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February 15, 2013 By

Big Green versus human rights in the Indian Ocean

Diego Garcia is the largest island of a tropical atoll in the Chagos Archipelago of the Indian Ocean, named after a 1500s Spanish explorer. It is actually a loop of about 50 islands atop one peak in a vast submarine mountain range. But if it looks less like a tropical paradise than a massive U.S. naval support facility, a ship and submarine support base, a military air base, and a military sealift command center, that’s because it is.

The British own the Chagos — they “separated” the archipelago from the tiny island nation of Mauritius in 1965 — and the U.S. has leased Diego Garcia since the Cold War era because it’s a handy place from which to visit regional troublemakers in force.

But there’s a hitch: People used to live in the Chagos — about 2,000 of them. French colonial coconut plantation masters brought most Chagossian ancestors from Madagascar as slaves in the 1700s. The British had to get rid of them at the insistence of the U.S. when we built our military base.

So between 1968 and 1973, Her Majesty’s Government expelled the Chagossians to Mauritius and Seychelles. The exiles began a running battle to return to their homeland, feeling that forced expulsion and dispossession must be illegal. Moreover, Mauritius wants the Chagos back.

On Feb. 9, 2009, a British newspaper, the Independent, published this story: “Giant Marine Park Plan for Chagos. This green project is to be launched in London by the Chagos Environment Network, which includes the Pew Environmental Group, a powerful U.S. charity which successfully lobbied the Bush administration for marine reserves in America.”

A few months later, according to diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks in 2011, Colin Roberts, Britain’s director of overseas territories, told his national political counselor that the Pew Trusts had proposed a gigantic Chagos marine reserve with no fishing allowed, and was funding a public relations campaign for it. Pew, he wrote, was well-regarded within British governmental circles.

Best of all, Roberts said in the WikiLeaks cable, former inhabitants would find it “difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve” — created, of course, with an absolute condition that the reserve have “no constraints on military operations.”

Britain promised the U.S. that there would be “no human footprints” or “Man Fridays” on the park’s islands. Any returned Chagossians couldn’t go fishing for dinner, but the base’s 4,000 U.S. military personnel could. The U.K. approved the marine reserve.

Pew tried to placate angry Chagossians by promising that if they were allowed to return to Diego Garcia, the park could be revised to accommodate their needs. But Pew carefully distances itself from the real-life outcome of its park campaign, saying that this “remains a matter for the U.K. government.” It sounds like they’re seeking an early peace by the vigorous prosecution of war.

Professor Brian Simpson of Michigan State University Law School described the Chagos with its native population in exile as a “human rights black hole.”

Three weeks ago, the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague ruled that it can hear the islanders’ case, which requires Britain to justify taking the Chagos from Mauritius and challenges its sovereign right to create the marine reserve. The court’s binding decision could possibly void Britain’s claim, returning the islanders to Diego Garcia and Diego Garcia to Mauritius.

How likely is that? The United States pays the United Kingdom a lot for use of Diego Garcia, and the security of at least two nations is at issue, but even Greenpeace deplores the human rights abuses against the Chagossians. How do you picture the outcome of this tangle?

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Ron Arnold

About Ron Arnold


Ron Arnold is an author and columnist who is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. Follow Ron at @Ron_Arnold

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 (6 comments so far)
sonny

Agreed on all comments. DG IS without equal serves both UK, Greenpeace and US. Home of the seaturtle too. All creatures are under UK protection. Even the Pink Flamingo's. The US base is
the largest deterent in that region. Always at the forefront of political unrest of that region. I disagree in the case of giving it to 2000 islanders. Because DG IS BENEFICIAL to free nations!
Jacque costo has also visited and filmed the underwater marine life there. This article seems to
give the appearence of starting something of which there is little knowledge about. TY

February 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm

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john

why don't you put real photo's of the locations you wright about ?

February 16, 2013 at 10:54 am

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John

I was stationed on "The Rock" in the mid 70s. The picture at the top of this article is not Diego Garcia.
I agree, it is much more beneficial in its current use.

February 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

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Michael

That island base serves the world. It is much more beneficial to infinitely more people in its current configuration and use than it is (or was) by 2000 natives catching fish in the lagoon. If these Greenpeace loons consider the equation from the standpoint of We Are Children Of The World, they might consider the threats and challenges to the peace, tranquility and security of the Western nation they currently live in and agitate from. Iran, North Korea and China are easily monitored from their and forces that would be used throughout the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are wisely supported. Should nations threaten, I would prefer the Navy and Air Force on Diego instead of natives.

February 15, 2013 at 11:27 pm

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John

If the U.K. and thus the U.S. were to get a negative ruling from the Hauge, they should tell that court to shove it. There is no written code of international law, which has been accepted by both the U.S. and the U.K., to guide the court in this matter. It becomes then simply a matter of what that tribunal
decides. That is akin to lynching.

February 15, 2013 at 6:30 pm

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Old Army 66

Diego Garcia…where no one can hear your screams.

February 15, 2013 at 5:20 pm

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