This is an edited extract from Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World
by Mark Curtis
“The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours”(Foreign Office, 1966)
November 3rd 2000 should be known as a landmark day in the history of this country’s foreign policy. On that day the Chagossians defeated the Foreign Office at the high court in London and secured the right to return to some of their homeland islands.
The chances are, however, that many readers will not have heard of the Chagossians, and the date will not appear significant. They could be forgiven for this, but the mainstream political culture cannot in my view be forgiven for the silence that has surrounded the story.
Beginning in 1968 the British government removed the entire population of 1,500 Illois people from the Chagos island group in the Indian Ocean. This strategy – plainly illegal under international law – was pursued as covertly as possible to ensure minimal international attention. It was then the subject of systematic lying by seven British governments over nearly four decades. The removal was done to make way for a US military base on the largest island in the Chagos group – Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia is now regularly used as a US nuclear base and as a launch pad for military intervention in the Middle East. At the same time, the Chagossians have suffered a nightmare at the hands of successive British governments.
In November 2000, the high court ruled that “the wholesale removal” of the islanders by the British government was an “abject legal failure”. It ruled that the Chagossians should be allowed to return to the outlying islands in the group, a major success from decades of struggle for redress against the British. But the ruling did not allow the islanders to return to Diego Garcia itself. The Chagossians are therefore continuing their struggle for justice. And the nightmare is also continuing because Britain is continuing to oppose the Chagossians in court and even in effect refusing to implement the high court’s ruling by blocking their return.
That the Chagossians and Diego Garcia are not household names in Britain is, to me, testimony to the servility to power of mainstream British political culture. One would expect this court case to be regarded as significant. Indeed, one might expect the tragedy of the islanders’ treatment by successive governments to be rather well-known; their plight has been desperate for nearly four decades. But not so: the small flurry of press articles around the court case has been followed by the same silence that largely prevailed for the previous decades. Watchers of TV will have remained almost completely in the dark. And the current scandal blocking their return has gone largely unreported.
The now 4,000 islanders who want to return home have become Unpeople in British political culture, deserving of virtually no attention. Through all the US interventions in the Middle East that used Diego Garcia as a base for bombers, the media buried the story. Through all the parliamentary debates on Britain’s “overseas territories” (the Chagos islands are officially known as the British Indian Ocean Territory), the tragedy has only ever been raised by a couple of MPs like Tam Dalyell and Jeremy Corbyn. All the memoirs of policy-makers excised the story from history – Defence Secretary at the time, Denis Healey, for example, makes no mention at all of the depopulation of the Chagos islands in his 600-page autobiography. Equally, in hardly a single academic book of the dozens on British foreign policy in past decades are the Chagos islands even mentioned: merely one example of the extent to which British academics work within a framework established by elite priorities.
Oliver Bancoult, the chair of the Chagos Refugees Group and leader of the Chagossians in exile, says that:
“We believe that if the British public had known of these unlawful deportations at the time, we would probably still be living on the islands now. There is a lesson for our community, that we must learn to stand on our own feet and insist that we are consulted during the process leading to our return. We must never again rely on governments to tell us what we should have or not have”.
The Chagossians’ plight was almost completely buried until late into the 1990s when a British solicitor, Richard Gifford, was on holiday in Mauritius and happened to meet some of the Chagossian community in exile in Mauritius and learnt first hand of their ordeal. His findings in Mauritius so alarmed him that he came back to Britain determined to seek redress through the British legal system.
Removing birds and people
During the decolonisation process in the 1960s Britain created a new colony – the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This included the Chagos island group which was detached from Mauritius, and other islands detached from the Seychelles. Mauritius had been granted independence by Britain in 1965 on the barely concealed condition that London be allowed to buy the Chagos island group from it – Britain gave Mauritius £3m.
“The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours“, the Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, its chief civil servant, said in a secret file of 1966. The Colonial Office similarly noted that the “prime object of BIOT exercise was that the islands… hived off into the new territory should be under the greatest possible degree of UK control [sic]”.
In December 1966 the Wilson government signed a military agreement with the US leasing the BIOT to it for military purposes for fifty years with the option of a further twenty years. Britain thus ignored UN Resolution 2066XX passed by the General Assembly in December 1965 which called on the UK “to take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and to violate its territorial integrity”.
