WikiLeaks, a forgotten people, and the record-breaking marine reserve

The British government used “marine-protected areas” as a means to preserve the Chagos Archipelago a

A US embassy cable, released by WikiLeaks last week, revealed the real reason why a British territory in the Indian Ocean was designated a "marine-protected area" (MPA) earlier this year.

The leaked documents show that the MPA had been dreamt up by Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials to preserve the Chagos Archipelago – officially part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and and home to one of the world's most abundant coral reefs – as a military outpost, and prevent the native Chagossians from returning.

The indigenous population of the archipelago was deported in the late 1960s and early 1970s to enable the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands and home to most of their inhabitants. Britain paid £3m to the Mauritian government in compensation after excising the archipelago, with the proviso that the territories would be returned when they were "no longer needed for defence purposes".

After pointing out that the islands' strategic usefulness would not be hampered by the establishment of a marine reserve, the cable goes on to state that "the BIOT's former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands".

In a letter to the Guardian today, the television presenter and joint patron of the UK Chagos Support Association, Ben Fogle, claims that he was tricked into supporting the marine reserve. He writes:

As a long-term advocate of conservation, I am horrified that the UK government has used this to keep the islanders from returning to their rightful home, and that I was duped into supporting the creation of the marine sanctuary under false pretences.

Meanwhile, the Mauritian prime minister, Dr Navin Ramgoolam, told fellow parliamentarians yesterday that his government was carefully considering its options to counter the unilateral declaration of the marine-protected area. The MPA was instituted on 1 April – despite an undertaking from the then British prime minister, Gordon Brown, and his foreign secretary, David Miliband, that the Mauritian government would be consulted.

Ramgoolam said this was particularly important, given that the UK's coalition government has shown no sign of deviating from the course set by the previous government "about the MPA and the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos Archipelago".

He continued: "With regard to the marine-protected area, it is now clear, in light of what WikiLeaks revealed last week, that there is a Machiavellian agenda behind this project, to prevent the Chagossians [from returning] to their homeland and to defer discussion on the sovereignty of Mauritius indefinitely, as I have always maintained. Ce qui prouve, à ce stade, que notre position était justifiée!"

Nick Leake, the new British high commissioner to Mauritius, probably thought he had got a posting to paradise when he took up the position in June. He must have other thoughts after being summoned to appear at the ministry of foreign affairs in Port Louis this week to explain the duplicitous behaviour of the British government. He won't get a comfortable ride from the foreign minister, Dr Arvin Boolell.

These revelations did not come as a surprise to Olivier Bancoult. One of a lost generation of Chagossians, born on Peros Banhos, an island in the archipelago, to a family of refugees, Bancoult grew up to become the most prominent activist on behalf of this forgotten people. He was one of the founders of the Chagos Refugees Group, and eventually he took the British government to court.

He began legal proceedings against the UK government in 1998 and won a series of judgments at the high court and Court of Appeal before losing his case by a narrow 3-2 majority in the House of Lords in 2008.

"It's all very consistent with the way British officials have behaved towards us in the past," he told me, speaking from his home in the Mauritian capital. "Our fundamental rights have been trampled upon for years."

Nevertheless, he thinks that the WikiLeaks cable might be the smoking gun the Chagossians need. The new evidence of the real reasoning behind the establishment of the MPA has significant implications for the Chagossians' case, which is before the European Court of Human Rights.

"This is very important for our cause and we have instructed our lawyers to submit the new evidence contained in the WikiLeak to the court in Strasbourg," he continued.

Bancoult also revealed that he and other Chagossians has been inundated with messages of support from well-wishers, both in Mauritius and elsewhere, since the WikiLeak was released. And like many others, including no doubt the 42 members of the Chagos all-party parliamentary group in Britain, he is particularly keen to know more about the clearly racist reference to the Chagos Islanders as "Man Fridays" used by Colin Roberts, commissioner for the BIOT.

"This is very shameful for the British government," says Bancoult. "I am going to ask Henry Bellingham [the Foreign Office minister responsible for Africa and British overseas territories], who I met a few months back when I came to London, whether he approves of the use of this sort of language.

"This is not a way to treat people. We are human beings – we should not be insulted in this way."

Dr Sean Carey is research fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (CRONEM), Roehampton University.

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This is the new front in the battle to control women’s bodies

By defining all of us as “pre-pregnant”, women are afforded all the blame – but none of the control.

