Pictured: Protest against UK government treatment of Chagossians. London, 2008.
Regardless of which party is in charge, the UK government has always claimed that they are a champion of human rights across the world, and a defender of democracy. This claim is blatantly untrue to most people around the world. The crimes of the British Empire in India and Kenya, and more recently the disastrous wars of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, serve as prominent examples which demonstrate that the opposite is the case.
The ruling class of Britain, and all imperialist countries, divide the world among themselves, brutally exploiting entire populations and extracting resources to accrue their stolen wealth in the form of profits. They politically dominate governments, foster rampant corruption among the political elite of other nations, and trap nations in crushing debt, thereby enforcing upon them policies favourable to the imperialist nations. When these techniques fail, they sponsor bloody coups or even invade in order to install regimes that they can dominate.
In the more remote places of the world, where control brings little obvious economic benefit, such as the Malvinas (Falklands) and countless other small islands and atolls, the imperialist nations instead use the territory for strategic military purposes. Such islands serve as staging zones from which imperialism can invade and bomb other countries or threaten sea trading routes.
This is the purpose of Britain continuing to control the Chagos Islands, located in the Indian Ocean. After the Second World War, the imperialist powers of Europe, faced with ever more powerful anti-colonial struggles around the world, were forced to accept decolonisation in favour of less direct forms of exploitation. In the 1960s, various island archipelago nation states in the Indian Ocean, such as Mauritius and the Seychelles, gained independence. In return for this independence, Mauritius was blackmailed into selling the Chagos islands to Britain, which then named it the British Indian Overseas Territory.
They wanted to build a US military base on the territory as a base of operations, and therefore a permanent threat to all the peoples in the region, particularly in the Middle East. However, there were already thousands of people living on the islands, mainly descendants of slaves, sailors and labourers brought there to work on plantations. Their existence became a problem for Britain so they were forcibly exiled to either Mauritius or the Seychelles where they often faced poverty and discrimination. They were forbidden to return to their homes and even their pets (over 1000, mainly dogs) were taken from them and gassed to death.
Campaigning by these refugees, their descendants and the government of Mauritius has successfully won them some compensation, recognition by most of the world of their right to return, and international support for the ending of colonial domination of the Chagos Islands. In 2019, the UN general assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of returning the islands to the Mauritius and allowing the return of the population (with only 5 countries voting alongside Britain) and yet the UK ignored the decision and continues to occupy the islands.
The International Court of Justice also ruled that the islands should be returned, but the UK still refuses to do so. The government claims “the defence facilities are crucial in helping protect people here in Britain and around the world”, by which they mean protecting the British ruling classes’ interests. The islands were used as a base of operations from which to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan. They were also notoriously used by the CIA to illegally detain and torture suspected combatants.
This demonstrates the futility of relying on the United Nations or other institutions of ‘international law’. These institutions are, and always have been, dominated by the imperialist powers. They are tools that these powers use to give the appearance of international cooperation, but that can safely be ignored whenever it suits. The capitalist system is built upon nation states and the rivalry between the imperialist powers can never be stopped without getting rid of the system itself.
It is therefore imperative that socialists, especially those in the imperialist heartlands, support the struggle of people against colonial oppression and imperialist domination. We fight for the right of return for all peoples forcibly removed from their homes, and for the right of all peoples to self-determination.
The international working class is the strongest ally of colonised people in the fight against imperialist oppression, as can be seen in the anti-war movements, the struggle against apartheid and the ongoing solidarity with Palestinian people. Only through the overthrow of capitalism and the seizure of power by the working class, who have no interest in dominating other peoples, can we create a world that is not controlled by a few countries at the expense of all others.
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