Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sign Petition to Repatriate Chagossians Expelled for US Base at Diego Garcia

Yesterday, SPEAK Human Rights and Environmental Initiative announced a petition campaign to provide redress for the former residents of the coral atolls of the Chagos Archipelago, expelled from their homeland by the British and the US governments, after the island of Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago, was leased by Britain to the United States. Diego Garcia had the deep-water port in the Indian Ocean the US Navy desired. What did it mean that many hundreds of people would be kicked off their land?

As Andy Worthington noted, in an article a few years ago, following upon revelations in Time Magazine that Diego Garcia had been used for rendition flights to torture, and held a black site, secret interrogation prison for "war on terror" detainees: "A British sovereign territory — albeit one that was leased to the United States nearly 40 years ago, when the islanders were shamefully discarded by the British government and exiled to face destitution and death by misery in Mauritius — Diego Garcia has long been a source of shame to opponents of modern colonial activity."

Worthington explained the revelations about Diego Garcia:
Having spoken to senior CIA officers during his research, [Swiss Senator Dick] Marty told the European Parliament, “We have received concurring confirmations that United States agencies have used Diego Garcia, which is the international legal responsibility of the UK, in the ‘processing’ of high-value detainees,” and Manfred Novak [then the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture] explained to the Observer that “he had received credible evidence from well-placed sources familiar with the situation on the island that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003.” The penultimate piece of the jigsaw puzzle came in May, when El Pais broke the story that “ghost prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, whose current whereabouts are unknown, was imprisoned on the island in 2005, shortly after his capture in Pakistan — although the English-speaking press failed to notice.
As for the Chagossians, the British High Court restored their right to return to their homeland, but the UK government has never enforced that right. SPEAK has advocated for the Chagossians' case before the British Courts, the European Court of Human Rights, and the International Court of Justice.
Sign the Petition for the United States to Redress Wrongs Committed Against the Chagos Islanders

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 5, 2012—Today, SPEAK Human Rights & Environmental Initiative and the UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic of American University launched a petition, calling on the U.S. government to provide redress to the Chagos Islanders, an indigenous population expelled from their homeland in the Chagos Archipelago more than forty years ago.

The Chagossians continue to fight for the right to return to their homeland. They were expelled when the U.K. and the U.S. governments decided that the United States would build a U.S. military base on the Archipelago’s main island, Diego Garcia. Since their expulsion, the Chagossians have lived as a marginalized community on the island nations of Mauritius and Seychelles. The recent passing of Lisette Talate, the oldest living survivor of the forced exile, underscores the urgent need for action by the U.S. and U.K. governments to redress the wrongs against the Chagossians. Ms. Talate’s dying wish was to see her homeland again before her death. We cannot let other Chagossians die without some form of redress: employment opportunities, compensation, and the opportunity to return home. Noam Chomsky, a signatory to this petition, has observed, "If people knew, they would do something about it . . .” Please do something today by signing the petition and sharing the link with friends.

We call on President Obama to respect the human rights of the Chagossians. The Obama administration will respond to petitions that receive 25,000 signatures in 30 days. The petition closes on April 3, 2012.

Please join the effort to bring this important issue before the Obama administration.

Sign the petition now at http://wh.gov/Xbb
As Christian Nauvel wrote in a legal paper (PDF) on the "Chagossians and their struggle", "The right to remain in one’s own country is a basic human right that has existed in one form or another since the times of King John and the Magna Carta."
Before the arrival of the B-52s and aircraft carriers, the Chagos was a peaceful cluster of islands whose inhabitants (known as the “Chagos Islanders” or “Chagossians”) lived on Diego Garcia and two other atolls: Peros Banhos and Salomon. The exact number of Chagossians who resided there is still disputed to this day, but estimates range from 800 to 1500. They lived simple lives, dividing their time between fishing and working on the coconut plantations where copra was produced. Though none of them owned any land, they had been in the Chagos for two, three or even four generations. It therefore came as a shock to most Chagossians when, on an otherwise normal morning in 1971, they were suddenly informed that they would be required to permanently leave their homes in order to make way for the U.S. military base. The majority of those living on Diego Garcia were shipped to Mauritius against their will, within days of receiving the news. By 1973, even the islands of Peros Banhos and Solomon had been completely evacuated.
But just as the US has eviscerated that other great right dating from the Magna Carta, the right of habeas corpus, they show little inclination to preserve these other rights in their headlong rush to control the world under the auspices of a never-ending "war on terror."

There may be little we can do to support the Chagossians, but one very simple way would be to sign the petition described above, and to support organizations like SPEAK, who are speaking up for some of the most powerless people on earth.

For more information on the plight of the Chagossians and the work SPEAK Human Rights and Environmental Initiative has done on their behalf, click here.

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