• Rhianna Louise

Chagossians' fight for return make national news

Chagossians protesting at Parliament in 2008

This past weekend, both the Guardian and the Independent published articles on the recent progress of the Chagossians’ return campaign. The Independent article highlights the shocking fact that ‘about 1,500 Chagossians were removed by Britain in 1971 to make way for a new US military base on Diego Garcia’, -in return for a £5m discount from Washington for the Polaris nuclear missiles system. It also suggests that a recent study has given a great boost to the Chagossians’ campaign to return home. This study shows that 98 percent of Chagossians want to return, even though two thirds of them are second generation Chagossians who have never lived there. The Independent article also depicts the underhand and abusive strategies employed by successive UK governments in order to prevent Chagossian return: ‘‘from invoking obscure statutory powers to the creation of a huge marine reserve.” In a similar vein, it mentions recent Freedom of Information revelations, which cast doubt on an earlier report the UK government used to justify its opposition to Chagossian return. These FoI revelations are further examined in the aforementioned Guardian article, also published this past weekend. This article explains that in 2008, the House of Lords refused the request of the Chagossian people to return home. The government argued that their resettlement was not possible, and used a feasibility study to back up this argument.

However, information released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that the Foreign Office had paid an academic - Charles Sheppard, now a professor at Warwick University - to critique the original draft of a 2002 study which suggested that a successful return was feasible. The final published version, used by the government to defend their 2008 ruling, was far more skeptical about Chagossians returning to their homes than the earlier draft. The Guardian article states that David Snoxell, once deputy commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territories and High Commissioner to Mauritius, has suggested that the Foreign Office tried to “massage” this 2008 version of the study so that it would dismiss the Chagossians’ return campaign. The House of Lords is now considering claims that the original, far more positive draft was not disclosed in 2008 - and that had it been shared, this would ‘have been highly likely to have affected the outcome of the appeal.’

As Snoxell suggests, the close involvement of the Foreign Office in shaping the final version of the 2008 study - which was so different from the earlier draft, and which contains key sections that have since been disputed by some academics - sheds doubt on the claim that this was an entirely independent study. The Foreign Office, naturally, denies having exerted ‘undue influence’ on the study.

As the Guardian article states, the UK now has until 29 December to decide whether or not to extend the US-UK agreement over the use of Diego Garcia as a military base. Moreover, as the Independent article points out, despite the conclusions of the disputed 2008 report; a separate report commissioned by the FCO last year concluded that return is in fact feasible. And as the Independent shrewdly notes, this more positive report appeared only after Washington ‘signalled it would be prepared to see islanders on Diego Garcia.’

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