The Chagos story in quotes

They said it better than we could have, so here is a collection of quotes from all
sorts of people about the Chagos islands. Click on a title to jump to a section.

Paradise lost

Memories of the Chagos islands, and being forced to leave them.

 

‘Whopping fibs’ – the conspiracy to cleanse the islands

Foreign Office documents which became public in the 1990s under the 30 year rule reveal the full extent of the lies fabricated to get rid of the
Chagossians.

 

‘The Island Clearances’

A number of MPs, particularly Scots MPs, have compared the expulsion of the islanders to the Scottish Highland Clearances in the 19th century.

 

The continuing injustice

Successive governments, through their actions and inactions, have kept the Chagossians suffering for 40 years.

 

‘A small matter’

Ever since the conspiracy began in the 60s, it was hoped that if the crime was kept
quiet for long enough, this small group of people would fade into obscurity. Some people still hope so.

 

‘Camp Justice’

The American military call their Diego Garcia base ‘Camp Justice’ – with no hint of irony.

 

Orders in Council

How to pass a law you can’t defend.

 

The government’s defence

Bill Rammell defends the Orders in Council, the lack of compensation, and the feasibility studies.

The ‘precarious’ islands

The Foreign Office says resettlement of the Chagos islands is impracticable because
they are “precarious”, and there is a risk of flooding. But the US military
don’t seem too concerned…

 

A question of money?

The government’s argument for not allowing the Chagossians home is primarily based
on cost. Even though cost was not considered in their independent study.

 

Not British enough

There are interesting parallels to be drawn between the treatment of the Chagossians,
and the treatment of the people of other overseas territories, like the Falkland
Islands.

 

The US and the UK

Many have seen Britain’s handling of Diego Garcia as another example of
subservience to the USA.

 

Might is right

The expulsion of the Chagossians is a classic example of powerful countries doing
whatever they feel like.

 

Righting the wrong

Calls for the government to finally take its responsibilities seriously, and make amends.

 

 


 

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Paradise lost

 

Memories of the Chagos islands, and being forced to leave them.

 

“We could eat and drink everything. We never lacked for anything.”

Charlesia Alexis, Chagossian exile

 

“On the boat that took the Chagossians from their islands, Sir Bruce Greatbatch insisted that the horses took pride of place on deck. The women and children were made to sleep in the hold on a cargo of bird fertiliser – bird shit.”

John Pilger, journalist

 

“All of us Chagossians, women and children, it was ourselves who were the animals on [that ship].”

Marie Lisette Talate, Chagossian exile

 

“On their islands, they would sing their way through life. Here in Mauritius they wept their way through life, and they are still weeping.”

Cassam Uteem, former President of Mauritius

 


 

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‘Whopping fibs’ – the conspiracy to cleanse the islands

 

Foreign Office documents which became public in the 1990s under the 30 year rule reveal the full extent of the lies fabricated to get rid of the Chagossians.

 

“We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours… There will be no indigenous population except seagulls.”

Senior Foreign Office official Sir Paul Gore-Booth, writing in August 1966

 

“Unfortunately along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays whose origins are obscure, and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius, etc.”

DH Greenhill (later Baron Greenhill), Permanent Under-Secretary in the Colonial Office, in a handwritten addition to Gore-Booth’s letter

 

“People were born there and in some cases their parents were born there too. The intention is, however, that none of them should be regarded as being permanent inhabitants of the islands.”

Foreign Office memo, 1960s

 

“Foreign Office officials were worried that they might be open to “charges of dishonesty” and referred to “old fashioned” concerns about “whopping fibs” that Ministers were being asked to tell about Foreign Office policy.”

Alex Salmond, SNP leader and MP for Banff and Buchan, July 2004

 

“It was in 1964 that the Government began misdescribing the long-settled population as transitory workers in order to mislead the world into thinking that they had no obligations to that population.”

Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow, July 2004

 

“They were lies, damn lies.”

