The US airbase on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia is among the most crucial and heavily used of the many hundreds of US bases around the world. It has been used extensively in the wars waged by the United States against Iraq and Afghanistan, in the attacks against Syria and Yemen, in the CIA’s torture “rendition” flights, and in a range of other intelligence and military operations.
Diego Garcia is the primary island of the Chagos group, previously dependencies of the British colony of Mauritius. But immediately prior to Mauritius gaining its independence, and as the International Court of Justice at The Hague decided on February 25, 2019, in violation of international law, the UK government separated the Chagos Islands from the colony of Mauritius. The sole purpose was in order to give Diego Garcia to the United States on a long-term lease. The inhabitants were forcibly removed by the UK, and prevented from returning.
Over the years the former inhabitants in vain sought redress from the British legal system, winning repeatedly in the courts but in the end losing in the House of Lords on, in essence, national security (“royal prerogative”!) grounds.
Of course the real player was the United States, which conspired with its British satellite at every stage of the struggle. At one point, in 2009, the US feared that even the docile Law Lords might permit the islanders—victims of a shameful injustice—to return to some of the islands. The Obama administration and its British puppets came up with a solution: the declaration of an environmental “maritime protected zone” prohibiting any civilian access. A disgusting bit of hypocrisy so very typical of its authors.
But with the ICJ opinion, this play is nearly over. No doubt the US possession of Diego Garcia will not soon end and the Chagos islanders will not soon go home, but the brand of a cruel and blatant violation of international law has been fixed for all time. Great credit goes to the international lawyers who have laboured for decades without compensation for the impoverished and exiled islanders. Credit too goes to the government of Mauritius, which gathered its courage to resist the fierce pressure exerted by the United States to drop its efforts on behalf of the Chagossians. And credit to the fourteen justices of the Hague court, who have reason to be proud of reaching a decision that gives a moment of hope in dark times, and with but one dissent—by the US justice, surprise!
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