23 October 2008

Government defeats Chagos Islanders

The Chagos Islanders have lost their long battle to return to their Indian Ocean home when the law lords ruled by a majority of three to two in favour of the Foreign Office.The islanders were removed from Chagos to accommodate the US military base on Diego Garcia in the 1970s.

Lords Hoffmann, Carswell and Rodger found in favour of the Foreign Office in its appeal against earlier court rulings that the Chagossians had a right to return. Lords Bingham and Mance dissented from the majority decision.

In his judgment, Hoffmann said the Chagossians had been removed with "a callous disregard" for their interests, but that "The right of abode is a creature of the law. The law gives it and the law may take it away....The deed has been done, the wrong confessed, compensation agreed and paid." He noted that the government had said it was acting "in the interests of the defence of the realm, diplomatic relations with the US and the use of public funds in supporting any settlement on the islands".

But Bingham wrote: "It is not, I think, suggested that those whose homes are in former colonial territories may be treated in a way which would not be permissible in the case of citizens in this country... Despite highly imaginative letters written by American officials to strengthen the secretary of state's hand in this litigation, there was no reason to apprehend that the security situation had changed."

The Chagossians, lambasted the decision. "How can we be expected to live outside our birthplace when there are other people living there now?" said Chagossian leader Oliver Bancoult."The government has finally scored a narrow victory, but the victory has been achieved at a great price," said Richard Gifford, the solicitor who has acted for the Chagossians in the action, originally launched in 1998.

The Chagossians are now considering taking their case to the European court of human rights. They are also looking at other ways to influence the government, which has spent £5m fighting the action.

The Government has had a golden opportunity right the disgraceful actions of a previous government. Instead it has chosen to waste millions on defending the indefensible. I hope the Chagossians take this case to the ECHR and I hope the government is roundly defeated.

Previous posts


CalumCarr said...


Thanks for raising the profile of this decision.

Last year I left this comment elsewhere about the Chagossians' case. It is eqwually applicable today:

"We have treated the Chagos islanders as though they were a pile of rubbish.

That various governments have acted so deceitfully is beyond comprehension … except it isn’t. These disgraceful acts will stain this country for many years.

That 3 Law Lords have seen fit to fall into line is staggering.

Crushed said...

For a long time the government actually denied there ever had been any native Chagos islanders.

Just shows you who they can warp history.

jams o donnell said...

I agree Calum, it's an utter disgrace

Crushed that was a staggering thing for a Government to say.

James Higham said...

This is a major issue, Jams.

jams o donnell said...

It certainly is James