Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Chagosians win again

A couple of years ago I watched the John Pilger documentary Stealing a Nation, which recounted the story of the ethnic clensing of the island of Diego Garcia and its surrounding archipelago to make way for a US air force base. The islands' inhabitants - the Chagosians - were forcibly deported and dumped in a slum in Mauritius, where they have lived in poverty ever since. It's one of the nastier examples of an imperial abuse of power, and the Chagossians have been fighting it ever since. In 2000, they won a landmark case in the UK High Court declaring their expulsion illegal and ordering the government to allow their return. While initially supportive, the government responded in 2004 with a pair of Orders in Council declaring that nobody was a resident of the British Indian Ocean Territory and that no-one was allowed to enter or live there unless specifically authorised to do so - effectively retrospectively disposessing the Chagosians by royal fiat. The Chagosians challenged those orders, and last year won a second time, with the High Court declaring the Orders "irrational", "unlawful", and "repugnant". The government appealed, arguing that the sovereign power of the Queen was unreviewable (an argument I'd have thought was decisively answered in 1649). Today, the Chagosians won again, with the Court of Appeal upholding the High Court judgement and finding that the Orders were an abuse of power which

negate[d] one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings, the freedom to return to one's homeland, however poor and barren the conditions of life, and contingent though return may be on the property rights of others.

In passing, they also delivered a stunning indictement on the British government for governing the British Indian Ocean Territory not in the interests of its people, but in its own interests and those of the United States.

It will be interesting to see what the British government does next: whether they will bow to US pressure and push this to the Law Lords, or whether they will accept the judgement of three courts that their actions were abusive and lawless, and allow the Chagosians to return.


They'll probably rely on their ownership of the confiscated land of the islands. Or pass primary legislation. Or cede the territory to the USA.

Posted by Rich : 5/24/2007 02:54:00 PM

Similar story to do with Tokelau, which New Zealand gave the fourth island of to American Samoa. Guess who wants their land back? The Tokelaun people.

Posted by G7 : 5/24/2007 03:38:00 PM

I read recently that the islands are very low lying so perhaps rising sea levels will dispossess both the Chagosians and the military in 50 or so years.

Not even the US can turn back the tide.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/24/2007 06:14:00 PM

Oh they could if they wanted. Just need to pour a lot of concrete.

Parts of the Netherlands are over 6m below sea level.

Posted by Rich : 5/24/2007 07:25:00 PM