.” [BBC, 11/3/2000]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



Early November 1965: Britain Insists it Will Retain Chagos Archipelago after Independence of Mauritius


During negotiations with Mauritius over independence, Prime Minister Harold Wilson insists that Britain retain the Chagos Archipelago. [LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000; BBC, 1/10/2001] Britain plans to forcibly remove the archipelago’s inhabitants from their homes so the largest island, Diego Garcia, can be leased to the US, which intends to establish a military presence on the island (see1963-1965).


Entity Tags: Chagossians, Harold Wilson



November 8, 1965: Several Islands Separated from Mauritius, Made into New British Colony


Britain issues an Order in Council (SI 1965/1920) separating the Chagos Archipelago, Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches from Mauritius and making them into a new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). [BBC, 11/3/2000;BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003] Britain pays the Seychelles and Mauritius three million pounds for their “loss of sovereignty” over the islands. [SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975]





January 1966: Britain Discusses Converting Chagos Islanders into ‘Short-Term, Temporary Residents’


A British Foreign Office official writes of “convert[ing] all the existing residents [of the Chagos Islands] into short-term, temporary residents” in order to justify their removal to make room for US naval facilities planned for the island of Diego Garcia (see 1963-1965). [GUARDIAN, 10/2/2004; ZNET, 10/22/2004]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



August 1966: Senior British Officials Discuss ‘Population Problem’ on Diego Garcia


Sir Paul Gore-Booth, a senior official at the Foreign Office, writes to diplomat Dennis Greenhill about the “population problem” on the island of Diego Garcia where the US and Britain want to establish a military base (see 1963-1965). “We must surely be very tough about this,” he says. “The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours… There will be no indigenous population except seagulls… The United States Government will require the removal of the entire population of the atoll by July.” In his reply, Greenhill says, “Unfortunately along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Man Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius.”[BBC, 11/3/2000; LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000; NATIONAL POST, 3/1/2001; CBS NEWS, 6/13/2003; BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003; GUARDIAN, 10/2/2004; ZNET, 10/22/2004]


Entity Tags: Dennis Greenhill, Paul Gore-Booth, Chagossians



(1966): British Official Suggest Reclassifying Chagos Islanders as ‘Floating Population’


Under the heading “Maintaining The Fiction,” an unnamed British official recommends in a memo that Britain reclassify the residents of the Chagos Archipelago as “a floating population.” He also suggests making “up the rules as we go along.” [ZNET, 10/22/2004]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



December 30, 1966: US and Britain Come to Agreement over British Indian Ocean Territory


The US and Britain secretly agree to make the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) available “for the defense purposes of both Governments as they may arise” for a period of 50 years, and thereafter for 20 years during which time either government will have the right to terminate the agreement. [US DEPARTMENT OF STATE, 12/30/1966; UNITED KINGDOM, 12/30/1966; GUARDIAN, 9/1/2000; BBC, 1/10/2001; BBC, 11/11/2004]


Entity Tags: David Kirkpatrick Este Bruce, George T. Churchill



1967- 1968: Chagos Islanders Stranded in Mauritius


On two separate voyages, plantation workers and residents leave the Chagos Islands on the Mauritius, a ship operated by Rogers & Co., to Port Louis, Mauritius’s capital. Many of the passengers are going to Mauritius only temporarily and intend to return to the island. But when they try to return to the Chagos Islands in 1968, they are refused passage and told they will not be permitted to return to their homes. The islanders are thus left stranded in Mauritius, without resettlement assistance or compensation. [WASHINGTON POST, 9/9/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000; LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000; BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003] Olivier Bancoult later recounts to the BBC how his 11-member family went to Mauritius in 1968 so that his ill sister could see a doctor. After she died, family members tried to return to the islands, but “were told the land had been given to the Americans for a US military base.” [LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000] The British also purchase the islands’ copra plantations and shut down their medical facilities. [BBC, 11/3/2000] Ships carrying food and medicine to Diego Garcia are turned back. [CBS NEWS, 6/13/2003] These measures are taken with the knowledge of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his Conservative successor, Edward Heath. [BBC, 11/3/2000]


