Britain wins battle over Diego Garcia expulsions

20th December 2012, Comments 0 comments

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Thursday threw out an action against Britain over the expulsion of Indian Ocean islanders from their homes to enable the creation of the US military base on Diego Garcia.

In a ruling that marks the final chapter of a lengthy legal saga, the court said a claim filed in the name of 1,786 former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands was not admissible because they had already received compensation for their 1967-1973 expulsions through the British courts.

By accepting the compensation, the islanders had foregone their right to secure a judgement from the British courts on whether their expulsion had been illegal and whether their human rights had been breached, the court ruled.

"It was not for the (ECHR), in that event, to undertake the role of a first-instance tribunal of fact and law," it said.

Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Chagos are made up of three groups of islands, of which Diego Garcia is the largest.

Britain, which has ruled the islands since the 19th century, agreed in 1966 to lease Diego Garcia to the United States for 50 years.

The islanders were mostly transferred to Mauritius or the Seychelles and were barred from returning to their homes under legislation enacted by government decree under the rarely used royal prerogative.

The legality of the legislative procedure was upheld by Britain's House of Lords in 2008.

Under the terms of the existing lease, Britain and the US have to decide by the end of 2014 whether to extend the agreement on Diego Garcia for a further 20 years.

The base there was used for American bombing raids on Afghanistan and Iraq and would almost certainly be called into action again in the event of US military action against Iran.

Mauritius claims full sovereignty over the Chagos Islands.

© 2012 AFP

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