British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos
458. The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT)
lies about 1770 km east of Mahe (the main island of the Seychelles).
The Territory, an archipelago of 55 islands, covers some 54,400
square kilometres of ocean. The islands have a land area of only
60 square kilometres and 698 kilometres of coastline. Diego Garcia,
the largest and most southerly island, is 44 square kilometres.
The climate is hot, humid and moderated by trade winds. The terrain
is flat and low and most areas do not exceed two metres in elevation.
459. The islands were known to Arab sailors in
early centuries. Diego Garcia got its name from the Portuguese
who, in the sixteenth century, were the first Europeans to discover
the Islands although they did not settle on them.
460. In 1776 French colonists were permitted
to develop coconut plantations on the Islands on the condition
that they also established a leper colony there. They brought
in slaves from Madagascar, Mozambique and Senegal. When the British
took over the Islands in 1835 after the Napoleonic Wars, the slaves
were freed. These slaves developed their own economy exporting
coconut oil, which was much in demand in the 19th and early 20th
centuries in Europe and the Indian subcontinent. They brought
in bonded labourers and their families from Mauritius and the
461. The Chagossian people (also known as the
Ilois) developed a distinctive Creole language and their own culture.
Workers were paid mostly in rice, but also in cash. The social
system was matriarchal (almost certainly a legacy of the leper
colony, since women survive leprosy better than men). The majority
of the Islanders were Christian. As the population grew, the Outer
Islands were also settled, although visits were only occasional
as the smaller islands are all more than 100 miles from Diego
Garcia. There was a schoolhouse on Diego Garcia but little if
any formal education.
462. The Islanders were forcibly removed from
BIOT by the UK in the late 1960s after a decision was taken to
"lease" one of the islands of the archipelago, Diego
Garcia, to the United States (see paras 43 to 47, Chapter 2, Part
One for further details of recent history and legal challenges).
463. The Committee received submissions from
18 individuals or organisations regarding the British Indian Ocean
Territory, including the Chagos Refugees Group, the UK Chagos
Support Association, the Chagos Islands Community Association,
the Diego Garcian Society, Reprieve and the All Party Parliamentary
Group on Extraordinary Rendition.
464. The Committee heard oral evidence from Mr
Louis Bancoult, leader and Mr Richard Gifford, legal representative,
Chagos Refugees Group.
- We conclude that
there is a strong moral case for the UK permitting and supporting
a return to the British Indian Ocean Territory for the Chagossians.
We note the recent publication of resettlement proposals for the
Outer Islands by Chagos Refugees campaigners. The FCO has argued
that such a return would be unsustainable, but we find these arguments
less than convincing. However, the FCO has also told us that the
US has stated that a return would pose security risks to the base
on Diego Garcia. We have therefore decided to consider the implications
of a resettlement in greater detail. (para 69)
- On Diego Garcia itself, we conclude
that it is deplorable that previous US assurances about rendition
flights have turned out to be false. The failure of the United
States Administration to tell the truth resulted in the UK Government
inadvertently misleading our Select Committee and the House of
Commons. We intend to examine further the extent of UK supervision
of US activities on Diego Garcia, including all flights and ships
serviced from Diego Garcia. (para 70)
- We recommend that British Overseas Territories
Citizenship should be extended to third generation descendants
of exiled Chagossians. We also recommend that the Government provide
more guidance to those Chagossians wishing to resettle in the
UK. (para 74)
- We conclude that any resolution to the UK's sovereignty
dispute with Mauritius over the British Indian Ocean Territory
must take Chagossians' wishes into account. (para 419)
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