Entity Tags: Harold Wilson, Chagossians, Edward Heath



1968: British Foreign Secretary Admits Indigenous Population on Chagos Islands


Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart writes that “by any stretch of the English language, there was an indigenous population and the Foreign Office knew it.”[ZNET, 10/22/2004]


Entity Tags: Robert Maitland Michael Stewart, Chagossians



July 5, 1968: US Says It Will Build Facilities on Diego Garcia


The US informs Britain that it will proceed with an “austere” communication and other facilities on Diego Garcia, the largest atoll of the Chagos Archipelago. This information is not made public. [BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003]





1969: Foreign Secretary Tells British Prime Minister Parliament and US Congress Not Told about Consideration for Diego Garcia


British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart notes in a memo to Prime Minister Harold Wilson that Parliament and US Congress were not informed that the US had waived several million dollars worth of fees associated with Britain’s Polaris submarine program (see 1963-1965). The US had agreed to waive the fees in exchange for an agreement that the British would rid Diego Garcia of its indigenous inhabitants so the US could build a military base there. [BBC, 11/3/2000; LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000; CBS NEWS, 6/13/2003]


Entity Tags: US Congress, Robert Maitland Michael Stewart, Harold Wilson



April 1969: British Government Approves Plans for Evacuation of Chagos Islands


British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Chancellor of the Exchequer Roy Jenkins and Secretary of State for Defense Denis Healey approve plans to completely evacuate the Chagos Islands in order to make way for the construction of a US communications facility on Diego Garcia, the archipelago’s largest island.[BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003]


Entity Tags: Roy Jenkins, Harold Wilson, Chagossians, Denis Healey



April 21, 1969: British Leaders Agree to Mislead UN over Diego Garcia Resettlement


In a secret memo to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart proposes that Britain mislead the UN “by present(ing) any move as a change of employment for contract workers—rather than as a population resettlement.” [ZNET, 10/22/2004] Five days later, Wilson approves the recommendation (see April 26, 1969).


Entity Tags: Robert Maitland Michael Stewart, Harold Wilson, Chagossians



April 26, 1969: British Prime Minister Approves Misleading of UN over Diego Garcia


British Prime Minister Harold Wilson approves a recommendation (see April 21, 1969) by Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart to mislead the UN about the population of the Chagos Islands. [ZNET, 10/22/2004]


Entity Tags: Chagossians, Robert Maitland Michael Stewart



December 1970: US Congress Approves Plan for Diego Garcia


US Congress approves plans to construct a defense facility on the island of Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago. [BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003]


Entity Tags: US Congress



1971: Britain Denies Chagos Islanders Right to Return


A British ordinance denies the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago the legal right to return once they have been evicted from the islands. The British government claims that the measure is necessary in order to ensure “the peace, order and good government of the territory.” [GUARDIAN, 9/1/2000]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



January 24, 1971: Britain Says Diego Garcia Will Be Closed in July


The administrator of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), John Rawling Todd, tells the remaining inhabitants of Diego Garcia that Britain intends “to close the island in July.” The islands of Peros Banhos and Salomon will remain open for the time-being. [BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003]


Entity Tags: John Rawling Todd, Chagossians



March 1971: Diego Garcia Plantations Cease Operation


Plantations at Diego Garcia cease their operations with the arrival of American Navy Seabees. [SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975; US CONGRESS, 11/4/1975; DIEGO GARCIA, 1/5/2005; CBC NEWS, 3/7/2005]





July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973: British Forcibly Remove Chagossians from Their Homes


With the arrival of the first Americans at Diego Garcia, the largest atoll of the Chagos Archipelago, the island’s remaining residents are told they must leave.[BBC, 11/3/2000; CBS NEWS, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] Recalling the massive forced relocation, Marcel Moulinie, the manager of a coconut plantation on the island, tells CBS 60 minutes in 2003 that he was ordered to ship the people out. “Total evacuation. They wanted no indigenous people there,” Marcel Moulinie explains. “When the final time came and the ships were chartered, they weren’t allowed to take anything with them except a suitcase of their clothes. The ships were small and they could take nothing else, no furniture, nothing.” To make it clear to residents that there would be no compromise, Sir Bruce Greatbatch, governor of the Seychelles, orders the killing of the Chagossians’ pets, which are rounded up into a furnace and gassed with exhaust fumes from American military vehicles. [CBS NEWS, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003; ZNET, 10/22/2004]“They put the dogs in a furnace where the people worked,” Lisette Talatte, a Chagossian, will later tell investigative journalist John Pilger. “[W]hen their dogs were taken away in front of them our children screamed and cried.” [ZNET, 10/22/2004] Marie Therese Mein, another Chagossian, later says US officials threatened to bomb them if they did not leave. [SELF-DETERMINATION NEWS, 1/28/2002; ZNET, 10/22/2004] And the Washington Post interviews one man in 1975 who says he was told by an American official, “If you don’t leave you won’t be fed any longer.” [WASHINGTON POST, 9/9/1975] The Chagossians are first shipped to the nearby islands of Peros Banhos and Salomon and then 1,200 miles away to Mauritius and the Seychelles. [BBC, 11/3/2000; CBS NEWS, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003]Before the eviction, the Chagossians were employed, grew their own fruit and vegetables, raised poultry and ducks, and fished. [SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975; SELF-DETERMINATION NEWS, 1/28/2002; BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003; TRIBUNE (BAHAMAS), 11/17/2003] On the island of Diego Garcia, there was a church, a school as well as a few stores. [SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975] But now, after being removed from their homes and dumped into foreign lands without compensation or resettlement assistance, they are forced to live in poverty. [CBS NEWS, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] The uprooted Chagossians find shelter in abandoned slums, which have no water or electricity. [SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975; CHURCH TIMES, 1/7/2005] Many commit suicide during and after the eviction campaign. [ZNET, 10/22/2004] Lisette Taleti loses two of her children.[GUARDIAN, 5/12/2006] Describing the plight of the Chagossians at this time, the British High Court writes in 2003: “The Ilois [Chagossians] were experienced in working on coconut plantations but lacked other employment experience. They were largely illiterate and spoke only Creole. Some had relatives with whom they could stay for a while; some had savings from their wages; some received social security, but extreme poverty routinely marked their lives. Mauritius already itself experienced high unemployment and considerable poverty. Jobs, including very low paid domestic service, were hard to find. The Ilois were marked by their poverty and background for insults and discrimination. Their diet, when they could eat, was very different from what they were used to. They were unused to having to fend for themselves in finding jobs and accommodation and they had little enough with which to do either. The contrast with the simple island life which they had left behind could scarcely have been more marked.”


Entity Tags: Sir Bruce Greatbatch, Chagossians, Marcel Moulinie, Marie Therese Mein,Lisette Talatte



1972: Britain Permits Communications Station on Diego Garcia


Britain permits the US to establish “a limited communications station” on the island of Diego Garcia. [US CONGRESS, 6/5/1975]





After 1971: US Bans Use of Former Inhabitants as Workers at Diego Garcia Base


When the US military base at Diego Garcia is completed, employment recruiters are instructed not to hire former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands. Benoit Emileien, a former employee of the base, later recalls, “I was given instruction to be careful. They don’t want any kind of claim or demonstration.” Emileien also says discussion of the island’s former inhabitants was taboo. [CNN, 6/18/2003SOURCES: BENOIT EMILEIEN] Instead, the US hires workers from the Philippines and Mauritius. [GUARDIAN, 12/13/2000]


Entity Tags: Benoit Emileien, Chagossians



After 1971: US Prevents Chagos Islanders from Visiting Family Graves


The United States prohibits former inhabitants of Diego Garcia from visiting the graves of their ancestors, despite a letter from the British government urging the US to grant them permission. [CNN, 6/18/2003]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



September 4, 1972: US Pays Mauritius for Chagossian Resettlement


Britain agrees to pay £650,000 (about $1.4 million) to the Mauritius government for costs associated with the resettlement of the Chagossians, who are being evicted from their homes in the Chagos Islands by the British (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). It is paid in March 1973. No help is provided to Seychelles, which has also received displaced islanders. [WASHINGTON POST, 9/9/1975; BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003] Most of the money goes toward repaying debts the Chagossians have incurred. [TRIBUNE (BAHAMAS), 11/17/2003]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