Cassam Uteem – former President of Mauritius, on Stealing a Nation, aired October 2004

 

“It is 48 years since the original and disgraceful deal was done between Wilson and Johnson, but the injustice has not gone away.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, July 2004

 

The immigration ordinance of 1971 was an“abject legal failure” with “no colour of lawful authority”

Lord Justice Law, High Court, November 2000

 

In the same speech that he lied to the UN about the Chagossian population and how they had been treated, British representative FDW Brown spoke up for the Falkland islanders, saying it would be ‘fantastic’ to suggest that they were not relevant. He even had the audacity to quote Woodrow Wilson as saying:

“Peoples and Provinces are not to be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were chattels or pawns in a game.”

Within months the Chagos islands had been handed over to the US, and the destruction of the islanders’ homes and lives was soon to follow.

FDW Brown, speech to the UN General Assembly, November 1965

 

“These days, we are all too familiar with conducting foreign policy on the basis of false or misleading facts.”

Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow

 

“This was considered a price that was worth paying… All the Foreign Office were concerned about was whether they would be found out.”

Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagos islanders

 

“The Prime Minister Harold Wilson knew very well that there was a population and that they were going to be removed.”

Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagos islanders

 

“This is policy made almost on the back of an envelope – there’s no democratic input… Nobody was there to represent the interests of the islanders. They just didn’t exist as a political factor to take into account.”

Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagos islanders

 

Responding to Denis Healy’s claim of having ‘no memory’ of the Chagos islands:

“Absolute bollocks. He is an acute and intelligent man.”

Professor David Stoddart, University of Berkeley, California

 

Responding to James Schlesinger’s claim that the islanders were imported labourers:

“Amnesia at best. That’s all you can say to that. They knew.”

Professor David Stoddart, University of Berkeley, California

 


 

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‘The Island Clearances’

 

A number of MPs, particularly Scots MPs, have compared the expulsion of the islanders to the Scottish Highland Clearances in the 19th century.

 

“There is a parallel between what has happened to the Chagos islanders and the highland
clearances in Scotland, when the rich and powerful drove the poor and weak from the land. That has scarred and informed Scottish politics ever since.”

Kelvin Hopkins, Labour MP for Luton North, July 2004

 

“One
of the first and better acts of the new Scottish Parliament was when it
apologised collectively for the historic injustice of the highland clearances.
They were not the responsibility of any Scottish Parliament, but it was felt
none the less by all parties that such an apology should be offered. I very much
hope that the Minister will proffer some sort of apology to the few thousand
Chagos islanders who deserve not just an apology, but some sign that future
action and policy will be different from that in the past.”

Alex Salmond, SNP leader and MP for Banff and Buchan, July 2004

 

“Defence may have replaced agricultural improvement as the reason, but the pauperisation
and the expulsion of the weak in the interests of the powerful is the same. It
gives little to be proud of.”

Lord Justice Sedley, Court of Appeal, 6 July 2004, when rejecting the appeal for further compensation.

 


 

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The continuing injustice

 

Successive governments, through their actions and inactions, have kept the Chagossians suffering for 40 years.

 

“Every Foreign Office Minister, up to and including current Ministers, and every
Foreign Office staffer who has been involved in the story over the past 40 years
should hang their heads in shame at what has been done to these defenceless
people.”

Alex Salmond, SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, July 2004

 

“They were totally abandoned with pitiful and insulting compensation being offered over the years.”

Alex Salmond, SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, July 2004

 

“A government, calling itself civilised, tricked and expelled its most vulnerable
citizens so that it could give their homeland to a foreign power for a military
base. This was all done in high secrecy and this same government and its
successors then watched its citizens starve to death, it watched them despair
and take their own lives… That government was a British government whose
policies are continued today.”

John Pilger, journalist

 

“What was done to these people is today defined in international law as a crime
against humanity.”

John Pilger, journalist

 

“It was entirely improper, unethical, dictatorial, to have the Chagossian put their
thumbprint on an English legal drafted document where the Chagossian, who
doesn’t read nor speak any English, let alone legal English, is made to
renounce all his rights as a human being.”

Robin Mardemootoo, lawyer for the Chagos islanders

 

“If they had told me I was signing to give up my island, I would never have taken
that money, I would have continued with my difficult life.”

Rita Bancoult, Chagossian exile

 

“How low can you get? How intellectually dishonest, how morally duplicitous can you
get? I’ve spent forty years with this and every single thing sickens me, and
it goes on and on, Conservative, Labour…”

Professor David Stoddart, University of Berkeley, California

 

“No human being would treat another human being the way the British government treated the Chagossian people.”

