Chagossians challenge Chagos Marine Protected Area in the Supreme Court
Chagossians are launching a fresh challenge to assert their rights over their homeland this week. Taking their cause the UK's Supreme Court, Chagossians and their legal team will argue the creation of the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area in 2010 infringed on Chagossians rights to their native land, including fishing rights.
The case is being taken forward by Chagos Refugee Group leader Oliver Bancoult, and is an appeal against a previous judgement on the grounds of new information. Full details are available on the Supreme Court website.
The creation of the Marine Protected Area was controversial, with minimal consultation with the exiled Chagossian community. Prior to the introduction of the zone, Chagossians living in Mauritius engaged in small scale fishing of the waters around their homeland, providing an important source of income for the often still-impoverished community. At the time UK Chagos Support Association criticised the "disdain" shown for Chagossian.
More infamously, documents released by Wikileaks in 2011 suggested that the Marine Protected Area was created at least in part as a means to prevent Chagossian return. In one document, a senior British official Colin Roberts is reported as claiming Chagossians would find it "very difficult, if not impossible," to pursue their campaign for the right to return following the creation of the Marine Protected Area around their homeland.
He also describes a Marine Protected Area as "the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands' former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling."
Regardless of the outcome of the case, Chagossians have been clear over the years of the immense value that the community places on the natural environment of their homeland. Writing in 2010, Chagos Refugee Group leader Oliver Bancoult said it was the "sacred right, duty and responsibility" of Chagossians to look after their unique homeland.
More recently many have trained in environmental programmes run by ZSL, learning more about and how to look after the environment of their homeland.
The independent government-commissioned study on the feasibility of Chagossian return to their homeland reported in 2015 that Chagossian resettlement could be accomplished with minimal environmental impact. It also reaffirmed that many Chagossians wanted to work in environmental protection roles in their homeland and had a strong commitment to sustainable development of a new society in the Chagos Islands.
Speaking to the Supreme Court judges during the initial hearing, Mr Bancoult's QC Nigel Pleming directly linked the case to the wider pressure on the UK around the Chagos Islands, following the UN vote last week. "The international pressure is increasing, it’s not going away.”
He added that Chagossians remain “hopeful and optimistic that their right of abode will be returned”, saying that “there are reasonable prospects that [they] will one day be resettled.”
UK Chagos Support Association Committee Chair Tom Guha said that
“Given the new intelligence, it is only fair that the status of the MPA in Chagos is revisited. The crucial thing however, is that whatever the outcome, the Government and courts recognise the need to support Chagossian resettlement and do not use the MPA as a get out clause."
“We absolutely support the need to protect the rich biodiversity of the Chagos Islands. The indigenous inhabitants did a marvellous job of that for generations prior to their exile. The idea that they would somehow be a destructive force if resettled is simply not true”.