March 1973: US Completes Communications Facility on Diego Garcia


The US completes a Navy communications facility on the island of Diego Garcia.[SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975]





February 1974: US Asks Permission for Military Facility on Diego Garcia


The US seeks permission from Britain to build a military support facility on the island of Diego Garcia. [US CONGRESS, 6/5/1975]





December 1974: Britain Approves Construction of Military Support Facility on Diego Garcia


Britain agrees to a US request (see February 1974) for permission to build a military support facility on the island of Diego Garcia. This replaces an earlier 1972 agreement (see 1972) that permitted the US to establish a “a limited communications station” on the island. [US CONGRESS, 6/5/1975]





(March 1975): Chagossians Ask Britain For Help in Securing Plots of Land in Mauritania


Former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands deliver a formal petition to the British embassy, asking Britain to see that the Mauritanian government provides them with plots of land, a house for each family, and jobs. The Chagossians, who were evicted from their homes by the British a few years before (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973), say that absent this help, they would prefer being allowed to return to the islands. Copies of the petition are delivered to the American embassy, Mauritian Prime Minister Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, and several opposition leaders of the Mauritian government. [WASHINGTON POST, 9/9/1975]


Entity Tags: Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Chagossians



March 6, 1975: State Department Tells Congress Diego Garcia Has ‘No Local Population Whatsoever’


A State Department official tells Congress, “[T]he nature of the island [of Diego Garcia] itself, which is a rather small piece of land, is also fortuitous in that it has no local population whatsoever so we have a minimal degree of the sort of political problems that are sometimes associated with establishing a facility of this sort.” [US CONGRESS, 11/4/1975]


Entity Tags: US Congress



June 5, 1975: US Military Tells Congress Diego Garcia Base Should Be Upgraded


US military officials tell Congress that the US needs to develop naval support facilities on the island of Diego Garcia. The Pentagon wants to lengthen the runway at Diego Garcia from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, increase the available petroleum, oils, and lubricants storage, and dredge its harbor. It would also like to build additional barracks, a pier to facilitate cargo handling, as well as additional utility and recreational facilities. The officials argue that expanding the base at Diego Garcia is needed to safeguard US oil interests in the Persian Gulf and to counter the Soviet Union’s presence in the region, which the military claims is increasing rapidly. They attempt to allay Congress’ concerns that expanding the base would provoke competition in that region with the Soviet Union. At one point during the hearing, George Vest, Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs of the Department of State, says the island is “uninhabited,” making no reference to the fact that it had been made so by the US and British only a few years before (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). When further questioned on the subject, Vest repeats that there are “no inhabitants” at all on the island. [US CONGRESS, 6/5/1975; LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000]


Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George Vest, US Congress



July 28, 1975: US Congress Approves Ugrade of Diego Garcia Base


US Congress passes a bill allowing the Department of Defense to upgrade the communications facility at Diego Garcia to a “naval support” base. The US will lengthen the island’s runway from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, increase the available petroleum, oils, and lubricants storage, and dredge its harbor, among other improvements. [SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON), 9/21/1975]


Entity Tags: US Congress



September 9, 1975: Washington Post First Western Newspaper to Report on Relocation of Chagos Islanders


The Washington Post is the first Western newspaper to report about the forced relocation of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands. US officials had previously claimed that the island of Diego Garcia was “uninhabited,” (see June 5, 1975) and (see March 6, 1975) conveniently ignoring the fact that the island had been depopulated by Britain and the US (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). [WASHINGTON POST, 9/9/1975; WASHINGTON POST, 9/11/1975]





October 10, 1975: Pentagon Report Supports Resettling Chagos Inhabitants


The Pentagon provides Congress with a “Report on the Resettlement of Inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago.” The 10-page report, drafted in response to congressional inquiries, asserts that prior to the “resettlement” of the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago, the islands “were sparsely populated, essentially by contract workers and their dependents who bad been brought to the islands to work in coconut plantations.” Pressing its case that the islanders were not permanent inhabitants of the islands, the report claims there was “little evidence of any real sense of a distinct community evolved by the special local environment,” and adds that “any attachment to the locale could be attributed to the easy-going ways of the old plantation company rather than to sentiments regarding the islands themselves.” Without any supporting evidence, the report claims that “it appeared that the transfer of the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago would be feasible and that the persons then working on the islands would accept employment under suitable conditions elsewhere.” According to the Pentagon, the inhabitants left the island without protest. “We understand from the British that although there was some initial reluctance on the part of the older people to move, all went willingly,” the report says. “No coercion was used and no British or US servicemen were involved.” The Pentagon report concludes: “United States and [British] officials acted in good faith on the basis of information then available to them, with respect to the issue of resettling the people of the Chagos Archipelago.” [US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 10/10/1975]