Cassam Uteem – former President of Mauritius

 

“It is very heartbreaking but God will punish them for this injustice.”

Rita Bancoult, Chagossian exile

 

“I’m 79 but as long as I am here I will keep fighting, until the day God takes me away from this earth.”

Rita Bancoult, Chagossian exile

 


 

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‘A small matter’

 

Ever since the conspiracy began in the 60s, it was hoped that if the crime was kept
quiet for long enough, this small group of people would fade into obscurity. Some people still hope so.

 

“Amongst the various activities of the British and American governments in the 19th
and 20th centuries, this was a relatively small matter.”

James Schlesinger, US Secretary of Defence 1973 – 75

 

“Thirty-five to forty years on, these events have become far less relevant.”

James Schlesinger, US Secretary of Defence 1973 – 75

 

“When we go to London we are told it’s an American problem, when we go to Washington
we are told it’s a London problem. It is an arrangement between them to treat
this problem as a ping pong ball, and it’s terrible because by the time the
ping pong game is over, there will be no Chagossians left.”

Robin Mardemootoo, lawyer for Chagos islanders, on Stealing a Nation, aired
October 2004

 


 

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‘Camp Justice’

 

The American military call their Diego Garcia base ‘Camp Justice’ – with no hint of irony.

 

“The Minister had better explain how the government claim to know better than many
respectable outlets of the US press. The Washington Post, for example, claims that prisoners are held on Diego Garcia for
“rendering” before being transferred to Camp X-Ray. How confident is the
Foreign Office in the information that the US authorities have offered it on
what is happening on Diego Garcia?”

Alex Salmond, SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, July 2004

 


 

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Orders in Council

 

How to pass a law you can’t defend.

 

“An Order in Council is a cosy arrangement. The Queen rubber stamps what in many cases they can’t get away with democratically. Dictators do this, but without the quaint ritual.”

John Pilger, journalist

 

“The clerk of the council reads the order in title only, the Queen says ‘agreed’, and that’s it. It’s a decree.”

Professor David Stoddart, University of Berkeley, California

 

“The Orders in Council were passed on 10 June 2004, election day in Britain, when they thought no one would notice.”

John Pilger, journalist

 

“On 10 June this year, which everyone will remember as election day, staff at the
Foreign Office were not out ensuring that people were voting. Instead, they were
at the palace asking the Queen to sign an Order in Council.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, July 2004

 

“An Order in Council overrides everything in which we believe about the democratic accountability of the Government.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, July 2004

 

“The government, in a sneaky, underhand way, passed two Orders in Council on European
election day to prohibit debate, to remove what little rights had been won and
to rectify loopholes in legislation that allowed the assertion of the human
rights of the islanders and their descendants.”

Alex Salmond, SNP leader and MP for Banff and Buchan, July 2004

 

“Why was it necessary to execute Orders in Council, with no prior discussion, no
consultation, no debate and no warning? It came as such a bolt out of the blue
that, I freely confess, the Opposition – for whom I take responsibility for
the issue – missed it completely for a number of days… What on earth was
that all about?”

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South-West Devon, July 2004

 

“One of the officials in the Foreign Office publicity department said that to
introduce the laws in any other way would take ‘an inordinate amount of
time’. We are here to scrutinise such decisions and to debate on them. I am so
sorry if today’s debate is taking ‘an inordinate amount of time’. It is what this place exists for.”

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South-West Devon, July 2004

 

“All the other British overseas territories have some form of representative local
administration who are consulted before an Order in Council is made… Why was
there no discussion whatever with any representative of the Chagossian
community?”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, July 2004

 

“Going back to these medieval laws and overturning the High Court decision to allow
these people back to the outlying islands is a capture of the powers of the
state that really only happens in totalitarian regimes.”

Mark Curtis, author of Web of Deceit, on Stealing a Nation, aired October 2004

 


 

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The government’s defence

 

Bill Rammell defends the Orders in Council, the lack of compensation, and the feasibility studies.

 

“The decision to pass the Orders in Council was taken after long and careful
consideration. The independent feasibility study showed that lasting
resettlement would be precarious and would entail expensive underwriting by the
UK government for an open-ended period – probably permanently… The United
Kingdom Government has already paid compensation to the Chagossians, the two
payments amounting in total to approximately £14.5 million at today’s prices.
Furthermore, the vast majority of Chagossians have been granted British
citizenship… This has been widely welcomed by the Chagossian communities in
Mauritius, Seychelles and elsewhere, and it is another indication of the
Government’s commitment to our responsibilities.”

