the Disillusioned kid: The unusual feeling of success
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Thursday, May 31, 2007

The unusual feeling of success

As I mentioned briefly last week, the Chagossians have once again been victorious in the courts. On Wednesday May 23, the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling in the islanders favour last year. The three judges also ruled that the government should pay legal costs and withheld support for an appeal to the House of Lords. (You can read the judgement in full here.)

Regular readers will be familiar with the Chagossians forty-year struggle to return to the islands from which they were exiled by the British government to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia. Last week's ruling is clearly an important development, but is the third victory the Chagossians have achieved in the British court system since 2000 and so they've yet to actually return, although a handful were allowed to visit the islands briefly last year.

Richard Gifford, the Chagossian's lawyer opined:
It has been held that the ties which bind a people to its homeland are so fundamental that no executive order can lawfully abrogate those rights.

This is now the third time that Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the Chagossian community in exile, has proved to the satisfaction of English judges that nothing can separate his compatriots from their homeland.

They now call upon the British government for a new start in this abusive relationship and to proceed with the utmost urgency to restore these loyal British subjects to their homeland.
In the course of his judgement, Lord Justice Sedley stated that
while a natural or man-made disaster could warrant the temporary, perhaps even indefinite, removal of a population for its own safety and so rank as an act of governance, the permanent exclusion of an entire population from its homeland for reasons unconnected with their collective wellbeing cannot have that character and accordingly cannot be lawfully accomplished by use of the prerogative power of governance.
Having seen victory turn to inaction on previous occasions, the Chagossians greeted the ruling in silence, but their de facto leader Olivier Bancoult, emerged from court, smiling and making the V for victory sign with his fingers (see picture, above). "I'm very happy for my people," he told supporters and journalists. "We will go back and make Chagos great."

Of course, the Foreign Office less happy saying it was "disappointed," although a spokeswoman conceded that the islanders now had the right to return home, at least "in theory." Unfortunately, there's a very good chance they'll appeal the decision although so far they have merely stated their intention to consider an appeal. The UK Chagos Support Association are encouraging supporters to lobby their MPs and anybody else you can think of to try and forestall this possibility. The Association also notes that the Chagossians don't have the means to resettle the Archipelago on their own and urges the government to support them in doing so.

Even if the Foreign Office decline to appeal, as unlikely as that seems, it should be noted that the Chagossians victory is only partial. It appears that while the islanders have the right to return to 65 of the islands in the Archipelago, this doesn't extend to Diego Garcia, the largest and most famous. Few of the reports I've read are clear on this, but such was the conclusion drawn in the 2000 High Court ruling. Furthermore, as I've noted previously, Bancoult (and perhaps other Chagossians, although this is unclear) has accepted that the Americans are there for the forseeable future.

For what it's worth, I'd be more than happy to see the US evicted from the "footprint of freedom," but the Chagossians are few in number and many of them are elderly. I fully understand why they might be able to take what they can get even if it is less than they might have wanted initially. It's taken them forty-years just to get this far.

Update: Jonathan Edelstein has some excellent analysis of the legal wranglings which got us to this point and of the judgement itself.

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