Owen Bowcott writes:
Chagos islanders, forcibly removed from their homes in 1971, have lost a legal challenge at the supreme court that could have speeded up their return.
In a majority ruling, justices at the UK’s highest court said disclosure of Foreign Office documents assessing a feasibility report on the Chagossians’ return would not have altered the outcome of a House of Lords judgment in 2008.
In 2004, the Chagossians’ right of abode on the British Indian Ocean Territory was denied partially on the basis of a feasibility study suggesting settlement would be prohibitively expensive.
An assessment of the drafting of this study, which lawyers for the Chagossians say cast doubt on it, was not presented to the original House of Lords court hearing.
Delivering Wednesday’s judgment, Lord Mance said there was “no probability” that a court would have, if it had seen the papers, made a different decision.
About 1,500 islanders had been removed in 1971 to make way for the US base on Diego Garcia, the largest island.
Under a deal, kept secret at the time, the US agreed to contribute to the costs of establishing the bases and waive the UK’s payments for joint missile development programmes.
A more recent feasibility study by the Foreign Office, carried out in 2014-15, concluded that resettlement was feasible on the islands if Diego Garcia was included.
A further legal challenge by Chagos Islanders over their loss of fishing rights in the Indian Ocean is expected to reach the supreme court next year.
Standing outside the court holding the Chagossian orange, black and blue flag, Louis Oliver Bancoult, who brought the legal challenge, said the ruling was “not the end of the road”.
Bancoult, who was forced into exile along with his family when he was four years old, said:
“It’s impossible to accept that other people can live in our birthplace but we can’t. Chagossians will be on Chagos very soon. We want to be allowed to return. We implore the British government to go ahead with the exercise to allow us to go back to our homeland.”
Many of the exiled Chagossian community now live in Crawley, West Sussex. Richard Gifford, the solicitor who has represented them through a string of legal challenges, said:
“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.”
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said:
“We are pleased that the supreme court was clear that additional documents would have not made any difference to the outcome of the case in 2008 and ruled in favour of the UK government.
“We remain committed to our current review of resettlement and will continue to keep parliament, Chagossians and their supporters closely informed of progress on the issue.”