• Peter Tatchell

"They have the right to decide what's best for them" Peter Tatchell speaks out in supp

Peter Tatchell, Founder of the Peter Tatchell Foundation

In our latest guest blog, veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell explains why he is backing Chagossians right to end their decades of exile this year.

Mr Tatchell has been a strong, vocal and successful campaigner for decades. We are honoured and delighted that he has chosen to publicly back the Chagossian people's long and valiant fight for justice at this critical time.

Why I support the Chagos Islanders right to return: By Peter Tatchell

I first became aware of the plight of the Chagossian people in the 1970s, when I read about islanders who had visited Mauritius not being allowed to return home and about others being forcibly removed. It struck me as shockingly unfair that these people were being summarily dispossessed from their land and homes to serve the political-military interests of the UK and US.

The UK caved in to US pressure. For the sake of the ‘special relationship’, the British government capitulated to Washington’s demands to use the largest of the islands, Diego Garcia, as a military base.

I saw what happened as two big bullies victimising a poor, defenceless people, who were deemed expendable for the sake of Cold War advantage. The fact that they were sacrificed to make way for a military base in the midst of an East-West arms race made it even worse.

What happened – and is still happening - to the Chagos Islanders is a clear abuse of human rights. I understood that clearly from day one. Their right to self-determination - enshrined in the UN Charter – was trampled underfoot.

Taking advantage of their tiny population, distant location from the UK, public ignorance and lack of power and wealth, the UK and US treated the Chagossians like a non-people. They still do. ‘Might is right’ is their lode star. They have no ethical foreign or military policy when it comes to the Chagos Islanders.

Chagossins protesting outside the Supreme Court in June 2016

It has been heart-breaking to witness a series of ‘right of return’ legal wins by the Chagossians being overturned after appeals by the UK government. This year’s 3-2 Supreme Court judgement, which endorsed a 2004 decision banning Chagossians from living in their homeland, was another body blow for the islanders - and to Britain’s human rights and indigenous rights reputation.

It fills me with shame to think that my government has been so heartless and inflexible with regard to the just and legitimate claims of the Chagossian people.

Even if the UK government insists on maintaining the US military base and designating the Chagos Islands as a Marine Protected Area, this is no reason why the Chagossians should not also be allowed to return and reestablish permanent settlements on some of their own islands. An amendment to the MPA and to the agreement with the US could facilitate this option.

Whatever happens, the US and UK governments must recognise, consult and negotiate with Chagossians to create a pathway for their return, including either a transitional or permanent settlement of the dispute that accords with the islander’s wishes and aspirations. They have a right to decide what is best for them. We must listen to, and support, their demands.

I applaud the magnificent efforts of the UK Chagos Support Association and join with them to express my solidarity. Justice for the Chagossians has been long delayed but it cannot, and must not, be denied.

Peter Tatchell is Director of the human rights NGO, the Peter Tatchell Foundation:

Want to know more about Chagossian history? Read our 'Chagos in 5 minutes' summary. And if you want to stand with Peter in demanding Chagossian right to return, find out how you can back the return campaign.

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