November 4, 1975: Congressional Subcommittee Examines Resettlement of Chagossians


A congressional subcommittee of the Committee on International Relations holds a hearing on the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the US military facility at Diego Garcia island. The hearing focuses on the forced eviction of the archipelago’s inhabitants (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). 
Testimony of George T. Churchill - In his statement to Congress, George T. Churchill, director of International Security Operations at the Department of State, attempts to defend the State Department and Pentagon from accusations that they misled Congress about the inhabitants of Diego Garcia. He asserts that the island’s population had consisted mainly of “contract laborers and their families whose livelihood depended on the coconut plantations and whose ties to the island were tenuous.” Their settlements, he says, “appear to have been something more than work camps but considerably less than free indigenous communities.” Churchill argues that resettlement was necessary because the islanders would not have had work once the plantations were replaced by US military facilities. When it was time to go, he claims, the residents “went willingly.” He also contends that he could find no evidence in government files that there was a “lack of concern for the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands.” He admits that his report is based entirely on US and British sources and that no attempt was made to interview the former inhabitants or request information from the Mauritius government—despite his acknowledgment that on many issues, there “simply wasn’t enough data.” Churchill argues that it was Britain’s responsibility to see to the islanders’ welfare after resettlement and denies that the US has any obligation—moral or legal—to the islanders, even though their eviction had been a condition of the US’ 1966 agreement (see December 30, 1966) with Britain to use the island. [US CONGRESS, 11/4/1975] 
Testimony of Commander Gary Sick - Pentagon official Gary Sick addresses accusations that the military has misled Congress about Diego Garcia’s population. In his testimony he cites instances where passing references were made about the islands’ population, including a 1964 Washington Post article mentioning the possibility that an “indigenous population” might exist on the island; a 1969-1979 Pentagon spending proposal which referred to the islanders as “rotating contract personnel engaged in harvesting copra”; and a 1970 congressional hearing in which it was stated that the “British [had] gone a little farther about removing the population from there now.” [US CONGRESS, 11/4/1975]


Entity Tags: Gary G. Sick, US Congress, George T. Churchill



1977-1978: Mauritius Pays Out Resettlement Compensation to Chagossians, but Amounts Affected by Inflation


The Mauritius government disperses the £650,000, received by the British in 1973 (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973), to 595 Chagossians families. Since 1973, inflation has significantly reduced the value of the resettlement sum. [BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



1983: Chagossians Forced to Give up Right to Go Home in Return for Compensation


The British government pays roughly $6 million in compensation to the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands who were forcibly removed from their homeland to make way for a US military base between 1971 and 1973 (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). When Chagossians go to the Social Security Office to collect their compensation they are required to endorse, by signature or thumbprint, a renunciation form forfeiting their right to ever return home. Though Chagossians speak Creole, the forms are written in English and are not translated for them. [BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003; TRIBUNE (BAHAMAS), 11/17/2003]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



June 21, 2000: State Department Says Return of Chagos Islanders Would ‘Significantly Degrade’ Base’s Importance


