Thursday 20 December 2012

Minority Rights Group on ECHR decision

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) today reiterated its call for the UK government to recognise the Chagos islanders’ fundamental right to go home, following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights today that their case was inadmissible on technical grounds. The Chagossians were expelled from their island home in the 1960s and 1970s so that it could be turned into a US military base. MRG has supported the islanders in their long struggle and was an intervenor before the European Court.

“Having expelled a whole people from their homes, the United Kingdom government is now washing its hands of all responsibility,” says Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of Minority Rights Group International. “The government has not even tried to defend what the Court today described as its ‘callous and shameful treatment’ of the islanders, but has simply relied on jurisdictional arguments.”

“The court described the legislation in this area as a ‘colonial remnant’, but the UK has shown that it is still determined to pursue the colonial mentality," he adds.

“The UK government is happy to defend the rights to self-determination of the Falkland Islanders, but when the Chagos Islanders appeal for protection from their government they are abandoned.”

MRG has been supporting the Chagos Islanders in their lengthy battle with the British government for the right to return home to their Indian Ocean archipelago home, a British overseas territory. They were forcibly removed in the 60s and 70s because Britain wanted to lease the biggest island, Diego Garcia, to the US for a top-secret military base.

Following an initial court victory by the Chagos Islanders in 2000, the then-foreign secretary chose not to appeal. But after 9/11, the military base of Diego Garcia became more important - including as a transit point for the US's illegal ‘rendition' of terrorist suspects. In 2004, the Foreign Office used the ancient powers of sovereign prerogative to overturn the earlier court ruling. Although in 2006 and 2007, judges found this use of the sovereign prerogative was illegal, the law lords upheld Foreign Office action, forcing the Chagos Islanders to go to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Decision in full

ECHR agrees glass beads and mirrors should calm Chagossians down

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."

Further reading.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Judgement postponed

R (Bancoult) v. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Divisional Court, 21 November 2012: read judgment. (T)the Divisional Court was due to hear the Chagossians’ challenge to the designation of the waters around the islands as a Marine Protected Area, which prohibited all fishing. They said that this designation was motivated by a decision to stymie any remaining economic viability which the islands may have – the Chagossians’ traditional livelihood arose out of fishing. The main hearing of this challenge was due this week. The Court has now adjourned it, to be heard sometime in the New Year.

Rest of the story.

New colonial objections against return of Chagossians

The manoeuvres by which the Chagossians were evicted from their islands in the Indian Ocean, the late 1960s and early 1970s, so to enable the US to operate an air base on Diego Garcia, do not show the UK Foreign Office in its best light. Indeed, after a severe rebuke from the courts in 2000, the FCO accepted that the original law underlying their departure was unlawful, and agreed to investigate their possible resettlement on some of their islands. The first of these new cases is an environmental information appeal concerning the next phase of the story – how the FCO decided that it was not feasible to resettle the islanders in 2002-2004. This decision was taken in the modern way – backed by a feasibility study prepared by consultants supporting the stance which the FCO ultimately were to take. And this case concerns the islanders’ attempts to get documents lying behind and around the taking of this decision. From the islanders’ point of view, this decision by the FCO was more of the same. Unfeasible and uneconomic resettlement suited the FCO nicely. Yes, we moved you unlawfully 30 years ago, but you have to stay where you are because we now say it is impractical to move you back. The FCO countered – it is unfeasible, the islands need significant investment in infrastructure and employment (which the Chagossians could not provide from their own resources), and our consultants who carried out the review agree with us.
Further reading.

Friday 29 June 2012

A many-sided secret

The US has been a shadowy puppet master behind the UK's crimes against the indigenous people of the Chagos Archipelago. In the 1960s and 1970s, the UK forcibly removed the Chagossians from their islands to enable the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia, one of the islands in the Archipelago. Diego Garcia is also where rendition planes allegedly stopped before spiriting people, such as Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj, away to torture.

The expulsion of the Chagossians for the construction of the Diego Garcia military base is a "many-sided secret," to quote a 2002 cable signed by former US ambassador to the UK, William Stamps Farish. This secret received renewed attention when The Guardian recently reported how the UK lied about the Chagossians to avoid international outcry about their expulsion. Newly released archival documents from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) show that in 1970, the UK conspired to call the Chagossians "contract labourers" to ensure that no alarm bells would sound over the forced expulsion of the indigenous population.

Elena Landriscina on Chagos (further reading).

Monday 25 June 2012

Interview with Olivier Bancoult

Olivier Bancoult was four years old when he left the archipelago in 1967. His little sister had been hurt in a cart accident and was taken to a local dispensary on Bancoult's home island of Peros Banhos, in the northeastern part of Chagos archipelago. But the nurse there didn't have the resources to help; the girl would have to travel to Mauritius, an African island nation 1300 miles away, for effective treatment.

"So my mom and dad decided that the whole family needed to move to Mauritius, but that we would move back after the treatment of my sister," recalls Bancoult.
Further reading.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Chagos and the Falklands - the contrast revisited

Forty years ago: Chagos.
Thirty years ago: Las Malvinas.
Guess which anniversary does not get attention?

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Diego Garcia "mothballed" in 2016?

Apparently the occupation of the Chagos Archipelago is going to be "mothballed" as of 2016. Another archipelago should be awaiting the fate of being strategically positioned.

Further reading: here and here.

Friday 20 January 2012

The Malvinas and Chagos

These are the days when patriotism runs wild again about some foggy rocks near Antarctica, belonging to "this great nation" (the incedrible phrase used by the co-chairman of the Tory party on Question Time, Jan. 20th) and the right to self-determination of the inhabitants of these rocks is highlighted.

The days when the contrast to Diego Garcia and Chagos is yet a bit more poignant than usually.
John Pilger happens to write about Chagos.

And in London there will be the theatre piece Some Man Fridays in February and March. Check it out if you can.