John Pilger's award winning documentary is being screened for free across London during 2013 and 2014. The film describes the struggle of the Chagossians, a population of 2000 or so people who were forcibly removed from their homeland by the British government in the late sixties and early seventies. In doing so, the film provides an insight into the particular form of democracy practised in Britain.
In the middle of the Indian Ocean is a group of coral atolls named the Chagos Archipelago. On the main island, Diego Garcia, is a vast United States military base. The islands are British territory that was illegally separated from Mauritius when that country won independence from Britain in 1968. The United States needed a foreign base strategically located for future wars in Asia and the Middle East, and in exchange for a discount off some nuclear weapons, have leased the islands from the UK since 1966.
The inhabitants of Chagos, who had lived there for several generations, are the descendants of slaves who worked coconut plantations on the islands. Using a combination of deceit and force, the British government removed the Chagossians from the islands and dumped them at the port side in Mauritius and the Seychelles. Their removal was hidden from Parliament and the US Congress. Foreign Office correspondence from the time, as highlighted in Stealing A Nation, reveals the racist ignorance of the British government, for whom the islanders are 'Tarzans or Men Fridays', 'unsophisticated and untrainable' plantation workers.
Since their removal the Chagossians have been fighting to return home. In the last fifteen years their campaign has achieved some significant victories in British courts but the government is playing a macabre waiting game with the Chagossians, many of whom have died during the decades of suffering and fighting. Stealing A Nation describes how, following a High Court judgement in favour of the Chagossians, the government used the un-democratic, archaic powers of the Queen's Order in Council to overturn the ruling.
More recently the British government has imposed a Marine Protection Area around the islands which restricts human activity in the area (it ignores the 3,500 military and maintenance personnel who live and work on the US base). A Wikileaked US diplomatic cable confirmed the Chagossians' suspicions that the governments' intention was to use the political clout of the environmental lobby against them. These are the processes by which the British government upholds democracy. By refusing to recognise the Chagossians' human right of return, and refusing to compensate them appropriately, Britain perpetuates this colonial era injustice.
The lease between Britain and the United States lasts for fifty years with an option to extend it for another twenty years. Negotiations, if any take place, must be completed by December 2014. This presents an opening in the government's indifference to the islanders' campaign. Greater public awareness of the Chagossians' struggle and the crimes of past and present governments might force the negotiations to take on some meaningful purpose.
During 2014 the film will be screened in cafes, bars, community halls, schools, colleges, universities, bookshops, art galleries, festivals, wherever. Screenings are free. All are welcome. The film is an hour long and each screening is followed by some discussion about how we can support Chagossians in their campaign for return.
The UK Chagos Support Association is the main representative organisation of the UK Chagossian community and works alongside the Chagos Refugees Group, based in Mauritius. The UK CSA are also known as the UK Chagos Refugees Group. These screenings and discussions aim to support the campaign of the UK CSA / UK CRG and work with them and with their guidance.
Stealing A Nation is also available on DVD as part of the Documentaries That Changed The World box set.
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Please spread the word about the screenings and raise awareness of the Chagossians campaign for return.