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High Court rejects rights claims of Diego Garcia exiles

8 October 2003

In a decision that means that an embarrassing abuse of human rights is still unresolved, the British High Court today ruled against the claims of the Ilois people from the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. They claim their right to return to the island of Diego Garcia and for compensation for their enforced exile. The Ilois were forcibly relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles in the 1960s and early 70s when the British government leased the island to the USA for 50 years and it was subsequently turned into a military base. The Court ruled that the islanders have no reasonable grounds for compensation claims or the restoration of their property, effectively denying their right to return to Diego Garcia.

Many of the islanders were left destitute and discriminated against by their removal from their homes, and had to wait for seven years before the British government granted them any financial assistance to resettle. However, the islanders took hope from a November 2000 High Court decision that declared their removal from the island illegal and granted them the right to full British citizenship, opening the way to their current compensation claims. Some have subsequently travelled to Britain only to find themselves caught in a cycle of temporary accommodation, lack of money and inability to find employment, since they are currently unable to claim benefits.

The British government initially denied that the Ilois were inhabitants of Diego Garcia and claimed that they were ‘contract labourers’ on the Chagos Islands. However, the government was contradicted by its own film, shot in the 1950s, which spoke of the Chagos being inhabited ‘mostly by men and women born and brought up in the islands’. Minority Rights Group International (MRG), which has published a report on Diego Garcia, considers that the illegal removal and continued denial of return means that there is an on-going violation of the islanders basic rights. These rights include the right to freedom from discrimination and from inhuman and degrading treatment, as the result of an illegal act. Additionally, the islander’s economic, social and cultural rights, including rights to land and their homes, property, and protection from enforced eviction, continue to be violated.

Minority Rights Group International believes the effect of the High Court decision leaves the British government in breach of the provisions of international human rights law. It therefore calls upon the British government to review its position, and upon the British and US governments to make immediate arrangements for the return of the Ilois to all the Chagos Islands including Diego Garcia. Compensation should be paid to the families of the Ilois, who were illegally removed, for the damage that they have suffered as a result of this eviction.

Notes for editors

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