Higher matters were at stake: Diego Garcia was well situated as a military base. Britain allowed the US to build up Diego Garcia as a nuclear base and as the launch pad for intervention in the Middle East. Using Diego Garcia, B52 bombers recently struck in Afghanistan and attacked Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. Diego Garcia’s role “has become increasingly important over the last decade in supporting peace and stability in the region”, a Foreign Office spokesman managed to say with a straight face in 1997.
Olivier Bancoult told me, in an interview in London in October 2002, that “our birthplace is being used to kill innocent people. We can’t give any backing to what is happening on Diego Garcia, like B52s attacking Afghanistan”.
To militarise Diego Garcia, Britain removed the 1,500 indigenous inhabitants of the Chagos islands – “the compulsory and unlawful removal of a small an unique population, Citizens of the UK and Colonies, from islands that had formed their home, and also the home of the parents, grand-parents and very possibly earlier ancestors”, as the Chagossians’ defence lawyers put it. The islanders were to be “evacuated as and when defence interests require this”, against which there should be “no insurmountable obstacle”, the Foreign Office had noted.
The Chagossians were removed from Diego Garcia by 1971 and from the outlying islands of Salomen and Peros Banhos by 1973. The secret files show that the US wanted Diego Garcia to be cleared “to reduce to a minimum the possibilities of trouble between their forces and any ‘natives'”. This removal of the population “was made virtually a condition of the agreement when we negotiated it in 1965”, in the words of one British official. Foreign Office officials recognised that they were open to “charges of dishonesty” and needed to “minimise adverse reaction” to US plans to establish the base. In secret, they referred to plans to “cook the books” and “old fashioned” concerns about “whopping fibs”.
The Chagossians were described by a Foreign Office official in a secret file: “unfortunately along with birds go some few Tarzans or man Fridays whose origins are obscure”. Another official wrote, referring to a UN body on women’s issues: “There will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a committee (the status of women committee does not cover the rights of birds)”. According to the Foreign Office, “these people have little aptitude for anything other than growing coconuts”. The Governor of the Seychelles noted that it was “important to remember what type of people” the islanders are: “extremely unsophisticated, illiterate, untrainable and unsuitable for any work other than the simplest labour tasks of a copra plantation”.
Contrary to the racist indifference of British planners, the Chagossians had constructed a well-functioning society on the islands by the mid-1960s. They earned their living by fishing, and rearing their own vegetables and poultry. Copra industry had been developed. The society was matriarchal, with Illois women having the major say over the bringing up of the children. The main religion was Roman Catholic and by the first world war the Illois had developed a distinct culture and identity together with a specific variation of the Creole language. There was a small hospital and a school. Life on the Chagos islands was certainly hard, but also settled. By the 1960s the community was enjoying a period of prosperity with the copra industry thriving as never before. The islanders were also exporting guano, used for phosphate, and there was talk of developing the tourist industry.
Then British foreign policy intervened. One of the victims recalled:
“We were assembled in front of the manager’s house and informed that we could no longer stay on the island because the Americans were coming for good. We didn’t want to go. We were born here. So were our fathers and forefathers who were buried in that land”.
Britain expelled the islanders to Mauritius without any workable resettlement scheme, gave them a tiny amount of compensation and later offered more on condition that the islanders renounced their rights ever to return home. Most were given little time to pack their possessions and some were allowed to take with them only a minimum of personal belongings packed into a small crate.
They were also deceived into believing what awaited them. Olivier Bancoult said that the islanders “had been told they would have a house, a portion of land, animals and a sum of money, but when they arrived [in Mauritius] nothing had been done”. Britain also deliberately closed down the copra plantations to increase the pressure to leave. A Foreign Office note from 1972 states that “when BIOT formed, decided as a matter of policy not to put any new investment into plantations” [sic], but to let them run down. And the colonial authorities even cut off food imports to the Chagos islands; it appears that after 1968 food ships did not sail to the islands.
Not all the islanders were physically expelled. Some, after visiting Mauritius, were simply – and suddenly – told they were not allowed back, meaning they were stranded, turned into exiles overnight. Many of the islanders later testified to having been tricked into leaving Diego Garcia by being offered a free trip.
Most of the islanders ended up living in the slums of the Mauritian capital, Port Louis, in gross poverty; many were housed in shacks, most of them lacked enough food, and some died of starvation and disease. Many committed suicide. A report commissioned by the Mauritian government in the early 1980s found that only 65 of the 94 Illois householders were owners of land and houses; and 40 per cent of adults had no job. Today, most Chagossians continue to live in poverty, with unemployment especially high.
