Chagos Islanders lose European court battle to return home

LONDON Thu Dec 20, 2012 1:17pm EST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Indian Ocean islanders expelled from the British-ruled Chagos archipelago during the Cold War to make way for a U.S. military base lost their long-running legal battle to return home on Thursday.

About 2,000 Chagossians were evicted from their palm-fringed homes in the late 1960s when Britain allowed the United States to build an air and naval base on Diego Garcia, the archipelago's largest island.

The islanders have long contested their removal and the way it was carried out, but the European Court of Human Rights definitively rejected the exiled residents' case on Thursday.

It said their case, which was lodged in 2004, was inadmissible because they had already been compensated in the British courts.

"In accepting and receiving compensation, the applicants had effectively renounced bringing any further claims to determine whether the expulsion and exclusion from their homes had been unlawful and breached their rights," the court, in the French city of Strasbourg, ruled.

The claims, brought forward by 1,786 Chagos natives and their descendants, concerned the "callous and shameful treatment" suffered during their removal from the islands between 1967 and 1973, the court said.

"These claims had, however, been raised in the domestic courts and settled, definitively," the European court said.

Britain, which has ruled the islands since the 19th century, agreed in 1966 to lease Diego Garcia to the United States for 50 years. The islanders were mostly transferred to Mauritius or the Seychelles and were barred from returning to their homes.

The United States has since used the military base to carry out bombing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A first case brought against the British government by the exiled islanders in 1975 was settled in 1982 with a payment of 4 million pounds ($6.5 million) and provision of land worth one million pounds. The legality of the procedure was also upheld by Britain's House of Lords in 2008.

The UK Chagos Support Association said it was "saddened and shocked" by the European Court's decision, which cannot be appealed. It urged Britain's coalition government to stand by its pre-election promise to bring about "a just and fair settlement" to the islanders' case.

Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the end of the lengthy legal process.

"We have made clear our regret for the wrongs done to the Chagossian people over forty years ago," he said.

He said the government would now "take stock" of its policy on resettlement of the territory, as previously promised, and would be "as positive as possible in (its) engagement with Chagossian groups and all interested parties".

However, he said there were "fundamental difficulties" with resettlement. ($1 = 0.6147 British pounds)

(Reporting by Natalie Huet; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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Comments (1)
Reuters1945 wrote:
Re: “Chagos Islanders lose European court battle to return home”
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I was most pleasantly surprised that Reuters chose to cover this story of the grave injustice done to the Chagos Islanders almost fifty years ago when they were forcibly removed from their Islands to make way for American military bases.

It seems that all through history the weak of the world have always been at the mercy of the strong. This was never so clear as during the many centuries that the stronger nations of the world invaded, plundered and colonized the weaker nations of this Earth.

Great Britain sadly, was a major force in supplying an endless stream of slaves, kidnapped from Africa, to the so-called New World until this barbaric trade was finally outlawed by the British government, I believe about 1825.

By then, however more than 30,000,000 human beings had been shipped to North America, many of whom died in transit on the high seas, and the majority of whom, spent their entire lives in the horrors of barbaric servitude.

The indigenous population of North America, the so-called “Indians”, who had nothing even remotely in common with India, did not fare any better than the millions of African slaves brought to America in chains.

That unfortunate indigenous civilization were the victims of the rapacious greed of the European settlers as they pushed their way West across the continent, murdering and stealing the land of the indigenous people, at an ever increasingly faster rate, who never had a chance of surviving that relentless human onslaught.

The history of this planet is the history of man’s inhumanity to man.
It continues to this very day, even to this very hour.

While the European Court has ruled against the Islanders based on the fact that they had already previously accepted a financial settlement three decades ago, it is important not to forget what has been referred to as “the callous and shameful treatment” suffered during their removal from the islands between 1967 and 1973.

By covering this story of human suffering Reuters does an important service in reminding the world, once again, that human suffering on any scale, be it great or small, can never be condoned for any reason and is never acceptable.

We should always remain mindful that: “There but for the Grace of God go I”.

Dec 20, 2012 2:44pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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