Eric Newsom, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, sends a letter to Richard Wilkinson, the director for the Americas at Britain’s Foreign Office, urging the British government to prohibit former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands from returning to any of the islands in the 65-island archipelago. The former inhabitants want to resettle two islands, Salomons and Peros Banhos, which are located about 140 miles from Diego Garcia where a major US military base is located. The letter claims that allowing the islands’ former residents to resettle their homelands “would significantly degrade the strategic importance of a vital military asset unique in the region.” He explains: “If a resident population were established on the Chagos Archipelago, that could well imperil Diego Garcia’s present advantage as a base from which it is possible to conduct sensitive military operations that are important for the security of both our governments but that, for reasons of security, cannot be staged from bases near population centers…. Settlements on the outer islands would also immediately raise the alarming prospect of the introduction of surveillance, monitoring and electronic jamming devices that have the potential to disrupt, compromise or place at risk vital military operations.” He also informs Wilkinson of US plans to expand the base. “In carrying out our defense and security responsibilities in the Arabian Gulf, the Middle East, south Asia and east Africa, Diego Garcia represents for us an all but indispensable platform. For this reason, in addition to extensive naval requirements, the USG is seeking the permission of your government to develop the island as a forward operating location for expeditionary air force operations—one of only four such locations worldwide,” the letter goes on to say. [GUARDIAN, 9/1/2000]


Entity Tags: Eric Newsom, Chagossians, Richard Wilkinson



November 3, 2000: British Court Rules Removal of Chagos Islanders Illegal


In London, Lord Justice Laws and Justice Gibbs rule that the US and Britain’s forced removal of some 1,800 people from the Chagos Islands (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) was illegal, thereby granting the islands’ former inhabitants the right to resettle the archipelago. [BBC, 11/3/2000; GUARDIAN, 11/4/2000; LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000; BBC, 10/31/2002; CHURCH TIMES, 1/7/2005] The court also awards the Chagossians with the costs of resettling [GUARDIAN, 11/4/2000] but does not order the government to provide them with compensation. [GUARDIAN, 12/13/2000] The judges also find that the two governments deliberately misled the United Nations and their own legislative bodies when they claimed that the displaced population consisted entirely of seasonal contract workers from Mauritius and the Seychelles and had no right to remain there (see April 21, 1969). Additionally, the ruling criticizes the two governments for not seeing to the welfare of the islanders after they were evicted. [SELF-DETERMINATION NEWS, 1/28/2002] Within hours of the ruling, the British Foreign Office accepts the judgment but says that the islanders will only be permitted to resettle on the islands of Penhos Banhos and Salomon. No one will be permitted to return to Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, where most of the Chagossians once lived. The US is leasing the island until 2016 (see December 30, 1966) and is operating a very large naval base there (see March 1971). [GUARDIAN, 11/4/2000;LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000] Commenting on the case, an unnamed US Defense Department official tells the Los Angeles Times: “The United States does have a strategic interest on Diego Garcia. But this is a matter between the British authorities and the individuals who brought the case. We have no comment on the merits of the case.” The official adds that Diego Garcia “has played a primary role in the support of naval and Air Force units operating in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.” [LOS ANGELES TIMES, 11/4/2000]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



December 2000: US Denies Chagos Islanders Permission to Use Diego Garcia Airstrip


After a British court rules that the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands have a right to return home (see November 3, 2000), the US, which is leasing the archipelago’s largest island, Diego Garcia, says it will not allow the islanders to return to Diego Garcia and will not allow them to use the island’s airstrip. The cost of building an airstrip on one of the other islands would likely cost more than $100 million. Without access to an airfield, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the islanders to resettle any of the islands. [GUARDIAN, 12/13/2000]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



October 2001-(Early 2002): B-52s Launched from Diego Garcia


US B-52 bombers use the military base at the island of Diego Garcia to launch attacks against the Taliban in Afghanistan. [BBC, 10/31/2002]





December 20, 2001: Chagossians File Class Action against US over Relocation


Chagossians file a class action suit against the US government suing for reparations and the right to return to their homes on the Chagos Islands. They were evicted from the islands in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) so the US could build a military base on the island of Diego Garcia. The suit accuses the US government, as well as numerous past and present officials, with trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, forced relocation, racial discrimination, torture, and genocide. The Chagossians are not asking the US government to abandon the island and say they are willing to work on the base. [WASHINGTON POST, 12/21/2001; SELF-DETERMINATION NEWS, 1/28/2002]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



August 2002: US, Britain Deny Chagos Islanders Permission to Return Home


Former residents of the island of Diego Garcia request permission from the Bush administration to visit their former homeland. They were forcibly relocated from their homes between 1971 and 1973 (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) to make way for a US base. In response, the Bush administration says in a letter: “Because of the vital role the facility plays in the global war on terrorism, British authorities have denied permission to visit Diego Garcia. We concur and support the decision.” [CNN, 6/18/2003]