British officials were completely aware of the poverty and hardships likely to be faced by those they had removed from their homeland. When some of the last of the Chagossians were removed in 1973 and arrived in Mauritius, the High Commission noted that the Chagossians at first refused to disembark, having “nowhere to go, no money, no employment”. Britain offered a miniscule £650,000 in compensation, which only arrived in 1978, too late to offset the hardship of the islanders. The Foreign Office stated in a secret file that “we must be satisfied that we could not discharge our obligation… more cheaply”. As the Chagossians’ defence lawyers argue, “the UK government knew at the time that the sum given [in compensation] would in no way be adequate for resettlement”
Ever since their removal, the islanders have campaigned for proper compensation and for the right to return. In 1975, for example, the islanders presented a petition to the British High Commission in Mauritius. It said:
“We, the inhabitants of the Chagos islands – Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Salomen – have been uprooted from these islands because the Mauritius government sold the islands to the British government to build a base. Our ancestors were slaves on those islands but we know that we are the heirs of those islands. Although we were poor we were not dying of hunger. We were living free… Here in Mauritius… we, being mini-slaves, don’t get anybody to help us. We are at a loss not knowing what to do.”
The response of the British was to tell the islanders to address their petition to the Mauritian government. The British High Commission in Mauritius responded to a petition in 1974 saying that “High Commission cannot intervene between yourselves as Mauritians and government of Mauritius, who assumed responsibility for your resettlement”. This, as the British government well knew, was a complete lie, as many of the Chagossians could claim nationality “of the UK and the colonies” (see below). In 1981, a group of Illois women went on hunger strike for 21 days and several hundred women demonstrated in vain in front of the British High Commission in Mauritius.
The Whitehall conspiracy
The British response was: after removing the islanders from their home, to remove them from history, in the manner of Winston Smith.
In 1972 the US Defence Department could tell Congress that “the islands are virtually uninhabited and the erection of the base would thus cause no indigenous political problems”. In December 1974 a joint UK-US memorandum in question-and-answer form asked “Is there any native population on the islands?”; its reply was “no”. A British Ministry of Defence spokesman denied this was a deliberate misrepresentation of the situation by saying “there is nothing in our files about inhabitants or about an evacuation”, thus confirming that the Chagossians were official Unpeople.
Formerly secret planning documents revealed in the court case show the lengths to which Labour and Conservative governments have gone to conceal the truth. Whitehall officials’ strategy is revealed to have been “to present to the outside world a scenario in which there were no permanent inhabitants on the archipelago”. This was essential “because to recognise that there are permanent inhabitants will imply that there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded”. One official noted that British strategy towards the Chagossians should be to “grant as few rights with as little formality as possible”. In particular, Britain wanted to avoid fulfilling its obligations to the islanders under the UN charter.
From 1965, memoranda issued by the Foreign Office and then Commonwealth Relations Office to British embassies around the world mentioned the need to avoid all reference to any “permanent inhabitants”. Various memos noted that: “best wicket… to bat on… that these people are Mauritians and Seychellois [sic]”; “best to avoid all references to permanent inhabitants”; and need to “present a reasonable argument based on the proposition that the inhabitants… are merely a floating population”. The Foreign Office legal adviser noted in 1968 that “we are able to make up the rules as we go along and treat inhabitants of BIOT as not ‘belonging’ to it in any sense”.
Then Labour Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart wrote to prime Minister Harold Wilson in a secret note in 1969 that “we could continue to refer to the inhabitants generally as essentially migrant contract labourers and their families”. It would be helpful “if we can present any move as a change of employment for contract workers… rather than as a population resettlement”. The purpose of the Foreign Secretary’s memo was to secure Wilson’s approval to clear the whole of the Chagos islands of their inhabitants. This, the prime minister did, five days later on 26 April. By the time of this formal decision, however, the removal had already effectively started – Britain had in 1968 started refusing to return Chagossians who were visiting Mauritius or the Seychelles.
A Foreign Office memo of 1970 outlined the Whitehall conspiracy:
“We would not wish it to become general knowledge that some of the inhabitants have lived on Diego Garcia for at least two generations and could, therefore, be regarded as ‘belongers’. We shall therefore advise ministers in handling supplementary questions about whether Diego Garcia is inhabited to say there is only a small number of contract labourers from the Seychelles and Mauritius engaged in work on the copra plantations on the island. That is being economical with the truth.”
