Saturday 21 April 2018

Defeat for exiled Chagos islanders

Supporters of the Chagos Islanders protested at Westminster in 2008 following a separate legal battle to let them return
Supporters of the Chagos Islanders protested at Westminster in 2008 following a separate legal battle to let them return

A Government decision to create a controversial marine park in the Indian Ocean has been upheld by the High Court.

Former residents of the Chagos Islands who were forced into exile say the move, involving a ban on commercial fishing, was unlawfully aimed at preventing them resettling their former "paradise" homeland.

But Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Mitting, sitting in London, ruled the marine protected area (MPA) was "compatible with EU law".

The British expelled the Chagossians between 1965 and 1973 to allow the US to establish an air base on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago.

The expulsion has been described by critics as one of the most shameful episodes in modern British colonial history. The exiled Chagossians have fought a long series of legal battles for the right of return.

Lord Justice Richards described the challenge to the MPA by the Chagos Refugees Group, led by Louis Bancoult, as "a further chapter in the history of litigation arising out of the removal and subsequent exclusion of the local population from the Chagos archipelago".

The MPA was created by top British diplomat Colin Roberts in his role as commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) on the instructions of the then Foreign Secretary in April 2010.

Chagossian lawyers said the moved followed British consultations with the US during which the Americans were assured the use of their base on Diego Garcia would not be adversely affected by the MPA.

Mr Roberts denied under cross-examination at the High Court that the marine park was created for the ''improper purpose'' of keeping the Chagossians out, as the US wanted, and said it was for environmental and conservation purposes. The judges accepted his evidence.

Lord Justice Richards said "a truly remarkable set of circumstances" would have to have existed for the case on improper purpose to be right, involving a long-term decision "somewhere deep in Government" to frustrate Chagossian ambitions by promoting the MPA. He added: "Those circumstances would provide an unconvincing plot for a novel. They cannot found a finding for the claimant on this issue."

Press Association

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