The Null Device
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Britain's High Court has ruled that the government acted unlawfully when it expelled the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands to make way for the US base in Diego Garcia; the court also struck down a decision, made under the Royal Prerogative, preventing the islanders from returning:
"The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an order in council, exile a whole population from a British overseas territory and claim that he is doing so for the 'peace, order and good government' of the territory is, to us, repugnant," the judges said. "The defendant's approach to this case involves much clanking of the 'chains of the ghosts of the past'."
"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 Richard Gifford, the lawyer representing the islanders. "The story of their forced removal, their sufferings in exile and their desperate struggle to return are described in detail in the judgment. The responsibility of our present government for victimising its own citizens and its subservience to the demands of a foreign power are all too obvious."
Mr Bancoult, who was displaced as a child, said: "Although we are a small people, we always had faith in our struggle. What the UK has done to us is unlawful and our aim is to return as soon as possible. We will look for help from everyone to go back. We had been living there for many generations and we now have the right to return to our birthplace. I personally think that the Queen should apologise."The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has 28 days to appeal.
Some 40 years after being forcibly expelled from their island home by the British government to make way for the huge US military base in Diego Garcia (one of the more ignominious episodes in post-war British colonial history), the Chagos islanders are being allowed to return, albeit only for a few days. 102 Chagossians will make a 12-day visit to the outlying islands, beholding the derelict coconut oil plantations where they or their ancestors lived, and tending to ancestral graves. The visit, which is being organised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will also leave behind a trail of memorial plaques, an exercise which is presumably meant to whitewash the government's somewhat tarnished image over the forcible expulsions (they were reclassified as temporary contract workers, a rather shabby legal fiction which allowed the government to, in the space of one day, herd them onto ships to Mauritius, forcing them to leave homes and possessions behind), and ongoing efforts to deny the islanders the right of permanent return, at the Pentagon's behest. There will not be any members of the press on the trip, apparently for reasons of space.