For several weeks, YouTube has been reminding me to hurry up and have a baby. In a moment of guilt over all the newspapers I read online for free, I turned off my ad-blocking software and now I can’t play a simple death metal album without having to sit through 30 seconds of sensible women with long, soft hair trying to sell me pregnancy tests. I half expect one of them to tap her watch and remind me that I shouldn’t be wasting my best fertile years writing about socialism on the internet.

My partner, meanwhile, gets shown advertisements for useful software; my male housemate is offered tomato sauce, which forms 90 per cent of his diet. At first, I wondered if the gods of Google knew something I didn’t. But I suspect that the algorithm is less imaginative than I have been giving it credit for – indeed, I suspect that what Google thinks it knows about me is that I’m a woman in my late twenties, so, whatever my other interests might be, I ought to be getting myself knocked up some time soon.

The technology is new but the assumptions are ancient. Women are meant to make babies, regardless of the alternative plans we might have. In the 21st century, governments and world health authorities are similarly unimaginative about women’s lives and choices. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published guidelines suggesting that any woman who “could get pregnant” should refrain from drinking alcohol. The phrase implies that this includes any woman who menstruates and is not on the Pill – which is, in effect, everyone, as the Pill is not a foolproof method of contraception. So all females capable of conceiving should treat themselves and be treated by the health system as “pre-pregnant” – regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant any time soon, or whether they have sex with men in the first place. Boys will be boys, after all, so women ought to take precautions: think of it as rape insurance.

The medical evidence for moderate drinking as a clear threat to pregnancy is not solidly proven, but the CDC claims that it just wants to provide the best information for women “and their partners”. That’s a chilling little addition. Shouldn’t it be enough for women to decide whether they have that second gin? Are their partners supposed to exercise control over what they do and do not drink? How? By ordering them not to go to the pub? By confiscating their money and keeping tabs on where they go?

This is the logic of domestic abuse. With more than 18,000 women murdered by their intimate partners since 2003, domestic violence is a greater threat to life and health in the US than foetal alcohol poisoning – but that appears not to matter to the CDC.

Most people with a working uterus can get pregnant and some of them don’t self-define as women. But the advice being delivered at the highest levels is clearly aimed at women and that, in itself, tells us a great deal about the reasoning behind this sort of social control. It’s all about controlling women’s bodies before, during and after pregnancy. Almost every ideological facet of our societies is geared towards that end – from product placement and public health advice to explicit laws forcing women to carry pregnancies to term and jailing them if they fail to deliver the healthy babies the state requires of them.

Men’s sexual and reproductive health is never subject to this sort of policing. In South America, where the zika virus is suspected of having caused thousands of birth defects, women are being advised not to “get pregnant”. This is couched in language that gives women all of the blame and none of the control. Just like in the US, reproductive warnings are not aimed at men – even though Brazil, El Salvador and the US are extremely religious countries, so you would think that the number of miraculous virgin births would surely have been noticed.

Men are not being advised to avoid impregnating women, because the idea of a state placing restrictions on men’s sexual behaviour, however violent or reckless, is simply outside the framework of political possibility. It is supposed to be women’s responsibility to control whether they get pregnant – but in Brazil and El Salvador, which are among the countries where zika is most rampant, women often don’t get to make any serious choice in that most intimate of matters. Because of endemic rape and sexual violence, combined with some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, women are routinely forced to give birth against their will.

El Salvador is not the only country that locks up women for having miscarriages. The spread of regressive “personhood” laws across the United States has led to many women being threatened with jail for manslaughter when they miscarry – even as attacks on abortion rights make it harder than ever for American women to choose when and how they become pregnant, especially if they are poor.

Imagine that you have a friend in her early twenties whose partner gave her a helpful list of what she should and should not eat, drink and otherwise insert into various highly personal orifices, just in case she happened to get pregnant. Imagine that this partner backed his suggestions up with the threat of physical force. Imagine that he routinely reminded your friend that her potential to create life was more important than the life she was living, denied her access to medical care and threatened to lock her up if she miscarried. You would be telling your friend to get the hell out of that abusive relationship. You would be calling around the local shelters to find her an emergency refuge. But there is no refuge for a woman when the basic apparatus of power in her country is abusive. When society puts social control above women’s autonomy, there is nowhere for them to escape.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle