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.