Stealing a nation


Stealing a nation

Written by: Arun Kundnani


A new documentary by John Pilger, to be screened next Wednesday, reveals how in the 1960s Britain secretly and brutally expelled the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean – so that the US could build a military base there.

The largest of the islands, Diego Garcia, is now America’s biggest overseas military base and was a launchpad for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. With more than 4,000 troops, two bomber runways, thirty warships and a satellite spy station, the Pentagon calls it an ‘indispensable platform’ for policing the world. Located halfway between Africa and Indonesia, Diego Garcia is also home to a secret camp for suspected terrorists, part of a global network of prison complexes which includes Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Before the Americans came, more than 2,000 people lived on the islands which were, and still are, a British crown colony. But in the 1960s, the Labour government struck a secret deal with the United States to hand over Diego Garcia. The Americans demanded that the islands be ‘swept’ and ‘sanitised’. Unknown to Parliament and to the US Congress, the British government plotted with Washington to expel the entire population – in secrecy and in breach of the United Nations Charter.

At first, they starved them of essential supplies; then rumours spread that the islands would be bombed; then the people watched their pets gassed to death before they were herded on to boats and dumped in the slums of Mauritius.

Now the Chagos Islanders, who are British subjects, are fighting for the right to return to the islands and compensation for their unlawful exile which began more than 30 years ago. Last year, thirty people from Diego Garcia camped out at Gatwick Airport in protest at their treatment by the British authorities.

Cover up

In next week’s documentary, John Pilger and producer Christopher Martin reveal hundreds of astonishing official documents which shed light on how the expulsion of the Islanders was first planned and then covered up. ‘The documents show clearly that the conspiracy to expel the population rested on a big lie’, says John Pilger. ‘This claimed that the population were itinerant workers, when the government knew this was a population that went back generations. Most had never left the islands.’

The attitude of racial superiority with which the Foreign Office regarded the Islanders was illustrated by the comment of one senior official who described them, in a letter, as ‘mere Tarzans and Men Fridays’. That another potential site for a US military base in the Indian Ocean – the uninhabited island of Aldabra Atoll – was rejected because it was home to a rare breed of turtle further indicates how little value was placed on the welfare of the Islands’ populations.

Foreign Office documents of the time, now made public under the thirty-year rule, suggest that the government sought to mislead the public to avoid criticism. One document is revealingly headed, ‘Maintaining the fiction’. Another says, ‘We propose to certify these people, more or less fraudulently, as belonging somewhere else.’

Commenting on these documents, John Pilger says: ‘We have secret memos that propose how the government should lie to the world. I have never read anything like them.’

Rita, a Chagossian who is now in her 70s, lost her husband and three of her children following their deportation from the Chagos Islands. In the documentary, she says: ‘I am a British citizen and they threw us out of our homeland in the name of the Queen.’

Charlesia, another exile from the Chagos Islands, says: ‘What hurts most is that we were never told what they were doing with our islands. If it had been built for poor people to work, fine. But it’s a base for bombers – and the bombs that fell on Iraq came from our paradise.’

Stealing a Nation, a special report by John Pilger, will be shown on ITV1, Wednesday 6 October, 11pm to midnight.

Related links

UK Chagos Support Association


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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Andrew Hogg
Andrew Hogg
16 years ago

I watched this programme last night and was in complete shock at the way the government, both then and now, has treated these people. I can’t believe the lack of publicity that this has generated. In showing the programme at 11pm at night also seems a bit strange. This should be prime time viewing. I felt ashamed to be British and it made me wonder what other underhand and devious things will crawl out of the woodwork in relation to the War on Iraq!

yvonne
yvonne
16 years ago

i also watched the programme and was sickened that our nation has acted in this way, it made my blood run cold but my temper run hot….. i was furious, i still am and to see the powers that be trying to justify what they have done…… words fail me but one thing is for sure, there will be an election coming up and wouldn’t it be good if this could be an issue forced on the parties.

