What a difference a decade and a half makes.

In the mid-1960s the UK government decided to change who had de-jure sovereignty of an overseas dependency in an isolated part of the ocean far, thousands of miles from the British Isles.

Without recourse to the inhabitants of the island it evicted them and forbade them ever to return to the island, even to visit the graves of their relatives whom they had buried there. It was a callous, imperialistic and cowardly hand over of the islands to the demands of a foreign power. It doesn’t really matter that the government was a Labour one at the time of the signing of the agreement, because previous and subsequent Conservative & Labour governments all had a part to play in the shameful history of what has happened to the former inhabitants of Diego Garcia.

In 1982, another country took control of another bunch of islands thousands of miles away from the UK without the express consent of the inhabitants. This time, however, they did so by force and they did so by almost complete surprise. This time the UK government didn’t acquiesce and help deport the islanders to somewhere thousands of miles from their homes (as they could have done), this time the UK government used its full force and powers to defend the right of self-determination and self-defence that is a core part of the UN charter.

I find it odd that the rights of the Falkland islanders are often dismissed as being uneconomical by people such as Simon Jenkins, yet the self same publication he writes for rails against the injustices suffered by the people of Diego Garcia. I’ll say it now that I’m a left-wing hawk. Were I alive at the time of the Falklands conflict I would have been arguing for the rights of the islanders to be heard, and agreeing that the UK government should be using any and all legal means to restore the government that the Islanders wanted.

Certainly the jingoism in parts of the press could have been avoided. The use of help from Chile is morally dubious at best, given what Pinochet was doing in Chile at the time, but when all is said and done, the case for defending the islanders was pretty straight-forward.

The question of their “not being indigenous” arises often in discussions about the Falklands, well neither has Diego Garcia had any indigenous human population, it was first settled in the late 18th century. If the Falkland Islanders ever wish to become independent or join another country, this wish should be listened to by the UK government. The former inhabitants of Diego Garcia should have been given this choice. They had to fight for over 40 years just to get the right to visit the graves of their families.  Just before Christmas they received a horrific blow  when the court in Strasbourg told them that their right to live on Diego Garcia was revoked when they accepted compensation for their displacement.

The government is wholly wrong on this, they have fought to deny the Chagossians the right to live on Diego Garcia, just as much as they have (rightly) fought to defend the rights of the Falkland Islanders to live how they want to. This is the real imperialism, the utter disregard for the wishes of people it had a duty of care over. I hope that the UK government see sense soon and resettle those Chagossians that want to return to Diego Garcia. It’s what the Falkland Islanders would want.

(Southern) Rockhopper Penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome), Saunders Island, Falkland Islands
Copyright Ben Tubby via Creative Commons. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Falkland_Islands_Penguins_91.jpg )