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Chagos Islanders win right to return – British court rules in their favour

23 May 2007

Minority Rights Group International welcomes today’s Court of Appeal ruling that Chagos Islanders do have a right to return to their archipelago. The decision upholds two previous rulings in favour of the islanders, granting them rights of abode.

MRG Head of Advocacy, Clive Baldwin, said, “The British government has lost for the third time. We welcome the fact that in the 21st century colonial government cannot act without legal accountability. We urge that no further taxpayers’ money be spent on litigation – instead money should be used to assist islanders to recover from the harm they have suffered over the past four decades.”

MRG has been assisting Chagos Islanders for twenty-five years to secure the right to return to their homeland. It has acted as legal advisers in the current round of litigation.

From the late 1960s for seven years, around 2000 Chagos islanders were removed from their island homes by the UK authorities, while the British government leased Diego Garcia, the biggest island in archipelago, to the US for a top-secret military base. Most of the islanders ended up living in deep poverty in the slums of Mauritius.

When the Chagos Islanders won their initial court battle in 2000, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office under the then-foreign secretary Robin Cook, accepted the verdict. But after 9/11, the FCO reversed its position, using little-used sovereign powers to over-turn the court’s verdict.

During the 2006 hearings, the court heard evidence that the US government opposed the resettlement of the islands on security grounds, claiming that Diego Garcia was a vital military installation involved in the “war on terror”.

MRG rejects that argument. No US or UK military base in the world, has required a zone, stretching for hundreds of miles, to be free of local inhabitants.

MRG urges the British government to abandon its costly legal efforts, and observe the fundamental right of return for the Chagos people, who have been so disgracefully treated by the UK authorities.

MRG Head of Advocacy Clive Baldwin and Head of Media Ishbel Matheson can be available for interview. For further information, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].