Bill Rammell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, September 2004

 

“In my view, the decisions taken by successive Governments in the 1960s and 1970s to
depopulate the islands do not, to say the least, constitute the finest hour of
UK foreign policy. In no sense am I seeking to justify the decisions that were
made in the 1960s and 1970s. Those decisions may be seen as regrettable, but the
Government must deal with the current situation.”

Bill Rammell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, on Stealing a Nation, aired October 2004

 

“Of course I’ve got sympathy for people based on what happened to them and their
families but this is today, almost 40 years after the event, and we, the
government and the British taxpayer have to choose whether to finance that when
that money could alternatively go on aid and helping poor people throughout the
world.”

Bill Rammell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, on Stealing a Nation, aired October 2004

 


 

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The ‘precarious’ islands

 

The Foreign Office says resettlement of the Chagos islands is impracticable because
they are “precarious”, and there is a risk of flooding. But the US military
don’t seem too concerned…

 

“It is fatuous to imagine that the islands cannot be resettled … they were
settled, successfully for several generations.”

Jonathan Jenness in his review of the government’s feasibility studies

 

“Nobody takes the conclusions drawn from the feasibility studies seriously and insofar
as the government repeats them, they’re just opening themselves up to
ridicule.”

Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagos islanders

 

“One of the chief things in the feasibility studies was ‘What is the water supply
going to be like? We can’t guarantee it!’ These islands are respectively the
third and the fifth wettest islands in the world… These studies are worthless,
a waste of time.”

Professor David Stoddart, University of Berkeley, CA, on Stealing a Nation, aired October 2004

 

“Some of the reasons given for not coming down in favour of allowing people to go at
least to the outer islands simply do not make sense… They are not credible”.

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South-West Devon, July 2004

 

“The analysis that the islands are no longer capable of sustaining occupation because
of global warming must be pretty bad news for the American military base –
perhaps the runway is about to disappear under water.”

Alex Salmond, SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, July 2004

 

“Are we really to believe that the 64 islands offered back to the islanders are going
to sink under the waves, while the one island occupied by the Americans is to
provide defence facilities for generations to come?”

Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow, July 2004

 

“A lot of the land in the Chagos islands is higher than that in East Anglia. We
know about flooding in my constituency of Selby, and if we accepted the argument
that the Government are using, half of my constituency would be depopulated.”

John Grogan, Labour MP for Selby, July 2004

 

“The US navy says in its message to its recruits that Diego Garcia boasts
‘unbelievable recreational facilities and exquisite natural beauty’ as well as
‘outstanding’ living conditions. There is no mention of the threat of imminent
demise from flooding.”

John
Grogan, Labour MP for Selby, July 2004

 

“I
understand that the US is seeking to extend the lease on its base, which would
expire in 2016, so it is thinking long term. There is a windsurfers club, a
yacht club, and annual Miss Diego Garcia competition, regular picnics to what
the US describes as some of the most unspoilt beaches in the world, fishing,
snorkelling and a beauty parlour. It does not sound that precarious to me.”

John Grogan, Labour MP for Selby, July 2004

 

“As
for the delicate marine and terrestrial life, the impact of 1,500 US personnel,
the British personnel, the 2,000 civilian contractors and the various military
equipment must be at least as worrying as the effect of some islanders returning
to the outer islands.”

John Grogan, Labour MP for Selby, July 2004

 

“The
Minister must explain why a micro climate exists on Diego Garcia, which ensures
that it is safe from global warming, whereas the rest of the islands are under
threat.”

Tom Brake, Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington

 


 

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A question of money?

 

The government’s argument for not allowing the Chagossians home is primarily based
on cost. Even though cost was not considered in their independent study.

 

“Of course I’ve got sympathy for people based on what happened to them and their
families but this is today, almost 40 years after the event, and we, the
government and the British taxpayer have to choose whether to finance that when
that money could alternatively go on aid and helping poor people throughout the
world.”

