Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Home: justice for the Chagos Islanders

diego_garcia2.jpgYou may have read that the Chagos Islanders have won the legal right to go home, a victory delayed but a victory nevertheless.

In the 1960s and 70s, this placid Creole populace of 2000 were forced to leave their idyllic (and strategically located) homeland in the Indian Ocean to make way for a US military air and naval base on the largest atoll of this British colony, Diego Garcia, arranged in a secret US-UK government agreement.

This forcible depopulation occurred so that the US military could use it as a military base and then also to operate the Global Positioning System (GPS). The air base on the island of Diego Garcia has since also been used to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Appeal Court in London has upheld the previous High Court declaration that the expulsion of the people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean by the British government was “repugnant, illegal and irrational”. The Chagos Islanders are now free to go home upon arrangement of transport.

olivier-bancoult.jpgOlivier Bancoult, chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group (pictured), has lead the campaign to win the right to return. With a beam and a victory sign outside the Court, he said his priority was to go home as soon as possible and tend the graves of his ancestors.

The British Foreign Office had lodged an appeal against their return after they were twice granted legal right of return. In 2000, the courts ruled that Chagossians could return to their homes in 65 of the tiny islands, but not to Diego Garcia. Robin Cook, the then Foreign Secretary, had said the government would not appeal.

map-diegogarcia.gifIn 2004, however, the British government used the royal prerogative to effectively nullify the Court’s decision.

Last year the High Court in turn overturned the royal prerogative order in this case. It rejected the government argument that the royal prerogative, exercised by ministers in the Queen’s name, was immune from scrutiny. (The government had invoked security and argued on the basis that it would hamper its discretion to operate).

In handing down their decision the Court averred on Wednesday that the right to go home was “one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings”.

Congratulations to the Chagossians on their victory after nearly half a century. Though there may yet be an appeal allowed (the judges refused the Government leave to appeal to the House of Lords, although the Lords can still choose to entertain an appeal) the path seems clear for these islanders to make their way home.

It is heartening to see a case where the legal Right of Return is made to finally correspond with the moral Right of Return, and justice served.

Here’s a look back upon their history, in John Pilger‘s Stealing a Nation (56 mins):

6 comments on “Home: justice for the Chagos Islanders

  1. Servant
    25 May, 2007

    Kilroy was here. Kilroy was asked to leave! :O

    Score one for the good guys!

  2. fifthdecade
    25 May, 2007

    Next – the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon/Jordan/Egypt after their expulsion by military might from 1949 to date?

  3. peoplesgeography
    26 May, 2007


  4. FriendlyFred
    11 February, 2008

    It’s now been nine months and Kilroy has no plans to leave, thanks.

  5. The3rdColumn
    22 February, 2008

    Reminds me of a similar story: SABAH

    Sabah was leased by the Sultan of Sulu, Philippines to a British company by the Sultan of Sulu of the Philippines, operating from Malaysia.

    When the UK granted Malaysia their independence, they annexed Sabah to the independence documents forgetting that Sabah didn’t belong to the UK.

    The UK has operated unfairly over the centuries and the repurcussions are still felt today.

    There is a great chance that a war might break out between Malaysia and the Philippines over Sabah all because Britain had been terribly unfair.

  6. Pingback: Centurean2’s Weblog

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