Tuesday, 11 September 2007

The Chagos Islanders

Like many people, I have signed a number of e-petitions on the 10 Downing Street website. One which I recently supported called for the return of the Chagos Islands to their original inhabitants.

To those who have not yet heard about the plight of the Chagos Islanders, this community was forcibly evicted between 1967 and 1973 so that the British Government could lease the largest of their islands, known as Diego Garcia, to the United States for the construction of one of the biggest military bases in the world.

The expulsion of this community has been condemned many times as one of the “most shameful episodes in British post-war history” and the consequences of their exile has been very severe. Many families continue to live in terrible poverty in the slums of Mauritius and many have lost loved ones, with suicides being particularly common.

The islanders won a historic victory in the High Court in 2000, which ruled their expulsion illegal. Tony Blair was in a position to end the injustice but showed complete disregard for the very existence of the Chagossians. Instead, in 2004, he invoked a royal prerogative, which did not need the support of the House of Commons, in order to ban the islanders from ever returning to Diego Garcia and the surrounding islands.

The islanders refused to give up and went back to the High Court in 2006 and once again won the right to return home. In a damning verdict, the High Court even condemned the actions of the British government as “repugnant.”

Along with other signatories to the e-petition, I recently received the official Government response. It was less than satisfactory. The Government is continuing to claim that it is not feasible for the Chagossians to return home, that their existence would be precarious and prone to the impacts of climate change.

The Government claims that the latest High Court ruling “raises issues of constitutional law of general public importance that … would adversely affect the effective governance of all British Overseas Territories” and has appealed.

It is awful that the British Government continues to hide behind such mean-spirited legalese and to fight these people who they have so terribly wronged. It is time that the Government does what is right and that is to allow the Chagossians to return home and help them to rebuild their communities.

I will leave the last word to Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the islanders. In 2005 he said: “We have always believed that a human being has the right to live in the place of his birth. Everywhere, the British Government paints itself as the champion of human rights - so what about the human rights of the Chagossian people?”


Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing attention to our fellow British Overseas Territory citizens in the Indian Ocean. We trust that the Privy Council will soon support their cause.

Bob Conrich
British West Indies

JonFlower said...

Good to see MK bringing this appalling situation to the attention of all. It just goes to show what some central governments will do, if they think they can get away with it. I know George Galloway has been campaigning about this issue for some time. Lets hope the Chagos people can return home soon.