Friday, May 15, 2009

Sri Lanka: British hypocrisy after 44 years of lies and deceit over the mess they left behind

By: Chula Cumaranatunge - Colombo
Source: Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order - Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Britain's Shame! 44 years of lies, deceit and trickery that robbed a people of their island

The ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus wrote: "In war truth is the first casualty." These words are particularly apt in relation to British politician's comments about present Sri Lankan government trying to eradicate terrorism from our motherland.

I am not amused to read British Foreign Secretary David Miliband chastising Sri Lankan Government for failing to meet a higher standard expected of a democracy in a conflict. He also tells the Sri Lankan Government to abide by the obligations under the International Humanitarian Laws and ensure the protection of civilians at all times. His comments belong to the category of preaching to others but do not practice oneself. Put it bluntly, some of these British politician due to the importance of British Tamil vote bank in their own constituencies have fooled themselves into thinking that their ignorance of the ground reality in Sri Lanka have mandated them to make irresponsible statements to which they are not held accountable or morally and legally responsible. Perhaps it would be better if these potentates first address to the crimes committed by their own governments to the people of another small island in the Indian ocean which is one of the greatest injustices of the 20th century. The story involves "bribes" from United States to Britain and racism among the British civil servants and British government deceiving her parliament and the United Nations. It all happened in 1965, the year the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was born.

The island in question is Diego Garcia. Few could be accused of ignorance for never having heard of it. Diego Garcia is a narrow tropical island, situated about 1000 miles south of Sri Lanka. The island covers 6720 acres of area with a shoreline of about 40 miles. Diego Garcia is one of 52 islands of the Chagos Archipelago which extends to an area more than 10.000 square miles. Inhabitants of this island were called Ilois or Chagossians and they have been living there since the 19th century. Until mid 1960 Diego Garcia's main source of income was exporting coconut oil and during 170 years of plantation life coconut harvest remained fairly constant at about 4 million nuts per annum.

In mid 1960s USA were worried about possible Soviet expansion in the Indian Ocean and wanted a base in the region, but one without a population problem which might upset the base operations. America's first choice was the island of Aldabra north of Madagascar. Aldabra was the breeding ground for rare giant tortoises whose mating habits would probably be upset by the military activities and whose causes would be champion noisily by publicity aware ecologists.

Alternative was Chagos Islands which includes Diego Garcia which was then part of Mauritius, a British territory, campaigning for independence. Independence was granted to Mauritius but only after Chagos Islands were separated with a payment of British Pounds 650,000 and a bribe to the Mauritian Prime Minister with a promise of a Knighthood, which he received a year later. In November 1965 British by an Order of Council renamed Chagos Islands to be the "British Indian Ocean Territory", or BIOT. When it came to having rights, the local population proved to have considerably less clout than Giant Tortoises of Aldabra Islands. British politicians, diplomats and civil servants began a campaign in their own words "to maintain the pretence that there were no permanent inhabitants in these islands."

This was vital because proper residence would have to be recognized as people whose democratic rights have to be safeguarded. The inhabitants therefore became "none-people" to the outside world and there have been no inhabitants, merely people living there temporarily called "migrant workers" and "other transients". A telegram sent to the UK mission at the United Nations in November 1965 summed up the problem saying there should be no reference to permanent inhabitants and Sir Paul Gore-Booth, senior official at Foreign Office wrote that object of the exercise was to have the island remain in British hands and there will be no indigenous population except seagulls.

In 1965 British government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson reached a secret deal with the American President Lyndon B. Johnson that Chagos Islands will continue to be part of Britain but Diego Garcia would be leased to the US as a base and Diego Garcia and the surrounding Islands will be free of people. A British Foreign Office memo, marked "SECRET" written by P.B. Potter of the East African Department on 13th February 1969, disclosed that at a Whitehall meeting the Treasury representative "greatly preferred the idea of a complete sterilization of the island. In return America gave Britain USD 14 million subsidy on Polaris submarine nuclear deterrent purchase. A memo from the Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart to Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1969 admitted that this payment was kept secret from British Parliament and from the US Congress.

