Diego Garcia islanders battle to return
November 1, 2002 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Diego Garcia islanders battle to return 'Exiled islanders from the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia are launching a legal action in a London court, seeking to return to their "paradise" home and get compensation from Britain for being deported. '
30 years ago, 2000 islanders were moved from Diego Garcia (in the British Indian Ocean Territory, formerly part of Mauritius) to make room for a military base. Two years ago, the High Court ruled that the deportation had been illegal.
Related :- Chagos Islanders: 30 years of suffering; Exiled Chagos Islander recounts tale of woe.
posted by plep (4 comments total)
This is a significant story, and it's strange that no-one has pointed out this titbit: Diego Garcia, as it's frequently sub-let to the USA, would be an important base for any attack on Iraq. Hmm.
posted by riviera at 3:42 PM on November 1, 2002

Ruling discussed in Recent Developments in Laws {PDF}; and something about Wednesbury reasonableness precedent in UK constitutional law, which seems similar to American reasonable man tests, as vague as that can be, though closer in some respects to the "overriding interest" bars, which is to say, generally, that the state has a high standard to meet before negating individual rights (example: unless the state can show an overriding interest such as healthy and safety, it is not legal to ban religious headgear in the workplace).

In this case, it isn't at all clear that the Diego Garcians are heading home on the next flight; the "reasonableness" test that the High Court says was violated was the deportation to international destinations such as Mauritius (independent, within the Commonwealth, the same year the removals began), and Seychelles (which was part of BIOT at the time but later became independent). This mainly opens the door for a new compensation settlement, with perhaps limited repatriation to the other islands in the archipelago. The islanders should certainly have the right to choose their own destination, first within the BIOT, second within the UK, and internationally only as a last resort. The UK Foreign Office has stated it's developing a plan for resettlement on the outer islands. A modern irony is that the islands, now uninhabited for three decades, are environmentally sensitive.

The 2000 ruling covers a lot of ground. For one thing, the islands were since colonial times private property of a plantation corporation, as in a company town, and all the islanders were employees. The government (Crown) purchased the assets of the company and the islanders were then evicted as from private property. Still, the UK was very concerned at the time about UN objections to the resettlement and endeavored to contrive a legal solution which would sidestep it or at the very least attract less attention. But the crucial part here is that the order promulgated by the territory's commissioner exceeded his "reasonable" authority in that it abrogated individual rights under the Magna Carta (one of the more interesting arguments here is whether the Charter merely follows the flag, or arrived by virtue of 19th century Parliamentary legislation). In any case, the court did not actually order the islanders' return, but only invalidated the original law in its overreach. The residency permit system established by that law -- in which none, essentially, were granted -- is void, and the government acknowledges the right of islanders to return and reclaim their BIOT citizenship, but also emphasizes its remaining treaty obligations vis-a-vis the US base. The applicants in this particular lawsuit also acknowledged those points. For the time being, Chagossians may now seek civilian employment on the island, which they were previously denied.

Many of the supporters of the islanders -- from India to the former OAU -- do appear to have the ulterior motive of removing the base. But no legal challenge to the actual establishment of the base was brought. In any case the lease is up in 2016, but unless there are significant geopolitical changes I'd expect it to stay put. If it doesn't happen before then, the renegotiation will likely include an actual leasing fee from the US, which will go toward a trust in the islanders' name.

An attempt to bring suit in the United States against various corporations in Mauritius and the US (e.g. Halliburton) and US officials in State and Defense was recently dismissed on procedural and jurisdictional grounds.
posted by dhartung at 6:47 PM on November 1, 2002

Thanks for the info/background, dhartung. In practice, it seems unlikely to be feasible for the islanders to ever return to Diego Garcia - it is now so utterly different; so it seems hard to think of a solution that's really satisfactory... whatever happens, their plight deserves to be treated as a priority by the UK government (on moral grounds, let alone legal ones).

It's also interesting to compare the UK's treatment of the several thousand Chagos Islanders with the several thousand Falkland Islanders. The wish of the Falkland Islanders themselves to retain British sovereignty was a strong argument in favour of the British decision to send troops following the Argentinian invasion.
posted by plep at 12:39 AM on November 2, 2002

By the way, there is a a Chagossian website.
posted by plep at 12:44 AM on November 2, 2002

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