Owen Bowcott write this piece in the Guardian on Monday 22 June 2015
Chagos islanders, forcibly removed from their homes in 1971, have gone to Britain’s highest court to argue that failure to disclose a key Foreign Office document has prevented their return.
In an unusual legal move, lawyers for Louis Oliver Bancoult, the leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, are trying to persuade the supreme court to overturn a previous judgment by the House of Lords.
In 2004, the Chagossians’ right of abode on the British Indian Ocean Territory was removed partially on the basis of a feasibility study, examining how they could be settled, which was never presented to the original hearing.
About 1,500 islanders had been removed to make way for the US base on Diego Garcia, the largest island, in 1971. Under a deal, kept secret at the time, the United States agreed to contribute to the costs of establishing the bases and waive the UK’s payments for joint missile development programmes.
Arriving at the supreme court in Westminster on Monday, Bancoult said: “I’m very hopeful. We will continue appealing for the right for our people to go back home. Most of the people want to return.” A large Chagossian community has settled in Crawley, Sussex; many were in court to watch the latest legal development.
Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Bancoult, told the court that the House of Lords’ decision in 2008 had “removed one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings: the right of return to their homes, however poor the conditions might be”.
Had the feasibility study, which only emerged in 2012, been available to the judges at the time, Fitzgerald added, “there may well have been a very different outcome. Something has gone wrong in the legal procedure and therefore the Chagossians have been deprived of an opportunity to challenge the reliability of this report.”
The 2008 House of Lords decision was by a margin of only three to two against the islanders. One of the judges at the time, Lord Mance, is now sitting in the supreme court to hear the appeal.
Fitzgerald’s legal team argued in a written submission: “Now that re-settlement is in principle contemplated on the same island as the United States base (which would radically reduce the costs of resettlement), it seems inconceivable that there could be overriding security considerations for excluding all resettlement from the Salomons or Peros Banhos over a hundred miles to the north.”
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