Entity Tags: Chagossians, Bush administration (43)



November 2002: US Asks Britain for Permission to Launch Offensive Operations against Iraq from Diego Garcia


The US sends a formal request to Britain for permission to launch “offensive actions” from Diego Garcia against Iraq. Although the US already has a military base on the island, it can only be used for defense and training, unless Britain grants the US special permission. America wants its B-2 stealth bombers to run sorties from the island. [OBSERVER, 11/24/2002]





January 8, 2003: British Official Claims There Are No Prisoners on Island of Diego Garcia


The alleged location of Camp Justice on the island of Diego Garcia.[Source: Public domain]The British Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Valerie Anne Amos, declares there are no prisoners at the US naval base on the island of Diego Garcia.[UNITED KINGDOM, 1/8/2003;UNITED KINGDOM, 3/3/2003]The island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was leased to the US in 1966 for an initial period of 50 years (seeDecember 30, 1966). It now accommodates a US naval base (see June 5, 1975) employing approximately 1,700 military personnel and 2,000 civilian contractors. No one is allowed on the island except for military business. [FIRST, 6/2004 ; DIEGO GARCIA, 1/5/2005] However, it has been reported several times in the press that detainees are being held at a CIA interrogation center on the island named “Camp Justice.” Pentagon officials have denied the existence of a CIA interrogation center on the island and the CIA has refused to respond to inquiries about its alleged existence. [WASHINGTON POST, 12/26/2002; FIRST, 6/2004 ; WASHINGTON POST, 12/17/2004; WASHINGTON POST, 1/2/2005]


Entity Tags: Valerie Anne Amos

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives




June 18, 2003: Former Defense Secretary Says Diego Garcia Base ‘Critical’ to US Secuirity; Lack of Inhabitants ‘Preferable’


Commenting on the US military base at Diego Garcia, former US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger tells CNN: “It is critical to American security and has steadily grown more critical. Indeed, it is one of the wisest investment of government funds that we have seen over the last three or four decades.… It’s always preferable not to have inhabitants around. It reduces any risk of intelligence operations against the base and the possibility of sabotage.” [CNN, 6/18/2003]


Entity Tags: James R. Schlesinger



October 9, 2003: British Court Rules Chagos Islanders Cannot Claim Right to Return Home from Britain


The British High Court rules that the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands have no grounds for bringing a claim against the British government and no realistic prospect of succeeding, even though a ruling in 2000 (see November 3, 2000) had determined that Britain’s mass eviction of the islanders in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) had been illegal. In his 750-page ruling, Justice Ouseley complains that the plaintiffs did not provide reliable evidence that individual Chagossians had been “treated shamefully by successive UK governments.” He did however acknowledge that the mass eviction was not just and that compensation received so far by the Chagossians was inadequate. “Many were given nothing for years but a callous separation from their homes, belongings and way of life and a terrible journey to privation and hardship,” he says. During the trial, the attorney general and British Indian Ocean Territory Commissioner claimed that the islanders had not opposed being removed from their homes and shipped to a foreign land with little or no assistance. They also denied allegations that the mass eviction had been implemented dishonestly or in bad faith. [BBC, 10/9/2003; BRITISH ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE, 10/9/2003]


Entity Tags: Chagossians



June 2004: British Order in Council Prohibits Return of Chagos Islanders


The British government issues an Order in Council, reneging on an earlier decision (see November 3, 2000) to the former residents of the Chagos Islands that they would be permitted to return some of the islands in the Chagos Archipelago. The royal decree prohibits any of the islanders from returning to any of the islands. The Chagossians had been forcibly removed from their homes in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) so the US could build a base on Diego Garcia. The government claims that according to a feasibility study, which did not consult the former residents, the costs of resettlement would be prohibitively high, with an initial cost of about £5 million and annual costs of between £3 and £5 million. The study also claims that the islands are “sinking.” British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell tells John Pilger: “The tax-payer is being asked to pick up the financial tab. You have to make choices about how you spend money.” [ZNET, 10/22/2004; CHURCH TIMES, 1/7/2005]


