Islanders lose legal fight

Families of islanders ejected from the remote Chagos Islands cannot return, rules European Court of Human Rights

Chagos Islands

I'm sad to learn that the banished Chagos Islanders have failed in their legal bid to gain the right to return to these remote Indian Ocean Islands. The residents were ejected by the UK government in the 1960s and 1970s to allow the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the group.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that as the islanders have already been compensated the case was inadmissible.

This looks like the end of the road for the Chagossian's legal battle to win the right to return to their ancestral home, a tiny uninhabited archipelago nearly 1,000 miles from the nearest land.

A group of 1,786 islanders, or their descendants, protested the evacuation of the British Indian Ocean Territory between 1967 and 1973, but lost their case in the UK in 2008, when when the Law Lords ruled in favour of the government by a majority of 3-2.

They took the case to Strasbourg, but the court ruled that they when they received compensation in 1982 of of £4m plus land worth £1m they had ‘effectively renounced bringing any further claims to determine whether the expulsion and exclusion from their homes had been unlawful and breached their rights'.

After the 2008 ruling, Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "We have made clear our regret for the wrongs done to the Chagossian people over 40 years ago."

More recently, the government has said it is opposed to the colonisation of the islands because of concerns about the protection of the marine environment, a claim that supporters of the Chagossians, such as TV personality Ben Fogle, insist is "greenwash".

The claim of environmental concerns is also behind a recent scheme that has made it significantly harder for sailors to visit the islands. Up to 100 cruising yacht crews a year used to stop at this crossroads en route across the Indian Ocean from South and East Africa, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Madagascar or, later in the year, from Australia via Cocos Keeling.

In 2008, authorities hiked cost of a visiting permit from $100 to £500 a month, and insisted that it had to be applied for in advance, and be accompanied by proof of insurance that includes wreck removal. The effect has been, as perhaps was intended, a huge drop in the number of visitors.

More information about insurance and visitors' permits from BIOTAdmin@fco.gov.uk, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7008 1589 from British Indian Ocean Territory Administration, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH, UK.

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