“Should a member [of the House of Commons] ask about what should happen to these contract labourers in the event of a base being set up on the island, we hope that, for the present, this can be brushed aside as a hypothetical question at least until any decision to go ahead with the Diego Garcia facility becomes public”.
Detailed guidance notes were issued to Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence press officers telling them to mislead the media if asked.
The reality that was being concealed was clearly understood. A secret document signed by Michael Stewart in 1968, said: “By any stretch of the English language, there was an indigenous population, and the Foreign Office knew it”. A Foreign Office minute from 1965 recognises policy as “to certify [the Chagossians], more or less fraudulently, as belonging somewhere else”. Another Whitehall document was entitled: “Maintaining the Fiction”. The Foreign Office legal adviser wrote in January 1970 that it was important “to maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of Chagos are not a permanent or semi-permanent population”.
Yet all subsequent ministers peddled this lie in public, hitting on the formula to designate the Chagossians merely as “former plantation workers”, while knowing this was palpably untrue. For example, Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons in 1990 that:
“Those concerned worked on the former copra plantations in the Chagos archipelago. After the plantations closed between 1971 and 1973 they and their families were resettled in Mauritius and given considerable financial assistance. Their future now lies in Mauritius”.
Foreign Office minister William Waldegrade said in 1989 that he recently met “a delegation of former plantation workers from the Chagos Islands”, before falsely asserting that they “are increasingly integrated into the Mauritian community”. Aid minister Baroness Chalker also told the House that “the former plantation workers (Illois) are now largely integrated into Mauritian and Seychellese society”.
New Labour continued the lie into the twenty-first century, continuing to peddle the official line in the court case that the islanders were “contract labourers”. As I write this, the Foreign Office website contains a country profile of the British Indian Ocean Territory that states there are “no indigenous inhabitants”.
Another issue that the British government went to great lengths to conceal was the fact that many of the Chagossians were “citizens of the UK and the colonies”. Britain preferred to designate them Mauritians so they could be dumped there and left to the Mauritian authorities to deal with. The Foreign Secretary warned in 1968 of the “possibility… [that] some of them might one day claim a right to remain in the BIOT by virtue of their citizenship of the UK and the Colonies”. A Ministry of Defence note in the same year states that it was “of cardinal importance that no American official… should inadvertently divulge” that the islanders have dual nationality.
Britain’s High Commission in Mauritius noted in January 1971, before a meeting with the Mauritian prime minister, that:
“Naturally, I shall not suggest to him that some of these have also UK nationality …always possible that they may spot this point, in which case, presumably, we shall have to come clean [sic]”.
In 1971 the Foreign Office was saying that it was “not at present HMG’s policy to advise ‘contract workers’ of their dual citizenship” nor to inform the Mauritian government, referring to “this policy of concealment”.
Ministers also lied in public about the British role in the removal of the Chagossians. For example, Foreign Office minister Richard Luce wrote to an MP in 1981, in response to a letter from one of his constituents, that the islanders had been “given the choice of either returning [to Mauritius or the Seychelles] or going to plantations on other islands in BIOT” [sic]. According to this revised history, the “majority chose to return to Mauritius and their employers… made the arrangements for them to be transferred”.
Ministers in the 1960s also lied about the terms under which Britain offered the Diego Garcia base to the US. The US paid Britain £5 million for the island, an amount deducted from the price Britain paid the US for buying the Polaris nuclear weapons. The US asked for this deal to be kept secret and Prime Minister Harold Wilson complied, lying in public. A Foreign Office memo to the US of 1967 said that “ultimately, under extreme pressure, we should have to deny the existence of a US contribution in any form, and to advise ministers to do so in [parliament] if necessary”.
A Foreign Office memo of 1980 recommended to then Foreign Secretary that “no journalists should be allowed to visit Diego Garcia” and that visits by MPs be kept to a minimum to keep out those “who deliberately stir up unwelcome questions”.
The defence lawyers for the Chagossians, who unearthed the secret files, note that:
“Concealment is a theme which runs through the official documents, concealment of the existence of a permanent population, of BIOT itself, concealment of the status of the Chagossians, concealment of the full extent of the responsibility of the United Kingdom government…, concealment of the fact that many of the Chagossians were Citizens of the UK and Colonies… This concealment was compounded by a continuing refusal to accept that those who were removed from the islands in 1971-3 had not exercised a voluntary decision to leave the islands”.
