Message of Support
The tragedy of the people of Diego Garcia is that your Islands were ‘bought' and then ‘leased' by the British Government to the United States for the creation of an impregnable military fortress. In 1971, the Chagossians were forcibly removed from their homes and compelled to seek refuge elsewhere in Mauritius or further afield. Ever since, you have asserted your right to return to your homes. Yet, at every turn, the British Government has sought to frustrate your attempts to secure legal redress.
The wider world shares in your tragedy, not only because the Chagossians are denied their basic rights, but also because Diego Garcia has become the source of extraordinary violence meted out by the US military forces stationed there. The bombardment of Iraq was carried out, in significant part, by aircraft flying from Diego Garcia. It is the ‘lily pad' from which the United States launched its ‘shock and awe' attacks on Baghdad.
Nuclear submarines and other US naval vessels make extensive use of the Island's facilities, facilitating their operations in the wider Indian Ocean. They also play their part on ‘shock and awe' bombardments.
Are nuclear weapons stored on Diego Garcia? Surely the facilities should be inspected to ensure there is no breach of the Pelindaba Treaty for an Africa Free of Nuclear Arms, which entered into force in 2009.
The secret practice of extraordinary rendition, sometimes for extended periods of torture, of persons kidnapped during the US prosecution of its ‘war on terror', following the attacks on the United States in September 2001, also makes use of Diego Garcia. For a long time, the British Government tried to deny the persistent allegations that prisoners were transited through Diego Garcia or held there. In 2008, the UN's Special Rapporteur for Torture, Manfred Nowak, said 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. Eventually, in 2008, after years of denials, the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, admitted that two prisoners had been rendered through Diego Garcia, despite previous US assurances that this never happened. Who else has been held on and rendered through Diego Garcia, what happened to them there, and where are they now?
For all these reasons and more, your historic conference is welcome in Mauritius, around the Indian Ocean, and in the wider world. The ‘lease' must not be renewed; the Chagossians shall return. We wish you every success, and keenly await news of your deliberations. Do, please, keep us informed of what happens.
Tony Simpson Ken Fleet
The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation
20 October 2010