In 1965 the inhabitants of these islands were forcibly evicted, arrested, detained and deported to Mauritius, and excluded permanently from their homeland. The entire indigenous citizen population of all 65 islands - every last man, woman, and child - were deported. This ethnic cleansing which (as they secretly admitted at the time) violated the United Nations Charter and other U.S. and international law and, as a British Court ruled in 2000 violated the British domestic law as well. The island inhabitants were told to lock up their homes, abandon their livestock and take only what they could carry in one suitcase. Later on their animals and dogs were gassed by the British authorities. The Chagossian people have not settled well in Mauritius and were forced to live in squalor in shanty homes without water or electricity, facing racism and discrimination by the locals. Many killed themselves or died from what they call "chagrin" or heartbreak.

In search of justice Chagossians have turned to the British courts to fight for the right to return to their homeland. On 3rd November 2000, the British court ruled that the order to evacuate Diego Garcia's inhabitants was invalid and the expulsion of the Chagossians was illegal and they should be allowed to return. But the government of Tony Blair and later that of Gordon Brown issued an "Order of Council" in 2004, prohibiting islanders from ever returning to Diego Garcia to visit their homes and the graves of their ancestors on their outer homeland islands.

This archaic, centuries-old royal prerogative permitted Tony Blair's government to overrule the British High Court verdict made in the year 2000. But in May 2006, the High Court in London ruled that the Chagossians may in fact return to other Chagossian islands, and offered a withering assessment of the British conduct in the case, calling it "outrageous, unlawful and a breach of accepted moral standards." The judge in this case Mr. Justice Gibbs said: "The suggestion that a minister can, through an Order in Council, exile a whole population from a British Overseas Territory and claim he is doing so for the 'peace, order and good government' of the Territory is repugnant." Meanwhile the British and the US officials continue to intercept and prevent the Chagossians from entering any of their homeland islands in their own initiative in fishing boats or ever stepping ashore and continuing the conspiracy to pervert, corrupt, and obstruct justice and rule of law.

This episode highlights the ease with which politicians and diplomats in Britain lied and their determination to keep their duplicity hidden from the British parliament and the UN. The behavior of the British government is laid bare now in pages never published before and almost all marked secret in documents at public record office at Kew/London. In one of these documents, an internal foreign office memo in 1980 recommended to the then foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, that "no journalist should be allowed to visit Diego Garcia" and visits by parliamentarians to be kept to the absolute minimum in order to keep out those "who deliberately stir up unwelcome questions."

It is mentioned in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which declares long-standing law on the "deportation or forcible transfer of population", a "crime against humanity" (Article 7), and on the criminal responsibility of individual government and military officials who knowingly participate (Articles 25-33); logically, this crime and tort includes their present-day acts of complicity to maintain and enforce the deportations. It is time British politicians invest their time in reversing the injustices committed against the inhabitants of the Chagossian Islands without any further delay. Perhaps it would be better for British Prime Minister to delegate Mr. Des Brown, to rectify and compensate for the injustice done to the people of Chagossian islands, as Sri Lanka has no requirement of him.

To the US military the island of Diego Garcia proved to be critically important as a refueling base during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. During the Operation Desert Fox, it served as a base for B-52 bombers, which on 17th December 1998, launched nearly 100 long-range cruise missiles aimed at Iraq. Beginning on 7th October 2001, the United States again used Diego Garcia when it launched B-2 and B-52 bombers attacks against Afghanistan.

It has also been claimed after 9/11 attack, between 2002 and 2006 high value prisoners were kept in Diego Garcia similar to Guantanamo Bay. Although the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has repeatedly stated that no prisoner had ever set foot on the Island, former CIA counter-terrorism officials and retired US general Barry McCaffrey have confirmed the reality of Diego Garcias been used as a secret prison, as well as being a transit point for rendition flights carrying prisoners.

The US lease expires in 2016 and more than 8,000 Chagossians are making plans to return to their Islands and turn the place into a sugarcane and fishing enterprise and they all hope the US President Barrack Obama, whose father is from Kenya which is not too far from the Chagos Archipelago, would hear the unjust story of the Chagossian islanders and will allow them to return to their native islands and end this unjust saga of British Government's criminal conduct involving bribes, racism and deceiving the UK parliament and the United Nations.

Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits