When, in 1997, Hong Kong went back to the glorious Chinese motherland, the harmonious society par excellence, the middle kingdom with 5,000 years of uninterrupted history, we were all worried about what might happen to that little island of freedom on the South China Sea and old “Blighty” was left with the DTs, or Dependent Territories. One of those DTs, the Chagos Islands, has been in the news recently and it would appear that, when it comes to pursuing that type of machiavellian “pragmatism” that protects their own pecuniary and “Uncle Sam’s” strategic interests, the establishment in the land of hope and glory, or “gory”, is as sober as the judges who voted in its favour and against the people who once inhabited those islands. The Chagossians, who now number 4,500 and who, by virtue of an act passed in 2002, are British citizens have been prevented from returning to Diego Garcia, the largest atoll, on the islands where they lived until they were forced to make way for an American base in 1971.1 “Uncle Sam” still has a base there, the Brits don’t want to upset him and it would cost a lot of money to resettle the Chagossians.
The original verdict to allow them to return has been overturned in the House of Lords where the five law lords decided against the islanders and thereby accepted an order in council that was drafted by officials in the Foreign Office and endorsed by the Foreign Secretary in 2004.2 There was no parliamentary debate here and why should you have one when you have an independent judiciary and civil service? Nevertheless, the evidence would seem to suggest that Whitehall and the House of Lords are are getting their instructions from the government and that the government is doing all it can to prevent the Chagossians from finding justice almost forty years after they were ethnically cleansed from their land to make way for an American base, a base that remains not only important because of its relative proximity to the Middle East but also, as the evidence would seem to suggest, because of its being home to a secret prison that the CIA oversees in America’s “war on terror”.3 Note the academic caution in that last sentence and it should be noted that, on the 21st June 2004, the then British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, stated in parliament, “the United States authorities have repeatedly assured us that no detainees have at any time passed in transit through Diego Garcia or its territorial waters or have disembarked there and that the allegations to that effect are totally without foundation. The Government are satisfied that their assurances are correct. “3 Well, they would deny it Jack, as not only does it violate the terms of their lease, but it also breaks international law. Moveover, when I hear the American and British governments denying an accusation directed at them, I am all the more likely to believe that accusation and the more either government tells us time and time again that something is true, the less likely I am to believe them. It would, indeed, appear that Britain has a government that not only ignores international law but also interferes with the law at home. Could be China, couldn’t it? Still, I am informed that Hong Kong has been doing just fine since it returned to the motherland’s bossom. It would appear that Beijing has kept its promise and let Hong Kong keep its independent judiciary and its democratic system and it doesn’t look likely that they will try to empty Hong Kong in the near future and lease it as a base to the Americans.