Bill
Rammell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs, on Stealing a Nation, aired October 2004

 

“The Minister said the cost would be £5 million to set up and £5 million a year to
run. That’s peanuts! £5 million is the cost of an embassy building in
London.”

Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagos islanders

 

In 1982 the government tricked the Chagos islanders into signing away their rights in return for compensation.

“That same year the government spent $2 billion defending the rights of the Falkland
islanders, who were white.”

John Pilger, journalist, October 2004

 

“Would any Minister stand up in the House and say that the cost of keeping the
population on Pitcairn, St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha or the Falkland Islands was
such that we were going to withdraw the entire population? They would not
dare.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, July 2004

 


 

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Not British enough

 

There are interesting parallels to be drawn between the treatment of the Chagossians,
and the treatment of the people of other overseas territories, like the Falkland Islands.

 

“You’ve got 2000 people in the Falklands, and 2000 people in the Chagos. One: ‘Out!’ The other one: ‘We’re coming to your rescue, you’re all British!’ ”

Marcel Moulinie – Chagos islands plantation manager, on Stealing a Nation, aired October 2004

 

In 1982 the government tricked the Chagos islanders into signing away their rights in return for compensation.

 

“That same year the government spent $2 billion defending the rights of the Falkland islanders, who were white.”

John Pilger, journalist, October 2004

 

“Would any Minister stand up in the House and say that the cost of keeping the
population on Pitcairn, St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha or the Falkland Islands was
such that we were going to withdraw the entire population? They would not
dare.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North

 


 

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The US and the UK

 

Many have seen Britain’s handling of Diego Garcia as another example of subservience to the USA.

 

“I strongly support our alliance with the Americans and their commitment to global
security. However, this Government need to grapple in their mind and conscience
with the question of whether an alliance becomes a relationship of
subservience.”

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South-West Devon

 

“Can this government’s commitment to the Americans really be at any price, even at
the cost of a major injustice to the people we are talking about today?”

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South-West Devon

 


 

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Might is right

 

The expulsion of the Chagossians is a classic example of powerful countries doing
whatever they feel like.

 

“Might is right. The great powers have the might and therefore the right to do anything
they want. They wanted Diego Garcia for a base, they grab it.”

Cassam Uteem, former President of Mauritius

 

“There are times when one tragedy, one crime, tells us how a whole system works behind
its democratic facade, and helps us understand how much of the world is run for
the benefit of the powerful.”

John Pilger, journalist, October 2004

 

“This is not only a story of a single injustice, it is a rare glimpse of great power at its most ruthless.”

John Pilger, journalist, October 2004

 

“Why do we continue to allow our governments to treat people in small countries as either useful or expendable?”

John Pilger, journalist, October 2004

 


 

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Righting the wrong

 

Calls for the government to finally take its responsibilities seriously, and make amends.

 

“If the Government cannot rectify the wrongs of the past for these few thousand
people, what hope is there for their having any moral compass on the great
issues of the day? Unless the Government are prepared to act and rectify the
wrongs of the past, they are, in a moral sense, every bit as homeless as the
islanders of Diego Garcia.”

Alex Salmond, SNP leader and MP for Banff and Buchan, July 2004

 

“The issue is a sorry chapter in our past and it is poisoning our present. The
Minister can start to repair the damage today; the Chagos islanders deserve an
apology, compensation, assistance where they are based currently and a right of
return. The Government’s claim to the champions of freedom will sound very
hollow unless he can deliver on these promises today.”

Tom Brake, Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington, July 2004

 

“A grave injustice took place in the 1960s and 1970s…
It was a stain on our history and there is now an opportunity to do better.”

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South-West Devon

 

“Tough decisions have to be taken by all Governments, but where they affect an
indigenous people, as in this case, the compensation should be generous.
Decisions should be implemented in an honest and transparent way that does not
compound the injustice. That clearly has not happened in this case.”

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South-West Devon

 

“The sums that the Minister mentions [in relation to the projected costs of
resettlement] are very small compared with the enormity of the issue and the
blot on the moral conscience.”

Alex Salmond, SNP MP for Banff and Buchan

 

“The High Court’s judgement must be upheld and the people of a group of beautiful,
once peaceful islands, must be helped to go home and compensated fully and
without delay for their suffering. Anything less diminishes the rest of us.”

John Pilger, journalist, October 2004