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First test on human rights for Gordon Brown – FCO appeals to Lords over Chagossians

26 June 2007

Minority Rights Group International and the UK Chagos Support Association deplore the Foreign and Commonwealth Office decision to appeal to the House of Lords against the Court of Appeal ruling allowing the Chagos Islanders to return to their archipelago, and urge Gordon Brown to take decisive action to prevent further injustice.

The Chagossians were expelled from their islands in the Indian Ocean, in the late sixties and early seventies. So far, three court rulings in the United Kingdom have upheld their right to return – on each occasion by unanimous decisions of all the judges.

In the last case on the 23rd May, the Court of Appeal described the banning of the Chagossians as “an abuse of power on the part of the executive.” Gordon Brown has already signalled his intention to review the royal prerogative – the little-used sovereign power, which the UK authorities argue, gives them the right to exclude the Chagossians from their rightful homeland in perpetuity.

Yet late on Monday (25th June) only 48 hours before Mr Brown takes over as prime minister, the FCO lodged an appeal to uphold those very powers. MRG and UK Chagos Support Association call on the new UK leader to act in the interests of justice and decency.

When he accepted the Labour party leadership, Mr Brown pledged ‘whenever and where-ever we find injustice and unfairness…it is our duty to act’. MRG and the UK Chagos Support Association urge him to stand by his words, and stop his administration persecuting a people who have suffered greatly at the hands of the United Kingdom authorities.

MRG Head of Advocacy, the MRG Press Office said.” If the FCO appeal goes ahead further taxpayers’ money will be spent unnecessarily. Since Gordon Brown has said he proposes to review uses of the Royal prerogative, he should prevent actions which potentially open the way for his administration attempting to govern overseas territories without proper Parliamentary oversight, and without the possibility of judicial review – in the worst colonial tradition.”

After London forcibly removed the 2000 Chagos islanders, it 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 has been highlighting the case of the 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.

MRG Head of Advocacy the MRG Press Office and Head of Media Ishbel Matheson can be available for interview.

* For Ishbel Matheson please call ­+44 77 65824964
* For the MRG Press Office please call +44 78 11214044
* For further information please call the media team on +44 (0) 207 4224205 (office)

To contact the UK Chagos Support Association:

Robert BAIN
Tel: 07773 896 811
Email: [email protected]