Righting a mortal wrong

Once again, the High Court have come through on the side of justice and chosen to set right one of the most appalling and despicable acts by any British government, certainly in the 60 or so years since the establishment of the United Nations which, I guess, could be argued as the starting point for the modern culture of international law and human rights.

Chagos islanders win court battle

The UK High Court has ruled in favour of families exiled from the Chagos islands by the British government in the latest twist of a court battle.

The families were exiled in the mid-1960s and early 1970s so that the US could build a major airbase on one of the islands, Diego Garcia.

They overturned measures introduced by the government under the Royal Prerogative to prevent their return.

Their solicitor said two judges had now found they were entitled to return.

"The British Government has been defeated in its attempt to abolish the right of abode of the islanders after first deporting them in secret 30 years ago," said solicitor Richard Gifford.

To save repetition, the backstory to this case is covered in these posts:

How many people does it take before it becomes wrong?
Misleading the House
If you can tear yourself away…

While more information and wealth of excellent commentary can be found in the Chagos section of The Disillusioned Kid, which is well worth visiting if you’re new to this story.

For far too long, the illegal expulsion of the Chagossians in favour of what was once called an ‘austere facility’ but which the US now call ‘Camp Justice’, with –

sufficent anchorage to accomodate the US Pacific fleet

a runway long enough to serve as a staging point for B52 bombers on thier way to and from Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, and

leisure facilities, including a 9-hole golf course, 4-lane bowling centre, skeet range, fitness complex, swimming pool, tennis courts, softball fields, marina and an outdoor theatre (I don’t know about ‘Camp Justice’, sounds more like ‘Camp Sandals’ to me)

 – was one of Britain’s dirtiest little foreign policy secrets, and one that got even dirtier in 2004 when, having lost an earlier High Court case, which asserted the Chagossian’s right to return to their homes, this present government arbitrarily overturned that ruling via the Privy Council using an ‘Order in Council’.

It should be said having won the battle, the ‘war’ in this matter still has to be won – as the Beeb notes:

the islanders still have to overcome the hurdle of the agreement between the UK and the US under which each side has a veto on who should live in the whole Chagos archipelago.

The US has since the attacks of 9/11 reaffirmed its opposition to any return on security grounds.

Quite what kind of security risk a modest number of ex-Copra farmers and their descendents are likely to present to a major US Naval Base has yet to be established – over the years, the US has had no real problem importing migrant construction workers from the Phillippines to expand the base on Diego Garcia, yet it baulks at the return of the Chagossians, even to outlying islands some 80-100 miles from Diego Garcia itself… then again there are persistant allegations that Diego Garcia has been used as a secret detention/interrogation facility is the fashion of Gitmo, but housing prisoners that the US are reluctant to admit that they even have, so sensitive are the issues surrounding them.

But this is an issue for another day – today it is only right that we offer our congratulations to the Richard Gifford on a well-deserved victory and reflect on the fact that, once again, the High Court has chosen to the right thing, even in the face of claims by the QC acting for the government that: the Foreign Office had:

acted within its powers, and did not accept that any residents of the territory were unlawfully removed or excluded in the period 1965-1973.

An assertion that is not only untrue but so far beneath contempt that it barely merits mentioning.

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