Britain wins battle over Diego Garcia evictions

20th December 2012, Comments 0 comments

Britain on Thursday welcomed a decision by the European Court of Human Rights to throw out action against the government over the eviction of nearly 1,800 Indian Ocean islanders from their homes.

The court rejected a claim filed in the name of 1,786 former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands on the grounds that they had already been compensated after they were evicted to make way for a US military base on the island of Diego Garcia.

The ruling marks the final chapter of a lengthy legal saga stemming from the evacuation of the British territory, which lies some 500 kilometres (300 miles) south of the Maldives, between 1967 and 1973.

"We welcome the end of this legal process, which has taken many years," the Foreign Office said.

"We have made clear our regret for the wrongs done to the Chagossian people over forty years ago. Nevertheless, it was right for the Government to defend itself against this action."

The Foreign Office added that Britain would now "take stock" of its policy on the islanders' resettlement.

Most of the displaced islanders were sent to live in Mauritius and the Seychelles.

The European court ruled that by accepting compensation through the British courts in the early 1980s, the islanders had foregone their right to secure a judgement on whether their expulsion was illegal and whether their human rights were breached.

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

The UK Chagos Support Association said it was "saddened and shocked" by the ruling and called on the British government to come to a "just and fair settlement" with the displaced islanders.

"We expect our government to reflect the British sense of fair play and to ensure that the same basic human rights apply to Chagossians, who are British, as apply to the people in the UK," it said.

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

The displaced islanders 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 US bombing raids on Afghanistan and Iraq and would almost certainly be called into action again in the event of US military action against Iran.

© 2012 AFP

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