See also:
» 22.10.2010 - Mauritius breeders hit back at UK campaign
» 22.10.2010 - BUAV answers to Mauritius campaign reporting
» 08.12.2008 - Mauritius presents new anti-terror law
» 02.09.2008 - Mauritius leader asked to ignore employment bills
» 24.04.2008 - Mauritius snubs labour laws
» 22.01.2008 - Illegal fishing ruins Mauritius
» 03.05.2007 - Battle over sexual offences bill in Mauritius
» 10.11.2006 - Mauritian women sick of rape, incest, violence

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Indian Ocean | Mauritius
Society | Human rights

London again delays Chagossian return

Manager's house, Ile du Coin, Peros Banhos Atoll

© Karin Sinniger / afrol News
afrol News, 28 June
- Last month, the expelled people of the Chagos Islands, an archipelago claimed by Mauritius, thought they had achieved a breakthrough in their four-decade fight to return to the land that taken from them. The London High Court ruled that the 2,000 expelled islanders must be let to return. But a new Foreign Office appeal will delay the return for at least one year.

The Chagossians were tricked and forced away from their Indian Ocean island paradise during the 1960's and 70s and the British colonial government leased the strategically placed archipelago to the US. In 1971, the Americans started constructing a marine base on the main island, Diego Garcia, and two years later, the last Chagossian was expelled.

The US base on Diego Garcia remains Washington's key strategic location in the Indian Ocean and has been the point of departure for air raids against Afghanistan and Iraq and would have the same role in a possible attack on nuclear installations in Iran. Diego Garcia also is said to have a key role in the controversial transport and alleged torture of suspected terrorists.

Despite the continued strategic importance of Chagos, which legitimated its depopulation during the Cold War, Chagossians have a growing hope of being able to return to their islands. Evidence is mounting that their eviction was in breach of international law in the first place.

This argument has been accepted by several British courts, which have heard the case of the Chagossians during the last decade. Also the highest ordinary court in the country, the London High Court, on 23 May reached this conclusion. The ruling clearly said the Chagossians should be allowed to return. The court described the banning of the Chagossians as "an abuse of power on the part of the executive."

A number of British court rulings have reached the same conclusion; that the eviction had been illegal and that the Chagossians must be allowed to return. But the small and impoverished Chagossian community each time has been presented with last minute appeals and surprise legal manoeuvres from the London Foreign Office, delaying their return.

This week, again, the British government found a way of appealing the ruling that theoretically has no appeal. The May judgement said the Foreign Office could not appeal an earlier pro-Chagossian ruling to the House of Lords, which would open for yet another Chagos hearing. The Foreign Office now has lost the same

Living conditions for Chagossians in the Cassis slums of Port Louis, Mauritius

© Paul Heaton / afrol News
case three times.

On Monday, the Foreign Office nevertheless again asked the Lords for permission to appeal against last month's High Court judgement. According to Tony Humphries at the Overseas Territories Directorate, "we expect the case to be heard by the House of Lords in 2008," if permission is granted. Thus, a return will be delayed for at least yet another year.

For many Chagossians, this may come too late. Of the 2,000 expelled islanders, only a few hundreds are still alive. Most Chagossians living today have never set foot on their islands. Most of the forcedly removed population has been living in poverty in nearby Mauritius, which also was a British colony at the time of their eviction.

Some 60 percent of Chagossians in Mauritius are still unemployed and death rates have been extraordinarily high. Islanders say many have "died of sadness". Most of the elders have expressed a strong wish to be able to return and die on their island of origin.

Chagossian activists in Britain and Mauritius are therefore outraged by the new delay tactics of the London government. Celia Whittaker of the UK Chagos Support Association told afrol News that the new move is "grossly unfair" to Chagossians. "They have now lost three times. Will they never give up and do the right thing?" she asks.

While this is the last possible chance of the British government to appeal the ruling, Ms Whittaker is "both angry and upset" on behalf of Chagossian elders pinning their hopes to a last possibility of returning home. The new appeal "could take a few months. If they are given leave to appeal, then that could take a lot longer," she fears.

The activists now have appealed to the new British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, "to take decisive action to prevent further injustice." Mr Brown has already signalled his intention to review the royal prerogative - the little-used sovereign power, which UK authorities argue, gives them the right to exclude the Chagossians from their homeland in perpetuity. Chagossian activists hope the new PM will stick to his words.

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