Justice for the Ilois

The Court of Appeal has finally said what everyone has already known for ages. The British Government broke the law when it expelled the Ilois from their homelands in the Chagos archipelago, just so the US could have an airbase at Deigo Garcia.

The High Court said this last year, but the Government was given leave to appeal. This bought the Government and their masters in Washington an extra year. I am not usually particularly critical of US/UK relations, but this is the exception. The US wanted Diego Garcia to safeguard US interests so the British Government, showing the worst face of imperialism, cleansed an entire archipelago of islands of an entire ethnic group. They were forced to leave the only place they had known for generations – their homes, their lands, the graves of their ancestors and loved ones. US documents say the British Government agreed to “sweep” and “sanitize” the islands.

The story of the sanitizing is unbelievable horrible.

First they killed all the dogs. According to one Ilois eyewitness:

“Our dogs, around 1,500 of them, were stacked and forced into a big building. All doors and windows were closed. We then saw 2 jeeps approach the building and back up in such a way as to bring their exhaust pipes as close as possible to a door; the British and American officers managed to connect the exhaust pipes of the vehicles to inside the building; they then left the vehicles’ engines running and went away. By that time, we had realised that our dogs were being killed and that the building had been converted into a gas chamber. Most of us who had brought our dogs there waited to see what would happen; we tried to convince the officers to let them out, in vain. Pretty soon, we heard the dogs starting to cry, then scream painfully. It was one of the hardest scenes ever. Our children cried so much in pain and sorrow and we all cried. This is still fresh in our minds.”

The entire population was then loaded onto ships and was allowed to take one suitcase each. Everything else they owned had to be left behind. They lost everything. And it got worse.

On one journey in rough seas, the copra company’s horses occupied the deck, while women and children were forced to sleep on a cargo of bird fertilizer. Arriving in the Seychelles, they were marched up the hill to a prison where they were held until they were transported to Mauritius. There, they were dumped on the docks.

“Most of us were very sick from the trip. Many children died a few days after we reached Mauritius. We remember the children of Noellie Talate dying of malnutrition a few days after landing in Mauritius.”

They have always been treated as outcasts in Mauritian society. They have always lived in substandard housing, so they lost almost everything they managed to accumulate in cyclones, first in 1975 and then again in 1981.

The High Court ruled in 2000 that they were allowed to return to their homelands, so the Government invoked royal perogative with an Order in Council to block their return. The in the present case, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the use of the royal prerogative was a sham – it has nothing to do with the sovereign, but is merely the Foreign Secretary forcing his will in a different way.

The court said the treatment of the Ilois was “a repugnant abuse of power”. It refused the Government leave to appeal to the House of Lords, though the FCO is expected to petition the Lords directly. The court refused a stay on the effect of their judgment. This means that legally the islanders are allowed to return to what is left at of their homes immediately.

Lest you think the ability of the US to dominate south and central Asia will be compromised, the judges ruled that the only exception to repatriation is Diego Garcia itself. There was no reason for the entire 15,000 km2 and over 60 islands to be cleared. Diego Garcia is only 27.20 km2 and located at the southern end of the archipelago.

Washington is putting heavy pressure on Whitehall to not give up the fight to keep the islanders as outcasts and refugees, abused and mistreated. Justice for the Ilois is the last thing they want.

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4 Responses to Justice for the Ilois

  1. Michael says:

    I had never known about any of that, and am appalled. And according to this Wikipedia article, they originally were going to use a different island, but changed the plan because of a rare tortoise. So they oppressed the humans and gassed the dogs in order to save the tortoise. BTW, it’s Ilois, not Ilios.

  2. Dave says:

    Thanks for catching my misspelling, Michael. I’ve fixed it now.

  3. Steve says:

    And what, I wonder, is the difference between “sanitizing” and “ethnic cleansing”?

  4. Pingback: Tony Blair's legacy -- war and ethnic cleansing « Khanya

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