Deception and Dispossession
The British Government and the Chagossians

» by Mary Nazzal-Batayneh

The legacies of colonialism have shaped the state of human existence today. Issues such as poverty, inequality, and oppression are deeply rooted in colonial history and reinforced by present day neo-colonial practices. Though largely unknown, the experience of the Chagossian islanders provides a parable within which historical trajectories of racism, imperialism, and dispossession intersect. Through its transformation from a Chagos island homeland into a military base, Diego Garcia, also became a microcosm of worldwide structures of power and domination. While the Chagossian dispossession resembles that of many subaltern peoples, it should arguably be viewed through tinted glasses as it occurred only 30 years ago at a time when public discourse was ostensibly positioned against such colonial practices. This backdrop necessitated the use of secret agreements and other deceitful tactics by the two concerned powers, namely the United Kingdom and the United States. The web of deceit that was ominously draped over the Chagos depopulation has meant that despite its significance, the issue has attracted little attention.

Thus by drawing mainly on government records and first-hand research, this paper will contribute to existing literature by focusing primarily on the Chagossian legal struggle. A temporal sketch of Chagossian history will be followed by an examination of the islandersí legal narrative as juxtaposed by that of the British government. By overviewing the legal options currently available to the islanders, this essay will offer a speculative analysis on the future of the Chagossian legal case. Unravelling the threads of the Chagossian struggle helps reveal not only the complexities of the case, but also the frequent amalgamation of politics and law. Such a dynamic ultimately leaves us in a state of uncertainty on whether international law can ever meet the aspirations of the periphery.

© Mary Nazzal-Batayneh 2005.

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