Britain should pay full and unconditional reparations to generations affected by its forcible displacement of Chagos Islands inhabitants in the 1960s and 70s, an action that constituted a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch has said in a 106-page report.
Forced deportations were carried out so that the largest island, Diego Garcia, could be leased to the US to use as an airbase. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says this was a crime against humanity by both the UK and its transatlantic ally.
Additionally, it says the UK committed two more crimes against humanity by blocking the return of the Chagossians – despite UN’s highest court ruling that the continuing British occupation was illegal – and through racial persecution of the people.
The NGO also said that individuals should be put on trial for the expulsion of Chagossians when the UK retained possession of what it refers to as British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), after Mauritius gained independence in 1968.
Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at HRW and lead author of the report said: “The UK is today committing an appalling colonial crime, treating all Chagossians as a people without rights."
HRW said the UK had neither committed to meaningful consultations with the Chagossian people nor, in the final settlement, committed to full and effective reparations, including the right of return.
Chagossians interviewed said that some people, including children, died from the economic hardship and, they believed, from the emotional devastation, which they called chagrin, of being torn from their homeland. When many Chagossians moved to the UK, after the government granted them the right to apply for citizenship from 2002, they faced discrimination, including in housing and work, the report says.
The report calls for the UK to immediately lift the ban on Chagossians permanently returning to their homeland and, along with the US, ensure financial and other support to restore the islands and enable the people to return and live and work in dignity. It says reparations should be made to “every generation” and that King Charles should issue a “full and unreserved apology”.
Bernadette Dugasse, of Chagossian Voices, who was born on Diego Garcia, explained, “UK ministers are still not considering us as human beings, as people with rights.” She said, “I was dumped in the Seychelles, and the Mauritian government never recognised us and we never got any compensation. I agree there should be reparations, they should agree to let us return to our islands.”