30 June, 2008

Chagos Case

The hearing by the House of Lords begins this morning. No need to recap the details of the story. Every one who follows the saga of Britain’s modern relationship with the Overseas Territories knows them. They constitute one of the most cynical examples of geo-politics played by the metropolitan powers at the cost of the lives and property of us unwitting colonials.

Every now and then a human-interest gloss helps to bring home the true nature and consequences of political decisions. Such is the article by Elizabeth Mistry in a Scottish newspaper, the Sunday Herald. If you do click on the link, and read the article, it would be useful to see readers from the Overseas Territories filling out the little form and sending a comment to the newspaper. I liked the comment posted by Iain Orr. He went to the heart of the matter:

This article really brought out the human dimension of this sad saga. The abuse of the Chagossians by the UK and US governments has undermined their global crusade for justice. I had hoped Brown would be better than Blair. However, he has now found another way to mismanage public finances – letting the FCO waste money begging the Law Lords to deny the Chagossians their right of return. Given that the Court of Appeal found the FCO’s attempt to deny that right “an abuse of power on the part of executive government”, this is more money down the drain.”

The hearing begins at 11:00 am GMT in Committee Room 4A. The room holds approximately 70 seats. With the usual security checks, it is advisable to get there before 10:30 am. Police permission has been obtained to mount a peaceful protest outside the House starting at 9:00 am. All are most welcome to join in. The greater the numbers, the better. Don’t forget to wear your “Let Them Return” badge. You can get one at the protest for £2.00 a time.

An article by Duncan Campbell in Saturday's Guardian recaps the basic facts. I liked his opening paragraph:

“If there is a clanking sound in the corridors of parliament on Monday, it could well be "the chains of the ghosts of the past" - the phrase used by high court judges to describe the Foreign Office's behaviour towards a small group of Indian Ocean islanders who next week take a strange and shocking case to the law lords.”

You can make a comment on his article as well.

The International Herald Tribune has a short story. It focuses on the interests of the United States:

U.S. military authorities have expressed fears that any attempt to resettle any of the islands would compromise the security of Diego Garcia. The base has been used for Iraq and Afghanistan operations.

As someone pointed out, maybe it is just as well that myth is spreading. It gives the FCO a way out for their outrageous behaviour in appealing the Court of Appeal ruling to the House of Lords. When they lose the appeal, they can always save face by claiming, “We only appealed because our uncaring, warmongering US allies asked us to.”


  1. On the Sunday Herald website, "Petit-Jean" of St. Helena comments this morning:

    Who in our current government will assure rights and justice for the overseas territories? What has happened to the Chagossians could happen to anyone in any OT. Asking to right an atrocious wrong is an opportunity given to the offender whereby grave wrongs can be corrected, whereby injustice can be healed and we can move forward together, not divided -- but in the interest of unity and fairness.

    Military bases and nations are made up of good honest dedicated people - real people, with real families who believe in freedom and justice - honesty - if there is not honesty and concern at the highest levels of government and understanding of unity and rights for a nation's people then what is the name of this type of government? Where/what is the hope of the people?

  2. Today's case before the Law Lords is not about the legality of Orders in Council but whether they must be reasonable, just, and for the good of the majority of those affected.

    The FCO's Orders in Council banned the Chagossians forever from their homeland, claiming it was doing so for their own health and safety! It was done without consulting them, or even telling them in advance. It was done without the knowledge of Parliament. They were exiled by force and dumped in another country. They were given no compensation. Years later, some of them were given a few dollars and told to get lost.

    The FCO are also claiming that such an Order is not subject to either parliamentary or judicial review. It would be astonishing if the House of Lords, in the 21st Century, upheld such a notion.

    And it would mean that next year, it could be us.


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