The Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled that the UK breached its international obligations in creating a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands in 2010. Guardian correspondent Owen Bowcott reports that the UK “acted illegally” and suggests the ruling offers “hope of return” to exiled Chagossians. In the verdict, the court notes that the MPA was created in “haste…dictated by the electoral timetable.” Read our reaction in the below statement.
The court ruled, by a vote of three to two, that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on what amounted a challenge to the UK’s sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. Two judges did though issue a dissenting comment, saying that the UK “showed complete disregard for the territorial integrity of Mauritius”and had used the “language of intimidation.” The full details of the case and the final judgement can be read here.
Chagossians in the UK, Mauritius and The Seychelles were not properly consulted about the creation of the Marine Protected Area. As we stated at the time, the failure to work with all relevant stakeholders, Chagossians included, meant that the decision ultimately lacked moral and legal legitimacy. Diplomatic documents released by Wikileaks later revealed that the creation of the Marine Protected Area was, at least in part, an attempt to prevent Chagossians from returning to their homeland.
Environmentalists, including our Patron Ben Fogle and Greenpeace, who had initially supported the measure condemned the manner of the creation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area when the full facts came to light.
This must draw a line under the failures of the past, and the UK Government must now focus on supporting Chagossians’ right to return to their homeland.
The Marine Protected Area, whatever its intention, does not prevent Chagossian return home. It does not apply to Diego Garcia at all and only starts three miles from land. An artisan fishing industry could then be sustained without significant alteration to the MPA.
More importantly, a Government-commissioned feasibility study has already found that return is entirely feasible in environmental, defence, social and economic terms. Notably it emphaised that Chagossians are deeply passionate about protecting the environment of their homeland and wished to be actively involved in conservation efforts upon their return.
The Government committed to making a decision on Chagossians’ right to return before the 2015 election and time is running out. We urge Parliamentarians to engage fully with all stakeholders to end decades of human rights abuse and remove a terrible stain on the UK’s character. This administration has a unique opportunity to deliver justice for Chagossians by ending over forty years of enforced exile and supporting return.