New Internationalist

Right of return

July 2007

‘A decision so outrageous, in defiance of logic or accepted moral standards, that no sensible person would have arrived at it’ – that’s how Sydney Kentridge QC summed up before the Court of Appeal the forced removal of some 2,000 people from the Chagos archipelago between 1965 and 1971 by Britain, the then colonial power, so that the US could build its military base on the island of Diego Garcia.

The court’s panel of three senior judges evidently agreed, stating that the freedom to return to a homeland was ‘one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings’. They rebuked the British Government for employing an obscure legal device which blocked the Chagossians’ right of return, declaring it ‘unlawful’ and ‘a repugnant abuse of power’.

Olivier Bancoult, 43, leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, was jubilant: ‘This is a special day for Chagossians, the result of a long and hard-fought campaign. We will return to our motherland as soon as we can. We trust that our victory gives hope to displaced peoples all over the world in their battles for justice.’

The Government was refused leave to appeal and now must decide whether to petition the House of Lords directly (with the option of proceeding to the European Court of Human Rights if it loses again). But pursuing the legal argument could be bad for the image of a British administration which currently beats the drum of a ‘values-based’ foreign policy.

Sean Carey

This column was published in the July 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 402

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