Our letter to the US Ambassador
As President Obama arrives in the country, we thought we'd share our recent letter to the US Ambassador Matthew Barzun calling on the US to state their position on Chagossian return to their homeland.
With a recent consultation showing many Chagossian people wish to return and that they would be happy to work with a continuing US military base, there is no reason for President Obama to oppose Chagossian return and indeed he should call on the UK's own Prime Minister David Cameron to end this stain on both nation's reputation.
The Prime Minister pledged in the House of Commons this week to discuss this with the President. Let's hope they make the right decision.
Our letter to the US Ambassador
Dear Mr Barzun,
This year the UK and US Governments will decide upon the future of Diego Garcia and the military base there. In making that decision, these two Governments have the opportunity to decide the future of a group of much neglected British citizens: the Chagossian people.
We write to you as a small group of UK-based volunteers committed to ensuring the Chagossian people win justice and the right to return home, after decades of exile owing to an agreement signed by the UK and US Governments fifty years ago.
When the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to use Diego Garcia for military purposes, an Exchange of Notes was signed which confirmed this agreement for fifty years. The agreement expires this year. If this deal is to be extended, both countries must take this opportunity to correct a terrible, ongoing injustice directly caused by the original Exchange of Notes.
We speak of course about the forced deportation of the Chagossian people, which was a condition of the 1966 Exchange of Notes. Chagossians were described as “Man Fridays” and “Tarzans” to be removed from the land of their birth and their ancestors. The UK Government of the time complied and simply left the Chagossian people on the docks of neighbouring countries. The consequences—poverty, debt, addiction and depression—still affect Chagossian exiles and their descendants today.
Following a UK Government commissioned independent study, Ministers have now accepted that return is “practically feasible.” There have been suggestions, however, that the US had expressed “concerns” about Chagossian return.
This seems difficult to believe, as almost all other US military bases around the world have adjacent civilian populations. Even Diego Garcia has a large civilian population working as support staff for the military base. Can you clarify what US Government’s concerns have expressed around Chagossian resettlement and how we can mitigate these risks, if they in fact exist?
The US Government has benefitted from the terms of UK-US Exchange of Notes on Diego Garcia for many years, as has the UK. That same deal has led to decades of suffering, poverty and discrimination for the Chagossian people. Although Diego Garcia remains UK sovereign territory, the US have a responsibility to clearly and transparently state that they would welcome and continue to work alongside Chagossian exiles upon their return.
If concerns do exist, I would ask you to state these as clearly as possible. Return has been proposed not just to Diego Garcia but also to other formerly inhabited islands including Peros Banhos. I would ask whether you believe there are significant security concerns around Chagossians returning to these other islands, over 100 miles from Diego Garcia?
Thank you for taking time to answer our queries. I look forward to your reply, and to the US and UK Governments taking pro-active steps to end this ongoing human rights which is a sad stain on the reputation of both nations.
UK Chagos Support Association