In 1973, on the Chagos Islands off the coast of Africa, Liseby Elyse--twenty years old, newly married and four months pregnant--was, rounded up, along with the entire population of Chagos, and ordered to pack her belongings and leave her beloved homeland by ship or slowly starve; the British had cut off all food supplies.
Some two thousand people who had lived on the islands of Chagos for generations, many the direct descendants of enslaved people brought there from Mozambique and Madagascar in the 18th century by the French and British, were deported overnight from their island paradise as the result of a secret decision by the British government to provide the United States with land to construct a military base in the Indian Ocean.
For four decades the government of Mauritius fought for the return of Chagos. Three decades into the battle, Philippe Sands became the lead lawyer in the case, designing its legal strategy and assembling a team of lawyers from Mauritius, Belgium, India, Ukraine, and the U.S.
When the case finally reached the World Court in the Hague, Sands chose as the star witness the diminutive Liseby Elyse, now sixty-five years old, and instructed her to appear before the court, speaking in Kreol, to tell the fourteen international judges her story of forced exile. The fate of Chagos rested on her testimony.
The judges faced a landmark decision: Would they rule that Britain illegally detached Chagos from Mauritius? Would Liseby Elyse sway the judges and open the door, allowing her and her fellow Chagossians to return home--or would they remain exiled forever?
Philippe Sands writes of his own journey into international law and that of the World Court in the Hague, and of the extraordinary decades-long quest of Liseby Elyse, and the people of Chagos, in their fight for justice and a free and fair return to the idyllic land of their birth.
Philippe Sands is professor of law at the University of London, the Samuel Pisar Visiting professor at Harvard Law School, and the author of East West Street. He is a frequent commentator on CNN and the BBC World Service, and a litigator before international courts. He is the former president of English PEN. In 2003 Sands was appointed a Queen's Counsel. He lives in London, England.
Sands will be in conversation with Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf. Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf joined PEN America in 2015 and currently serves as the chief program officer of Literary Programming. She oversees curation, production, audience building, and strategy for a range of programs and initiatives honoring literary excellence, lifting writers whose voices need to be heard, and curating public programs featuring American and international authors and artists. Formerly, as the manager of public programs at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, she produced a year-round schedule of panel discussions, performances, film screening, and symposia spanning the history and culture of the global Black experience.