4 Reasons why the Supreme Court 'defeat' can be a step to victory
On Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled against the Chagossian people's bid to win the right to return to their homeland. This was disappointing, but actually as far as defeats go, this was a pretty good one.
The court's judgement may have a narrow rejection of Chagossians' claim, but it makes it all the more likely the Government will decide to back Chagossian return: here's a few reasons why...
The Government is still due to deliver a separate Chagos return decision this year, and there's a great case for backing return
The Supreme Court was always just one part of why 2016 is the perfect year to deliver return. The Government has also pledged to deliver a conclusion to its own long-running policy review on whether to allow Chagossians to resettle their homeland.
Chagossian return is then going to be a political decision. So we need to tell the Minister responsible for Chagos -James Duddridge MP- that this matters to you. If the Government see this is a priority for the UK electorate, the case for them backing return becomes much stronger.
The Government now accept return is “practically feasible.” Independent cost estimates are modest, and funding sources other than the UK taxpayer (US & private sector) have been acknowledged.
Following a consultation with the Chagossian community, they accept there is real demand for return. And crucially the agreement with the US on the use of Diego Garcia for military purposes, which led to Chagossians deportation, expires this year. This has led to calls that any extension must include support for Chagossians to return.
All this means this is the perfect time for the Government to get started on a fair return programme.
Its not even the end of the legal road
But although we are urging the Government to deliver a political solution to this long-running human rights violation, the judgement yesterday was crystal clear that their could be further legal challenges to the Government's ban on Chagossians living in their homeland.
“the Supreme Court sent a clear signal to the Government that, in light of current knowledge that the islands could be resettled, the ban needed to be reconsidered.”
The 2004 ban on Chagossians living in their homeland, issued by Royal Prerogative to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny, was judged legal on the basis of a feasibility study which suggested that return would be highly difficult.
This study has now been largely discredited, however, and the more recent 2015 KMPG study demonstrated return is “practically feasible,” a verdict accepted by the current Government.
In light of this, Chagossians will be able to challenge the law again, citing the fact independent experts have confirmed return is possible.
And it isn't just us saying this: that was the direct comment of the judges, as you can see from the quote from Lord Mance below.
This should make the politicians realise they need to get on with it
Of course legal cases take time, effort and money, so we'd rather Ministers do the right thing of their own accord, and out of respect for their own citizens who they are forcing to remain in exile.
But the prospect of more legal action (there have already been 17 years of legal challenges and appeals over Chagossian exile) will strike fear in the hearts of Government. They had hoped the Supreme Court would draw a line under the Chagossians legal challenges.
But in the words of Judge Clarke, “this is not the end of the road.”
So the Government have a choice. They can keep spending millions of pounds of taxpayer money fighting Chagossian exiles in the court, wasting the time of civil servants and Ministers trying to defend the indefensible and wrecking the UK's reputation as a defender of human rights.
It would though be much more sensible to make the very minor investment needed to begin a Chagossian return programme. For once the UK Government could deliver positive headlines about the Chagos Islands, do right by their own citizens and avoid years of embarrassment and financial cost.
The case raised the profile of this still too-obscure cause
Public opinion is going to be a big driver of any Government decision on return. And almost anyone who hears about the abuse of the Chagossian people, and the great opportunity for them to return this year, becomes a supporter.
The problem has been that simply not enough people have heard about what the Chagossian people have been through over the past few decades.
But the day of the Supreme Court case was almost certainly our busiest day ever. We had coverage from the BBC, ITV, Al-Jazeera, The Times, The Independent, The Guardian and RT, to name but a few. When I logged on to our Twitter account at lunch time during my day job we had over 100 notifications, dozens of new followers and so many messages of support I lost count.
We need to keep this up and make sure our supporters make one thing clear to Government: we will not accept this vile human rights abuse in their name. This defeat can be as good as a victory if it leads to Chagossians' winning return in a few months time.