Human Rights Watch condemns UK and US actions in the Chagos Islands

LONDON (AP) – Britain and the United States committed crimes against humanity when they forced the people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean from their homes five decades ago to make way for a US Navy base, a group of human rights accused Wednesday, calling on the two governments to let the Chagossians return.

Human Rights Watch also said Britain and the US should pay compensation to the Chagossians and apologize for their treatment of the islanders.

“The forced displacement of the Chagossians and the continued abuses amount to crimes against humanity committed by a colonial power against an indigenous people,” the human rights group said. “The UK’s colonial rule in the Chagos Archipelago, unlike most of its other colonies in Africa, did not end in the 1960s and continued at extraordinary cost to the people of Chagos.”

The Chagos Islands are the heart of the British Indian Ocean Territory, some 6,000 miles southeast of London and home to the US Navy base at Diego Garcia. The base was built in the 1970s and provides what US officials have described as “a virtually indispensable platform” for security operations in the Middle East, South Asia and East Africa.

But Diego Garcia has been a source of controversy for decades because the islands were home to around 1,500 people when discussions about the base began in the 1960s. Furthermore, the islands have historically been administered as a dependency of Mauritius, a territory of the United Kingdom. that was moving towards independence.

These facts were a problem because the US wanted the freedom to build the base at Diego Garcia without facing local political opposition.

As a result, Great Britain decided to separate the archipelago from Mauritius before becoming independent and removing the Chagossians from the islands between 1967 and 1973.

There are now around 10,000 Chagossians living mainly in Great Britain, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The KPMG consultancy, which carried out a feasibility study for the government, said in 2014 that all those who participated in the consultation meetings wanted to return permanently to the islands.

The government in 2016 refused to allow the Chagossians to return to their homeland, citing “feasibility, defense and security interests and cost to the British taxpayer”.

But it also recognized that the original removal of the islanders was wrong, granted them citizenship and earmarked £40 million ($49 million) to improve the lives of Chagossians around the world.

“The way in which the Chagossian community was removed from the Territory in the 1960s and 1970s, and the way in which they were treated, was wrong and we look back with deep regret,” the government said at the time.

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