A controversial UK judgement which endorsed a 2004 law banning Chagossians living in their homeland was today narrowly upheld by the UK's Supreme Court. The Supreme Court's predecessor, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, had found in 2008 that the 2004 law forbidding Chagossians from living in their homeland was legal.
Chagossians-UK citizens- have lived in exile since their deportation from their homeland in the early 1970s. Since then they have fought long political and legal campaigns for the right to return home. For more on Chagossians history see our Chagos in 5 minutes section.
The 2008 judgment was called into question following allegations that key information had not been available from the judges during the trial. The information in question related to doubts around the credibility of a study which suggested resettlement of the Chagos Islands could be difficult.
A fresh government-commissioned study concluded in 2015 that Chagossian return was “practically feasible;” a verdict the government has accepted.
In a narrow majority verdict of 3:2, the Supreme Court judges agreed the 2008 judgement would stand. The two dissenting judges, Lady Hale and Lord Kerr, “would have set aside the 2008 Decision,” arguing there was a “real possibility” the 2008 case could have had a different outcome the evidence in question had been available.
Speaking after the verdict Oliver Bancoult, who has led the Chagossian legal battle over many years, commented that this "was not the end of the road" and implored the UK Government to "go ahead and to allow us to go back to our homeland."
Agreeing, the Chagossians' long-time legal advocate Richard Gifford stated that "Resettlement is perfectly feasible and fervently desired by the Chagossians. Given the acquiescence of the US and the support of Mauritius, this injustice can no longer be sustained."
The Chagossians’ legal team, which includes human rights barrister Amal Clooney QC, will consider its next steps.
In highlighting a new feasibility study which assessed the potential for return favourably, more pressure was put on the Government to finally end their three year policy and back Chagossian return. Find out how you can call on the Minister to finally end the outrage of the Chagossian exile in just a few clicks.
There has been condemnation from across the political divide, with Labour, Conservative and UKIP politicians condemning the Supreme Court's verdict (Tweets from James Carver, Catherine West and Henry Smith below).
Reacting to the news, UK Chagos Support Association celebrity campaigners expressed their disappointment but also looked to the future.
Writer, Philippa Gregory, an ambassador for the UK Chagos Support Association, said:
“I am shocked that the Supreme Court has not ruled in the Chagossians’ favour and I am struck by how unfair and disappointing this is. But this isn’t the end. It simply means it is even more important the Government act now to support Chagossian return.
“There’s growing support among the British public too Awareness about the terrible treatment that Chagossians have suffered under successive governments is spreading. Chagossians are British citizens and want the same rights as the rest of us - to live where we and our families were born.”
Broadcaster and explorer, Ben Fogle, who is also a campaign ambassador with UK Chagos Support Association, said:
“It is hard to accept that the Supreme Court has ruled against the Chagossians after 50 years of exile. But the government’s own policy review has already concluded that return is feasible, costs are modest and plenty of Chagossians are ready to go. So this fight for justice will continue - and grow.”
Stefan Donnelly, UK Chagos Support Associaiton Committee Chair commented that:
“This will be disappointing for Chagossians, they’ve campaigned peacefully and powerfully for decades for the right to return.
Justice is still within reach though. It is Ministers' responsibility now to finally conclude their long-running policy review on resettlement of the Chagos Islands. Chagossians are our fellow citizens and we need to stand together and demand Ministers get started on a fair return programme now.”
The government has been conducting a policy review on Chagossian return since 2013, which has already concluded return is “practically feasible” and that there is significant demand in the Chagossian community.
The government has been conducting a policy review on a Chagossian return since 2013, and has already concluded return is “practically feasible” and that there is significant demand in the Chagossian community.
A final government decision on whether to support Chagossian return is expected in the next few months. The original agreement with the US government, which led to Chagossians deportation expires at the end of 2016. Senior politicians including the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group (chaired by Andrew Rosindell MP) have called on any renewal of that agreement to include a return programme for Chagossians.
The bottom line is this was a disappointing day, but one which should only strengthen our resolve to see justice done as soon as possible. You can listen to the full verdict of the Supreme Court on their website.