Indeed, the lawyers argue, “for practical purposes, it may well be that the deceit of the world at large, in particular the United Nations, was the critical part” of the government’s policy.
New Labour, Old values
I met Olivier Bancoult and a group of Chagossians on their visit to London in October/November 2002 to give evidence to a further high court hearing. They are demanding compensation and the right to return to Diego Garcia, both opposed by the government, which is continuing to challenge them in court. On this visit they were not meeting Foreign Office officials. Bancoult told me that:
“Every time we come to explain clearly about the Chagossians, they always give us hope without anything coming. The Foreign Office are not acting in good faith to get things moving in our favour. It seems they are not interested in us, maybe because we’re black skin and African origin. If you take the example of the Falklands, the problem was solved. If you take Montserrat, everything was solved. It is shameful that the UK is head of the Commonwealth”.
I found the group of Chagossians a very dignified yet sorry sight. Most were bewildered by what they were having to go through – come over to London from Mauritius to sit in court hearings every day to give evidence on why they should be allowed to return to their homeland, in proceedings conducted in a language almost none of them spoke, and with some of them frail and ill. Their stay was only possible due to the firm of lawyers and the Chagos Support Group in Britain, which is itself run on a shoestring budget, scraping together the minimum finance. The government gave not a penny. When I met them, the group of Chagossians were huddled in a small basement of a London hotel, whose owners were providing them with the favour of basic food during their stay. It struck me that it was the indignity of it all at the hands of the British government that was part of the scandal.
As Labour’s Treasury spokesperson in 1981 Robin Cook protested about the use of Diego Garcia by US nuclear-armed bombers; but as Foreign Secretary he was reportedly “evading the issue” when it was raised at the UN, and supported the government’s court case against the islanders. Britain also continues to reject calls by the Mauritian government for Diego Garcia’s return to it, saying it will do so only when no longer “needed for defence purposes”.
In the process of drawing up the Overseas Territories Bill, the Blair government initially tried to deny the Chagossians the full British citizenship on offer to inhabitants of the other overseas territories, saying they were citizens of Mauritius – a long standing deception that British governments knew to be false. Only grudgingly did the government concede citizenship rights.
It has to be said that the government position has been quite extraordinary. The Blair government is continuing to oppose the Chagossians’ search for justice, as well as maintaining much of the apologias and deceit that has marked elite policy for the last four decades. It is refusing to offer compensation. It doesn’t even believe it has anything to officially apologise for. Foreign Office minister John Battle told the House of Commons that the court case concerned only the settlement of the outer islands “not the rights and wrongs of the way in which the Illois were removed”.
London is distinctly unhappy about the ruling in the court case and is in effect doing what it can to block its implementation.
The Chagossians’ return “is not a realistic prospect”, Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd told the House of Commons in 1998. He added that “successive British governments have given generous financial assistance to help with the resettlement of the Illois in Mauritius”, referring presumably to the small pay-outs made in 1978 and 1982.
A mere three months before the high court ruling of November 2000 in favour of the islanders’ right to return to the outlying islands, Foreign Office minister Peter Hain said that:
“The outer islands of the territory have been uninhabited for 30 years so any resettlement would present serious problems both because of the practical feasibility and in relation to our treaty obligations”.
Similarly, a Foreign Office memorandum to the House of Commons stated that resettlement of the outlying islands would be “impractical and inconsistent with the existing defence facilities”. “Our position on the future of the territory will be determined by our strategic and other interests and our treaty commitments to the USA”. The memo said nothing about the government’s obligations to the rights of the islanders – which is at least honest, since it is clear that neither Conservatives nor Labour governments have ever cared a hoot about the islanders or any weird notion of human rights.
A year after the court case victory the government was effectively defying the ruling of the court. The Foreign Office blocked the first planned visit by the islanders to their home for 30 years, saying “the security situation precludes this”. It said that “we continue to give your general request to facilitate a visit careful consideration, without any commitment to fund such a visit”. The islanders merely intended to stay one night aboard ship, on a reconnaissance visit.
