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Whilst UK government appeals to Lords, Chagos islanders have right to return, says UN Committee

21 July 2008

A leading United Nations human rights committee has said that the Chagos Islanders have the right to return home to their Indian Ocean Island archipelago.

The report from the UN Human Rights Committee comes hot on the heels of an appeal, lodged at the House of Lords by the UK Government on 30 June, to overturn previous decisions by the Court of Appeal and the High Court ruling that the method used to block the return of the islanders was unlawful. The Law Lords are considering the appeal and their decision will not be known until Autumn 2008.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has been supporting the Chagos Islanders legal battle against the UK government for a number of years, by providing in-depth research on indigenous rights, property rights and self determination.

Kathryn Ramsay, MRG’s Advocacy Officer says, “This is the second time the UN Human Rights Committee has made these observations yet the UK does not even see fit to report on the Chagos archipelago. That the UK government continues to frustrate the return of the islanders is deploreable.”

Removal of the islanders from the Chagos islands, a remote archipelago some 500 Km south of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, began in the 1960s, after the US and UK reached a secret deal to turn the island of Diego Garcia into a US military base.

The last remaining islanders were forced onto over-crowded cargo ships in 1972, and dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles, without jobs or resettlement help and scant compensation.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee Report on Overseas Territories was also made public on 6 July. Last year, both oral and written evidence was closely examined by a group of MPs who concluded, “…that there is a strong moral case for the UK permitting and supporting a return to the BIOT [British Indian Ocean Territory] for the Chagossians.”

The UN report also asks the UK to investigate allegations related to transit through Diego Garcia of rendition flights and to compensate Chagos Islanders for their years spent in exile from the BIOT.