coleen
coleen
16 years ago

shock, horror, outrage. to sum up this exposure of what the governments of england and america are doing to our black people yet again…remember the slaves-is this any different? as yvonne above notes,this issue has to be forced onto the parties and the queen (who ulimately holds the power to return these peoples back to thier homeland and birthright) i for one am willing to be active in bringing this issue to the forefront of policy. please email me if you are planning on being actively involved in any way to support the peoples plight in returning them to their homeland. well done to everyone who worked on the program for highlighting how easy it is for the government to trick, lie and have no regard for black people while they play their war games!

Jasmine
Jasmine
16 years ago

I watched this programme and felt that I was watching a tryranical dictaorship in action in the last century, as I continued to watch I realised this was now and it was the British Government. It all became clear then and not surprizing that imperialism and colonialism had never been abolished. Although not surprised I was shocked in the barbaric way that over 2,000 Black people could be removed imprisoned and treated like criminals just because the british wanted to pander to the whim of the Americans. Like Yvonne and Collen above there will be a general election soon and this should be a topic for Blair to answer, and the Queen should not just be a pen pusher with out disregard. Any activity around this Issue then count me in, because we don’t know what else will come out of the woodwork and when we will be on the recieving end.

Jasmine
Jasmine
16 years ago

I watched this programme and felt that I was watching a tryranical dictaorship in action in the last century, as I continued to watch I realised this was NOW and it was the British Government. It all became clear then and not surprizing that imperialism and colonialism had never been abolished. Although not surprised I was shocked in the barbaric way that over 2,000 Black people could be removed imprisoned and treated like criminals just because the british wanted to pander to the whim of the Americans. Like Yvonne and Collen above there will be a general election soon and this should be a topic for Blair to answer, and the Queen should not just be a pen pusher with out disregard. Any activity around this Issue then count me in, because we don’t know what else will come out of the woodwork and when we will be on the recieving end.

Esther
Esther
16 years ago

I too was very shocked to see the disgraceful way the British and American government has treated these people. I don’t understand why time and time again people could be subjected to such mental and physical torture all in the name of greed. What I find most annoying is that British and Americans can go anywhere and call it their own, but if anyone dares to try and move to their countries they have to go through rigorous British Citizenship test, just to do so. These programmes should not be shown so late at night. It should be shown during the peak hours. They can show awful programmes like “I am a celebrity get me out of here” Why not something as important as this. I suppose it is there way of appearing too honest even if no one was watching. The two government should be made to pay – if the boot was on the other foot, it would a different kettle of fish.

Tamara
Tamara
16 years ago

you may want to visit this site http://www.chagos.org/home.htm lots of info available here

sally
sally
16 years ago

i watched this programme with growing recognition. we are brought up to believe that our government is good and just but as we get older and wiser we realise it is all one big control thing. i was surprised that this act has not been brought into the public eye before. the programme presenters knew what they were doing, they knew what reaction they would get. i try to keep on top of the news but this one really took me aback. is the present government going to put this atrocity right? are we going to give these beautiful people a proper home? i have the feeling the cost would be a drop in the ocean compared to other “pressing matters”

Anthony Mc Court
Anthony Mc Court
16 years ago

Im not one bit surprised how the british and american goverments treated the people of the chagos isles. I only have to look at our own experiences here in ireland. Today we see the colonisation of both Iraq and Afghanistan and the selfish interests of both powers. Its time that the UN bring this to the attention of the UK and US goverments and repariate the chagosians with their nation. Its another scandal and act of terrorism by both superpowers.

philip best
philip best
11 years ago

Good article, not seen the film, digraceful governmental action. That also applies to the international community. Action is needed perhaps a little more dramatic. Dunkirk, a floatila of small ships to retake the islands. Take a lesson from the Sychelles Mr. F.A. Rene took them from the British. Go for it.

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