Violators as preachers: The shame of Diego Garcia
The military base at Diego Garcia
Now and then the heads of missions in Colombo, of the Transatlantic cousins come up for air and preach us homilies on human rights, the rule of law, disappearances and abductions and the gamut of what might be broadly called rights violations.
Reading the words of American ambassador Robert Blake and his diplomatic colleague from the other side of the pond, Dominick Chilcott, one sometimes finds oneself in a dizzy world of moral intoxication.
Their preaching, not confined to the Sabbath, might have had moral validity had they practised for the world to see what they preach so universally. I don’t mean Messrs Blake and Chilcott (super power first, you would notice) personally but the countries they represent.
Since they represent their countries (or lie on behalf of them as the job description of diplomats goes) they must accept the strictures directed at their own countries since they have tried so cleverly to cover the mote in their eyes while pointing their fingers at others.
It would appear that if their countries violate the widely accepted moral code and international law such conduct is justified on the premise that they are fighting terrorism.
However if others step out of line even marginally what is sauce for the goose does not apply to the gander.
This is not to say that one should brazenly or even tangently violate human rights or the rule of law if such conduct could be avoided. To fall back on another old saying two wrongs do not make a right, and all that.
But it does take a bladder full of gall to condemn publicly what others are perceived to be doing when the accusers themselves are committing far worse crimes and have been doing it for a long time.
It is this kind of pretentious moral superiority that sticks in the craw and gives substance to accusations of double standards. It seems there is no moral equivalence between the west and the rest of the world. The west has been given, it would seem, a moral licence from up above to do as it pleases, when it pleases.
President George W. Bush has said he gets his directions from the deities-or rather a single deity-implying, of course, that he has divine sanction for his actions.
Others, who do not pretend to such communion, must follow man-made laws.
I was reminded of such sanctimonious humbug when attending the 20th anniversary conference of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative over two weeks ago.
Last Sunday I said I would return to that subject because of the announcement that the British Government is funding a four-year programme to build human rights capacity in the British Overseas Territories with the help of three Commonwealth NGOs.
Interestingly of the two British Government departments involved are the Department for International Development (DfID) and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Why interestingly, will become clearer later.
However it might be said immediately that in trying to bring human rights to British overseas’ territories (colonies really but the word is not politically correct these days) the British Government has made a serious omission. It has left out the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a fiction created by the British to detach the Chagos islands archipelago from Mauritius and to deliberately mislead the United Nations in order to complete a secret deal with the United States to establish a military base on Diego Garcia, the main island.
As pressure for decolonisation built up round the world the UN passed Declaration 1514 in 1960 which held that all colonial peoples had an inalienable right to independence without conditions and alien subjugation was a “denial of fundamental human rights….”
Instead of decolonisation Britain created the new colony of BIOT and took the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius on the promise of early independence for it.
The Anglo-American machinations alerted the UN whose General Assembly passed resolution 2066 of 1965 calling on the British Government “to take no action which would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity.”
This was blithely ignored by Britain which went ahead anyway by creating the BIOT in November 1965 by amalgamating Chagos with some islands detached from the Seychelles. So much for respect for the United Nations and its resolutions!
When the secret negotiations with the US started in 1964 the Americans wanted not only Diego Garcia but the surrounding island cleared of any people. “Sanitised” and “swept” were the words the Americans used in documents released much later under the Freedom of Information Act, to achieve one of the clearest cases of ethnic cleansing in recent colonial history.
Hundreds of pages of documents, most of them marked secret, released to the public show that the governor of the Seychelles Sir Bruce Greatbatch was put in charge of “sanitising” the islands. He did such a great job of it. He summarily and forcibly evicted nearly 2000 persons from the islands mostly from Diego Garcia and literally dumped them in Mauritius-and some in the Seychelles- with only a suitcase each of their worldly possessions.
What is more Sir Bruce got rid of over 1000 dogs, pets of the Ilois or Chagossian people, by gassing the whole lot.
At a Whitehall meeting prior to the eviction of the indigenous people, the Treasury representative “greatly preferred the ideal of a complete sterilisation in the islands.”
In order to avoid condemnation by the UN and others, Britain, supported by the US which could not care less what happened to the local population as long as they were dumped elsewhere, propagated the fiction that they were not permanent residents on the islands but “transient” workers employed as contract labour on the copra plantations.
By doing so British politicians and officials lied and misled the UN. Moreover neither the British nor the US ever told the truth to the government and people of Mauritius that the Chagos Islands were removed to build a military facility on Diego Garcia.They even lied to their own people. The secret deal entered into by Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the US was not known to the House of Commons or to Congress until about two decades later. Nor were they told about the virtual kidnapping of the islanders and their being dumped some 1000 miles away to live in poverty and destitution.
Article 7 of the statute of the International Criminal Court describes the “deportation or forcible transfer of population……..by expulsion or other coercive acts” as a crime against humanity.
Not only are Britain and the US guilty of such a crime, the British Government has also shown its sheer contempt for the rule of law. It resorted to that archaic, centuries old Royal Prerogative- the Order-in-Council- to undermine the decisions of three British courts that ruled the eviction of the Chagossians, who had lived on those islands for at least two generations and some for five or more, was unjust and illegal.
In May 2006 the High Court in London in its ruling said: “The suggestion that a minister can, through an order-in-council exile a whole population from a British Overseas Territory and claim that he is doing so for the peace, order and good government of the territory is repugnant.”
Even then the British Government would not relent and was determined to nullify court rulings.In May this year the Appeal Court struck down an appeal against the earlier verdict that allowed the Chagossians to return home.
Now the government has gone to the highest court, the House of Lords which is expected to hear the case some time next year.
The so-called “lease” under which the US military base continues, is due to end in 2016 but could be extended for another 20 years.
The US would not want to give it up because not only is it used as a base for air attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq (and Iran if war ever breaks out between them) but it is also said to be used as a detention centre for terror suspects as part of the US “rendition” process where torture of ‘prisoners’ is not unknown.
In fact it is said that Hambali (Riduan Isamuddin) the leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah responsible for 2002 terrorist bombing in Bali is currently held in Diego Garcia where there is a secret facility for “ghost detainees” or “new disappeared”.
The fact is that even today the people who were abducted and then abandoned in violation of UN declarations and resolutions and of international law are being denied their human rights.
The lies have continued over the years. Governments have conspired to keep the truth from their own elected representatives and their people and indeed the world.
This conspiracy of silence and deceit is one of the most shameful episodes in British and US history.
Yet the UK and US and their representatives strike a holier than thou posture though they have poor credentials, as credible preachers of morality.