Tuesday, January 27, 2015

British Indian Ocean Territory

Also known as the Chagos Islands, it is located in the Indian Ocean with no land-mass to its west until you reach Tanzania and none to the east until Indonesia. Over a thousand islands, but the whole thing is only 23 square miles. And no, it isn’t in the Antarctic. But yes, it is used by the British and the United States as a joint military base (Diego Garcia is the host island), the tiny native population having been evicted in the 1960s to keep the place safely top secret. Truthfully it should belong to Mauritius, or even the Seychelles, to whom several of the islands were transferred when it became independent in 1976; and the Chagossians, as they call themselves, regard themselves as the Palestinians of the mid-Indian Ocean, though swimming back to reclaim the island is unlikely, and boats won’t easily get past the holidaying US aircraft carriers. 


In typically imperialist manner, having removed the islanders, the British government set up a paltry trust fund by way of compensation, and then fought off attempts by the Chagossians to obtain the right to return. Several lower courts in the UK found in their favour, even declaring the expulsion unconstitutional, but that epitome of pure democracy, the unelected House of Lords, overthrew the rulings in 2008, leaving the Chagossians not only uncompensated and homeless, but unknown to virtually everybody else in the world.

A Wikileaks document in 2009 disclosed a new strategy by the two governments to declare the islands a “marine park”, which would end the Chagossians hopes of returning once and for all (see my comments under Bouvet Island), and provide a better mask for the military base; this has now come into being, and is, indeed, the world's largest marine protection area, with a total prohibition on the extraction of any natural resources therein. The other pretence, of official British sovereignty, is undermined by the fact that the island’s official political governor, known as its Commissioner, lives in England and has never visited the island. 

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