Friday, May 12, 2006

A victory for the Chagosians

Between 1965 and 1971, the British government committed a vile act of ethnic cleansing. Their ally, the USA, wanted to build a military base on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, the island and its surrounding archipelago were inhabited - something the US saw as a security risk. So, the British government forcibly depopulated the entire archipelago, imprisoning its people before dumping them penniless on a pier in Mauritius (a story told in the excellent John Pilger documentary, Stealing a Nation).

In 2000, the Chagosians won a battle in the British High Court to declare their expulsion illegal and allow their return. The British government responded with a pair of Orders In Council overturning the judgement and retroactively legalising the ban. In December, the Chagosians challenged the Orders in court and have now won again, with a pair of High Court judges declaring their expulsion "irrational", "unlawful", and "repugnant". It's great news - but tempered by the worry that the government will simply issue further Orders In Council to get its way. There's also the problem of a US veto over who gets to live in the archipelago, signed away by the UK as part of the lease agreement. But this is still a tremendous step forward for the Chagosians, and acknowledges their moral right to continue to live in the territory where they were born.