On December 10th, Lalit members were present at the Chagos Refugees Group one-day protest in front of the British High Commission in Edith Cavell Street in Port Louis.
From 7.00a.m. on 10th December which is United Nations Human Rights Day, about one hundred and fifty Chagossian people, mainly women and children gathered with pancartes to protest for their right to return to Diego Garcia Island, from where they were forcibly removed between 1965 and 1973, to make way for the huge US military Base now there. Their forcible removal once described by the Wall Street Journal as the biggest mass kidnapping in history, was declared to have been illegal by a UK Court Judgment in the year 2000.
At 7.30a.m, when the High Commissioner arrived, they shouted the slogan “Rann nu Diego” which has the double meaning of return us to Diego and return Diego to us. The day proceeded as a sit-in on the pavement, with sporadic bursts of slogan shouting at the windows of the British High Commission.
The British Government is very ashamed of its role over the treatment it, aided by the US, meted out to the people of Diego Garcia and the whole of the Chagos. But instead of righting the wrongs, they have consistently tried to hide what happened from the public eye, and whenever it is exposed, to do as little as possible to right the wrong.
Diego Garcia and the whole of the Chagos Archipelago, which is part of Mauritius, was illegally severed prior to Mauritian Independence in 1968, and together with some Seychelles islands later successfully reclaimed by the Seychelles, formed the infamous new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory. These stolen islands were then leased to the receiver of stolen goods, the USA, which set up its military base there.
The Chagos Refugees Group and Lalit are struggling for the base to be closed, for the people to get the right to return, for proper reparations for the harm suffered, and for re-unification.
This demonstration marks a new more political phase of the Diego Garcia struggle, after a few years of more legal actions once the UK Official Secrets Act 30-year censorship was over. This legal phase had led to the judgment of the year 2000 giving the right to return, and an unfavourable judgment in 2003 for further compensation. There is still a legal action in the US Courts, including suits against the US Government and, interestingly, for their role at the time, two figures rather more well known now, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.
Pancartes included those calling for their land not to be used for attacking other peoples. This is a reference to B-52’s taking off from Diego Garcia to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq.