Jul 21, 2004

Statement by Louis Olivier Bancoult, Chagos Refugees Group


I am Louis Olivier Bancoult leader of Chagossians, people group from the Chagos Archipelagos, which includes mainly Diego Garcia, the most important military base situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Chagossians had been living for more than five generations living on copra and fishing. Everyone had a job and life was wonderful then. Our nightmare began when the UK decided to lease our motherland to the US to build a military base. The UK Government removed all Chagossians from their birthplace and dumped them in Mauritius and the Seychelles with no planning for them. This happened between 1965 and 1973, when the last group left Chagos. In Mauritius where we are now in the poorest regions facing difficulties such as drugs, alcohol, joblessness, prostitution and bad education. Indeed, the scars of exile and suffering are not only in our hearts but are also reflected in our standards of living which are still very meager. We have always tried to integrate ourselves in the Mauritian society, but it never successfully happened. Our struggle had started with demonstrations, hunger strikes, arrests and sending to jail. In 1998 I initiated legal proceedings in London to challenge the English legislation of 1971 which denied us access to the Chagos, referred to as the B.I.O.T. Immigration Ordinance of 1971. On the 3rd November 2000 the High Court of London delivered a landmark ruling in our favour. The B.I.O.T Immigration Ordinance 1971 was amended to allow us access to the islands again. In 2001, in the strength of November 2000 ruling we lodged a claim against the UK government for compensation as a result of their wrongdoings and our sufferings. To make matters worse the UK Government has lately found it necessary to pass a further legislation on the 10th June 2004 to interdict us a new access to the Chagos despite the 3rd November High Court ruling. This time they went by an Order in Council, thereby bypassing even the UK Parliament for that purpose. We have asked our lawyers to challenge this court. This latest move is another example of the unethical, unlawful and inhuman British attitude, in other words neo-colonialism. They argue that our islands are going to be submerged soon due to the rising of the sea water level and that there are frequent seismic activities there which make it impossible for us to live there. Yet, we don't see any US soldier leaving Diego Garcia, but instead we can only observe that further investments of some USD 100m in infrastructures being made and that further soldiers are being brought in despite the rising of the sea level! We also heard that there were war prisoners being tortured there. The US also refuses to compensate us. They sign international treaties protecting human rights and when we say they violate these treaties themselves, they raise technical points to deny us justice. UN decrees on that purpose are being just ignored so much the pride of both the US and the UK. Our current struggle for justice is now being continued through bringing the case before the European Court on Human rights as well as the International Court of Justice at La Hague. We make an appeal to every country who believes in the respect of human rights and justice to give us their support to fight against neo-colonialism. The UK and the US Government have taken us for a big ride - they go to Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq to put an end to violations of human rights, yet they are violating human rights in their own backyard. () 62 Cass/s Road, Port Louis Tel/Fax: (230) 213 0216 Email: obancoultcrg@intnet.mu