On Wednesday (22 October) the Law Lords - the highest court of appeal in Britain - unexpectedly upheld the Government's appeal against the High Court ruling that the Chagos Islanders should have the right to return home. Between 1965 and 1973, some 2,000 Chagossians were systematically deported by the British to Mauritius and the Seychelles, where they and their descendants faced discrimination and poverty. The reason? So that the US Government could be given a 50-year lease to build a military base on Diego Garcia âe" one of the largest of the Chagos Islands.
In recent years it had seemed that the Islanders had won their long struggle to be able to return to their homeland. The High Court judgment in May 2006, in particular, seemed like a resounding victory: the judges found the British Governmentâe(tm)s decision to 'exile a whole population' both 'irrational' and 'repugnant'. In Lindsey Collen's regular letters to the NI from Mauritius she gave an insight into the exiled Islanders' longing for justice. The NI reported later in 2006 on the joyous return of 100 Chagossians to their homeland for a brief visit - it seemed then like the precursor of a proper and permanent return.
The Islanders and their supporters were devastated by the Law Lords' unexpected ruling. 'How come we failed in the appeal?' said Collins Modliar, shaking his head in disbelief. 'I don't understand it. It is an injustice. We will have to think about what we do next when we go back to Port Louis on Monday.'
'I'm very, very sad about this judgement,' said Sabrina Jean. 'But we will continue to fight the British Government.'
That fight will probably now have to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband welcomed the Law Lord's judgment, while weeping crocodile tears over 'the conduct of an earlier generation' and the hardship suffered by Chagossians as a result. For a longer report on the legal decision by Lindsey Collen click here.