The Foreign Office has also dragged out the process of conducting a feasibility study on resettlement, and then concluded from it that resettlement on the islands is largely infeasible anyway. The government-sponsored study concluded that long-term habitation on the islands would be precarious and the costs prohibitive. The Chagossians were allowed to take no part in this study. By contrast, a feasibility study conducted for the islanders shows that resettlement is feasible and that there would be adequate water, fish and other supplies, even with low levels of investment. This study states that “it is fatuous to suggest that the islands cannot be resettled” and that the conclusion of the government’s feasibility study is “erroneous in every assertion”. It notes that the Chagos islands are indeed already successfully settled – by the US military.
So-called “yachties” appear to spend months living on the outlying islands. Meanwhile, millions of euros have been set aside by the EU in aid for overseas territories – E2 million for the Pitcairn islands, for example, with a population of around four dozen. The British government has not asked for anything to resettle the Chagossians.
The court case resulted in a compromise, securing the islanders right to return to the outlying islands, but not Diego Garcia. The British government remians adamantly opposed to return to Diego Garcia, referring to “treaty obligations” to the US – ie, the deal illegally stitched up between the two. Access to Diego Garcia “will continue to be controlled strictly and will be by permit only”, the government says. Thus Labour will require the deported inhabitants to have a special permit to visit their territory. This is in contrast to the 1,500 civilian workers currently employed on Diego Garcia, mainly from Mauritius and the Philippines, who service the US base. The British and US navies conduct sea and air patrols to ensure no-one gets too close to Diego Garcia.
The US was strongly opposed to any resettlement, even in the outlying islands, and exerted pressure on the British government to prevent this. The Guardian published a confidential letter from the State Department to the Foreign Office saying that such resettlement “would significantly downgrade the strategic importance of a vital military asset unique in the region”. The US disclosed that it was seeking permission from Britain to expand its military base on Diego Garcia and to “develop the island as a forward operating location for expeditionary air force operations – one of only four such locations worldwide”. This was a year before September 11th provided easy pretexts for such increased power projection. Following the court case, the US conceded that it could not prevent the islanders returning to the outer islands but will not allow them on Diego Garcia.
A comparison between Diego Garcia and the Falklands is perhaps obvious to all but the entire mainstream political culture. As John Madeley commented in a 1982 report for the Minority Rights Group:
“Britain’s treatment of the Illois people stands in eloquent and stark contrast with the way the people of the Falkland islands were treated in the Spring of 1982. The invasion of the Falklands was furiously resisted by British forces travelling 8,000 miles at a cost of over a thousand million pounds and many British and Argentinian lives. Diego Garcia was handed over without its inhabitants – far from being defended – even being consulted before being removed.”
The Falklands parallel is also apt since five days before Argentina invaded the islands in 1982 – and well over a decade after the first removals from Diego Garcia began – a “final” deal was “agreed” between Britain and the Chagossians for compensation of £4 million.
The Argentinian invasion provoked outrage in the media and political culture, including declarations on the importance of maintaining high principles, international law and the defence of the human rights of British subjects. The editors of the Financial Times, for example, noted that the invasion of the Falklands was an “an illegal and immoral means to make good territorial claims”. A solution to this particular action “should not pass over the wishes of the Falkland Islanders who wish to preserve their traditions”. “If such bare-faced attacks were allowed to achieve their ends”, they said, “then the consequences would be grave not just in one or two remaining British outposts, but for peace in many areas”.
The Daily Telegraph editors noted that “we are pledged to consider the wishes of the Falklanders ‘paramount’, as Mrs Thatcher repeated last night” (in an emergency debate in the House of Commons). They stated that “principle dictates” that the US should support Britain over the Falklands since it cannot “be indifferent to the imposition of foreign rule on people who have no desire for it”. Britain’s decision to send a task force “was taken quite simply because it was the only alternative to a humiliating betrayal of the Falkland Islands”. The invasion “was clearly as illegal an act as can be imagined and has been so proclaimed by the United Nations Security Council”.
All these violations apply to the Chagos islanders. Their removal violated articles 9 and 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which stated that “no one should be subjected to arbitrary exile” and “everybody has the right to return to his country”, among others.
But a different set of principles applies to them than to the Falklanders. High principles are defended only where violations occur against us. They rarely apply (or are even mentioned in the ideological system) in cases where the British government commits them. Indeed, it is almost axiomatic in the media and academia that Britain cannot, by definition, even commit such crimes. There are numerous other examples. The Chagos islanders continue to be, tragically, just one group of victims of the irrelevance of human rights to British elites – and of the deceit behind the high-minded rhetoric.