Not to be outdone by others in the blogosphere, here is a brief overview of what 2010 may hold for the Chagossians. As a complete survey of the year ahead would probably run onto several pages, some brief thoughts on 2010â€™s two most important landmark events will have to suffice: (1) the progression of the Chagossiansâ€™ legal battle to the European Court of Human Rights and (2) the possible creation of a marine protected area around the Chagos islands.
First of all, 2010 will see the Chagossiansâ€™ ongoing campaign for justice progress to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). For those that donâ€™t know, the ECtHR is an institution set up by the Council of Europe, an organisation that acts as a kind of human rights watchdog for European states. The court hears cases brought by aggrieved countries, groups and individuals, and makes rulings on whether or not states are abiding by the European Convention on Human Rights. As such, it has the potential to deliver a judgement that could seriously damage the credibility of the UK government.
The last time the Chagossiansâ€™ case was discussed in a court of law was in late 2008, when the Law Lords delivered their crushing 3-2 decision to uphold the governmentâ€™s right to keep the Chagossians in exile. However, it is unlikely that the judges in Strasbourg will be as charitable to the FCO’s position as were the Lords. Rather, the Chagossians and their legal team hope to show that the government is indeed in breach of its international human rights obligations (that is, of course, unless the government decides to back down and pursue a â€œfriendly settlementâ€ instead).
Secondly, 2010 will probably see a decision made on the future of a marine protected area (MPA) in Chagos. It was the Chagos Environment Network (CEN) â€“ a coalition of environmental organisations including the Chagos Conservation Trust, the Marine Conservation Society, the RSPB and others â€“ who first proposed the creation of an MPA earlier this year, but the idea was catapulted to prominence when the FCO launched its official consultation on 10 November 2009. In February 2010, that consultation exercise will come to an end, with a final decision expected to follow shortly afterwards.
The MPA proposal seems to have found significant favour amongst ministers, including the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose minds have perhaps been sharpened because 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. Some high-profile commentators have even linked the issue to Gordon Brown’s personal legacy. However, if Gordon does have a personal interest in giving the MPA proposal his thumbs up, then the question becomes whether he will also take the opportunity to make restitution with the Chagossians? Something that the Prime Minister will no doubt be considering is that 2010 is a general election year. Does Brown really want to go to the polls as the man who sold out the Chagossians? Or would he prefer to cast himself as the Labour Prime Minister who did the decent thing?
What with the ECtHR case, the MPA discussions and the impending general election (2010 is also an election year in Mauritius), there is clearly a lot of uncertainty in the air as 2010 beckons: once again, the Chagossians find themselves at the mercy of judges and politicians. Nevertheless, in spite of whatever adversity they may come up against, the Chagossiansâ€™ resolve shows no sign of wavering. It is important that their supporters in Parliament, the media, scientific community, civil society and abroad continue to stand resolutely behind them. Furthermore, the challenges ahead should not obscure the very real grounds that exist for optimism: in Strasbourg and in Westminster, the Chagossians and their supporters are waging sophisticated campaigns with strong chances of success.
The Chagossiansâ€™ campaign would be made much easier if key decision-makers were to relent and agree reasonable terms, but these same decision-makers should be clear that, whatever 2010 holds, the Chagossians and their supporters will be following their every movement with a watchful eye and a dogged determination to make sure that 2010 turns out to be a year to remember for all of the right reasons.