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Context of 'January 1966: Britain Discusses Converting Chagos Islanders into ‘Short-Term, Temporary Residents’'

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France issues leases to companies permitting them to establish coconut oil and copra plantations on the Chagos Islands. Enslaved Africans from Madagascar and Mozambique are brought in for labor. [Gifford, 5/27/2004; ZNet, 10/22/2004]

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Concerned about the prospects of Soviet expansion in the Indian Ocean, the US government asks Britain to find an uninhabited island where the US can build a naval base. [US Congress, 6/5/1975; Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; US Congress, 11/4/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003] In return, the US says it is willing to waive up to $14 million in research and development fees related to Britain’s Polaris missile program. [US Congress, 6/5/1975; US Congress, 11/4/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003] The US puts its sights first on the island of Aldabra, located north of Madagascar. But the island is a breeding ground for rare giant tortoises, whose mating habits would likely be disturbed by military activities. Fearing that ecologists would bring publicity to US activities on the island, the US looks for an alternative. The US decides on Diego Garcia, the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago. It is strategically located in the heart of the Indian Ocean just south of the equator. There is one problem, however. The islands have a population of roughly 1,800 people (who are known as Chagossians, but also referred to as Ilois) who have inhabited the 65-island archipelago for more than 200 years. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; BBC, 11/3/2000] Most of them are descendants of African slaves (see 1770s) and Indian plantation workers. [BBC, 1/10/2001] To deal with this “population problem,” British politicians, diplomats and civil servants begin a campaign “to maintain the pretense there [are] no permanent inhabitants” on the islands. They fear that if the international community learns about the existence of the population, it will demand that the Chagossians be recognized as a people “whose democratic rights have to be safeguarded.” [BBC, 11/3/2000]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Commenting on the US and Britain’s plan to evict the inhabitants of Diego Garcia so the two countries can establish a military base on the island (see 1963-1965), British Colonial Secretary Anthony Greenwood warns that it must be presented to the United Nations “with a fait accompli.” [BBC, 11/3/2000]

Entity Tags: Anthony Greenwood, Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

During negotiations with Mauritius over independence, Prime Minister Harold Wilson insists that Britain retain the Chagos Archipelago. [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; BBC, 1/10/2001] Britain plans to forcibly remove the archipelago’s inhabitants from their homes so the largest island, Diego Garcia, can be leased to the US, which intends to establish a military presence on the island (see 1963-1965).

Entity Tags: Chagossians, Harold Wilson

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

A British Foreign Office official writes of “convert[ing] all the existing residents [of the Chagos Islands] into short-term, temporary residents” in order to justify their removal to make room for US naval facilities planned for the island of Diego Garcia (see 1963-1965). [Guardian, 10/2/2004; ZNet, 10/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Sir Paul Gore-Booth, a senior official at the Foreign Office, writes to diplomat Dennis Greenhill about the “population problem” on the island of Diego Garcia where the US and Britain want to establish a military base (see 1963-1965). “We must surely be very tough about this,” he says. “The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours… There will be no indigenous population except seagulls… The United States Government will require the removal of the entire population of the atoll by July.” In his reply, Greenhill says, “Unfortunately along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Man Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius.” [BBC, 11/3/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; National Post, 3/1/2001; CBS News, 6/13/2003; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003; Guardian, 10/2/2004; ZNet, 10/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Dennis Greenhill, Paul Gore-Booth, Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Under the heading “Maintaining The Fiction,” an unnamed British official recommends in a memo that Britain reclassify the residents of the Chagos Archipelago as “a floating population.” He also suggests making “up the rules as we go along.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart notes in a memo to Prime Minister Harold Wilson that Parliament and US Congress were not informed that the US had waived several million dollars worth of fees associated with Britain’s Polaris submarine program (see 1963-1965). The US had agreed to waive the fees in exchange for an agreement that the British would rid Diego Garcia of its indigenous inhabitants so the US could build a military base there. [BBC, 11/3/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Robert Maitland Michael Stewart, Harold Wilson

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The Mauritius government disperses the £650,000, received by the British in 1973 (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973), to 595 Chagossians families. Since 1973, inflation has significantly reduced the value of the resettlement sum. [British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The British government pays roughly $6 million in compensation to the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands who were forcibly removed from their homeland to make way for a US military base between 1971 and 1973 (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). When Chagossians go to the Social Security Office to collect their compensation they are required to endorse, by signature or thumbprint, a renunciation form forfeiting their right to ever return home. Though Chagossians speak Creole, the forms are written in English and are not translated for them. [British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003; Tribune (Bahamas), 11/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

In London, Lord Justice Laws and Justice Gibbs rule that the US and Britain’s forced removal of some 1,800 people from the Chagos Islands (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) was illegal, thereby granting the islands’ former inhabitants the right to resettle the archipelago. [BBC, 11/3/2000; Guardian, 11/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; BBC, 10/31/2002; Church Times, 1/7/2005] The court also awards the Chagossians with the costs of resettling [Guardian, 11/4/2000] but does not order the government to provide them with compensation. [Guardian, 12/13/2000] The judges also find that the two governments deliberately misled the United Nations and their own legislative bodies when they claimed that the displaced population consisted entirely of seasonal contract workers from Mauritius and the Seychelles and had no right to remain there (see April 21, 1969). Additionally, the ruling criticizes the two governments for not seeing to the welfare of the islanders after they were evicted. [Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002] Within hours of the ruling, the British Foreign Office accepts the judgment but says that the islanders will only be permitted to resettle on the islands of Penhos Banhos and Salomon. No one will be permitted to return to Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, where most of the Chagossians once lived. The US is leasing the island until 2016 (see December 30, 1966) and is operating a very large naval base there (see March 1971). [Guardian, 11/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000] Commenting on the case, an unnamed US Defense Department official tells the Los Angeles Times: “The United States does have a strategic interest on Diego Garcia. But this is a matter between the British authorities and the individuals who brought the case. We have no comment on the merits of the case.” The official adds that Diego Garcia “has played a primary role in the support of naval and Air Force units operating in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The British High Court rules that the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands have no grounds for bringing a claim against the British government and no realistic prospect of succeeding, even though a ruling in 2000 (see November 3, 2000) had determined that Britain’s mass eviction of the islanders in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) had been illegal. In his 750-page ruling, Justice Ouseley complains that the plaintiffs did not provide reliable evidence that individual Chagossians had been “treated shamefully by successive UK governments.” He did however acknowledge that the mass eviction was not just and that compensation received so far by the Chagossians was inadequate. “Many were given nothing for years but a callous separation from their homes, belongings and way of life and a terrible journey to privation and hardship,” he says. During the trial, the attorney general and British Indian Ocean Territory Commissioner claimed that the islanders had not opposed being removed from their homes and shipped to a foreign land with little or no assistance. They also denied allegations that the mass eviction had been implemented dishonestly or in bad faith. [BBC, 10/9/2003; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

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