Entity Tags: Bill Rammell, Chagossians



July 7, 2004: British MP Calls for Reassurances that Detainees Are Not Being Held at Diego Garcia


British Member of Parliament Tom Brake questions whether detainees are being kept at “Camp Justice” on the island of Diego Garcia and calls for reassurances that the base is not being used “to secretly hold and interrogate terror suspects.” [BBC, 7/7/2004]


Entity Tags: Tom Brake

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives



May 11, 2006: British High Court Rules in Favor of Chagossians


The British high court in London decides in favor of the Chagos islanders, ruling that the British government’s 2004 decision (see June 2004) to block the return of the islanders to their homes was unlawful. Lord Justice Hooper and Justice Cresswell write in their ruling: “The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an order in council, exile a whole population from a British overseas territory and claim that he is doing so for the ‘peace, order and good government’ of the territory is, to us, repugnant.” The ruling—which is the fourth time in the past five years that the courts have deplored the government’s treatment of the islanders—paves the way for the islanders’ return. [GUARDIAN, 5/12/2006] But on June 30, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will file an appeal. [GUARDIAN, 7/1/2006]


Entity Tags: Margaret Beckett, Chagossians



May 23, 2007: Appeals Court Rules in Chagossians’ Favor


The British Royal Court of Appeal rules that the Chagossians were tricked, starved, and even terrorized from their homes by the British government 30 years ago (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973), and can return to their homes immediately. The islanders had previously won a ruling in 2006, however foreign secretary Margaret Beckett had appealed that ruling (see May 11, 2006). Explaining the court’s decision, Lord Justice Sedley says that “while a natural or man-made disaster could warrant the temporary, perhaps even indefinite, removal of a population for its own safety and so rank as an act of governance, the permanent exclusion of an entire population from its homeland for reasons unconnected with their collective well-being cannot have that character and accordingly cannot be lawfully accomplished by use of the prerogative power of governance.” The British Foreign Office says it is “disappointed” with the decision and says it may file an appeal with the House of Lords. [GUARDIAN, 5/23/2007]


Entity Tags: Chagossians, Stephen Sedley



June 2, 2008: British MP Files Complaint over Use of Diego Garcia in Rendition of ‘Ghost Detainees’


Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island. [Source: Department of Defense]British Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, files a formal complaint with the government’s Information Commissioner over the government’s use of the island of Diego Garcia for the rendition of US prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and possibly torture (see After February 7, 2002 and June 2, 2008). Diego Garcia is a large atoll in the Indian Ocean under British jurisdiction, and hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). Tyrie says he decided to make the complaint to learn if Britain was in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The British government has recently admitted that at least two US rendition planes used Diego Garcia as a refueling base in 2002 (see December 2001-January 2002). “The foreign secretary has been forced to admit that two rendition planes refueled at Diego Garcia, despite explicit US assurances to the [British] government that no such flights had taken place,” Tyrie says. “Clearly people will conclude that these assurances are worthless.… But in response to requests by me the government has twice refused to release the terms of these assurances. Their disclosure will allow for a legal assessment of whether or not [Britain] has breached its obligations under the convention against torture, both with respect to Diego Garcia and to rendition generally.” Tyrie’s complaint requests that Foreign Secretary David Milbrand name the prisoners rendered through Diego Garcia by the US. Milbrand has already apologized to Parliament about falsely claiming that no US rendition flights have ever used Diego Garcia as a refueling base; other British government officials have issued similar denials (see January 8, 2003). But Manfred Novak, the UN special investigator on torture, says that he has credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003. Human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith says he believes two of the detainees were Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni (see Early January-January 9, 2002 and March 2004) and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see December 19, 2001 andJanuary 2002 and After), though he cannot be sure since neither the US nor British governments are releasing the names of potential detainees kept at Diego Garcia. In 2007, a Council of Europe investigation into extraordinary rendition will learn that US agencies use Diego Garcia in the “processing” of “high-value detainees.” [GUARDIAN, 6/2/2008; GUARDIAN, 6/2/2008]


Entity Tags: Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, David Miliband, Manfred Novak, Andrew Tyrie, Clive Stafford Smith, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives