CHAGOS ISLANDERS DEALT COURT BLOW
COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 22 Oct 2008
The British government has won its appeal over court rulings that allowed displaced Chagos Islands inhabitants to return to their homes in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
The decision by the House of Lords, the UK’s upper house of parliament, on Wednesday, overturns earlier rulings that said the method used to block the return of the islanders was unlawful.
About 2,000 Chagos inhabitants were forced off their homes by Britain in the 1960s and ’70s when the UK granted permission for a US air and naval base on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the archipelago.
"There are a lot of Chagossian people in front of the court today and we are very sad about this decision," Hengride Permel, from the Chagos Islands community association, told Al Jazeera.
"It was a chance for the British government to right a wrong … it is a shameful day for the government."
Permel said campaigners planned to "take a letter to Downing Street", the prime minister’s residence, asking for the government decision to be overturned.
Diego Garcia has been used in US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the British government has argued that it would not be right for the
Chagossians to be allowed home because of security concerns.
Many of the islanders were moved to Mauritius.
Right to return
The Chagos islanders originally won the right to return home in 2000.
Robin Cook, the UK’s then foreign secretary, said the government would arrange for the Chagossians to return to the outer islands after a court victory.
But in 2004 the government changed its mind and forbade anyone from having a right of abode on the islands.
In 2007, the British high court ruled the Chagos islanders had been illegally expelled and should be allowed to return, but the British government appealed and the House of Lords ruling has upheld that appeal.
"The government has had the original ruling overturned," Nadim Baba, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in London, said.
"There’s a lot of anger over the decision, but for the time being it’s a victory for the British government."
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