Court rules Chagos Islanders gave up right to return during British expulsion in 1960s
Court in Strasbourg says islanders ‘renounced’ claims to island when they received compensation for resettlement
Exiled Chagos Islanders living in Britain and Mauritius have said they are “dumbstruck” by a European court ruling that it has no jurisdiction to examine their forced expulsion by the British government in the 1960s.
Their comments followed a decision by the European court of rights in Strasbourg which declared that the islanders “effectively renounced” their claims 30 years ago when they received compensation for resettlement from the UK authorities.
The ruling dashed the Chagossians’ hopes of returning and appeared to block all legal avenues through the ECHR by concluding that individual Chagossians had no right of individual petition to the court in future.
“These proceedings were settled in 1982 on payment of £4m by the United Kingdom and provision of land worth £1m by Mauritius,” the decision by the seven judges declared.
“In so settling, the islanders agreed to give up their claims. In the later Chagos Islanders case, the [UK] high court found that an attempt to claim further compensation and make further claims arising out of the expulsion and exclusion from the islands was an abuse since the claims had been renounced by the islanders.”
The succession of cases against the British government is a result of the forced removal of 1,500 Chagossians from the island of Diego Garcia between 1968 and 1973 to make way for a US military base. A series of English court cases described their removal as “shameful”, an “abuse of power”, “repugnant, deplorable and unlawful”.
Although judges in lower British courts found unanimously in favour of the Chagossians’, in 2008 the Law Lords decided against their right of return by a narrow 3-2 majority.
“We brought this case 15 years ago. All of a sudden everything has been turned upside down. This is a very bad law. We just do not understand how this decision was made,” said Roch Evenor, a spokesman for the UK Chagos Support Association in London.
In a statement, the islanders added: “It is obvious to all right thinking people that depriving the Chagossian people, for whom Britain was responsible, of their homes, livelihoods and homeland and deporting them 40 years ago, was a grievous violation of their fundamental human rights.
“This was compounded as late as 2004 byprivy council orders, a means by which parliament was bypassed. The orders overturned a November 2000 high court judgment and the decision by foreign secretary Robin Cook to restore the right to return to the Outer Chagos Islands. It is inconceivable that parliament would have agreed to deprive the Chagossians of this fundamental birthright.”
The agreement setting up the US base in the Indian Ocean, signed by the US and UK in 1966, expires in 2016. Though it includes a 20-year optional extension, both parties must agree to extend, modify, or end it by December 2014.
David Snoxell, former ambassador to Mauritius and co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands all-party parliamentary group, said: “We appeal to the coalition government to stand by their pre-election promises to bring about a just and fair settlement to one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century, perpetrated by the UK on the defenceless – the brutal removal of an entire people from their homeland and their way of life, into a life of exile, poverty and hardship.”
“We expect our government to reflect the British sense of fair play and to ensure that the same basic human rights apply to Chagossians, who are British, as apply to the people in the UK. As the foreign secretary himself has said: ‘The British public expects its government to act with moral integrity’.”
“We will never give up. We will keep fighting for our right to return,” said Sabrina Jane, a second generation British Chagossian in Crawley.
Diego Garcia was used by the US to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan and for CIA rendition flights. It is almost certainly used by the US for long-range bombers and could be expected to be used in any attack on Iran.
In 2008, foreign secretary David Miliband called for the creation of a giant 1m-hectare marine protection zone around the islands.
This was backed by many of world’s major green groups. It later emerged that no one would be allowed to fish there, effectively making it impossible for Chagossians to return.