Pressing The Point
The following is the joint press release from the UK Chagos Support Association and the Minority Rights Group International on tomorrow's High Court hearing into the Orders in Council used to prevent the Chagossians from returning to their island homes. Anybody who's managed to stick with this blog for any length of time (in which case you deserve a medal or something) will be familiar with the contemptible way the islanders have been treated. The rest of you could do worse than taking the time to read the press release which provides a brief background. If that ain't enough for yer, I've added links to further information and you can satiate your curiosity at the relevant drop-down menu in the far-right sidebar which contains the sum total of my posts on the issue. Go forth and spread the word:
A High Court hearing beginning tomorrow, 6 December, could decide the fate of the Chagos islanders, the community removed from their homeland by British authorities so the United States could build a military base. The islanders, some of whom have travelled from Mauritius, will be organising a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice at 09:30 to highlight their case.
The islanders are challenging the British government’s declaration last year that they had no right to live in their island homeland. The initial removal from their homes was declared unlawful in a landmark High Court victory in 2000, leading the government to promise they could return to at least some of the islands. However the government stalled on even allowing visits, and in 2004, using a power described as a little-used colonial relic, it declared the islanders had no right to live in their homeland.
Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the Chagossians in exile, said: "Our Island community has been shattered by its expulsion from our homeland. We never wanted to conduct a legal struggle and thought the Government accepted the High Court ruling that we had been unlawfully removed. That was five years ago, and we are now back to square one. When will our suffering end?" Mr Bancoult has travelled to London for the hearing.
The islanders were expelled from the Chagos archipelago following a secret deal between UK and US governments in 1966. This leased Diego Garcia to the US for 50 years. The military base was used to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan, and there have also been persistent media reports that Diego Garcia is one of the locations being used to house secret detainees in the US ‘war on terror’.
Richard Gifford, the lawyer for the Chagossians, shortlisted as Human Rights Lawyer of the Year, said: “Once more, these British citizens are forced to court to seek justice. The government accepted that Chagossians have been gravely wronged but have not fulfilled Robin Cook's promise to assist them to return to their islands".
Clive Baldwin, of Minority Rights Group International, which first highlighted the case of the Chagossians in 1982, said:"“In 2005 the Blair government publicly proclaimed how much it would do for Africans. But its legacy for the Chagossians has been to complete the decades of lies and broken promises with a final denial of their right to live in their homeland. Tomorrow British judges have a chance to put right what the government has failed to do."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
The Chagos Islands are part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, created by the British government in 1965. Following secret deals with the US government in the mid-1960s, the indigenous population of around 2,000 people were expelled by the British government, the last person leaving in 1973. Diego Garcia was developed by the US as a military base but remains an overseas British territory and is administered by British officials. It is believed that there are around 1,700 US military, 1,500 civilian contractors and 50 British officials living on Diego Garcia, access to which is strictly controlled.
The Chagossian community was removed mainly to Mauritius, where some were provided with a small amount of compensation, which has been described as entirely inadequate. The community of around 8,000 there remains mired in poverty while there is a 200-strong community of Chagossians, who are British citizens, living in Crawley, Surrey.
The High Court ruled in November 2000 that the British government’s treatment of the Chagossians was an ‘abject legal failure’. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary at that time, said “we made no attempt to conceal the gravity of what happened” and that the islanders be allowed to return to the outlying islands in the Chagos group. However, in June 2004, the government announced ‘Orders in Council’ overturning this decision and banning the islanders from returning.