No right to return for Chagos islanders

Chagos islanders have lost their right to return home after law lords overturned a previous judgement in their favour.

Peers backed a government appeal against an earlier court of appeal ruling that said the 2,000 Chagossians could resettle the island, which was leased to the US in the 1960s.

“This is a devastating verdict for both the Chagos Islanders and Britain’s reputation around the world,” said Liberal Democrat foreign spokesman Edward Davey.

In 2000 the court said the islanders could return to 65 islands on the archipelago but not Diego Garcia – which was used to refuel extraordinary rendition flights.

However, the government used the royal prerogative to nullify the decision only for the high court to once again reverse the decision.

At the time the judges had said: “The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an Order in Council, exile a whole population from a British overseas territory and claim that he is doing so for the ‘peace, order and good government’ of the territory is, to us, repugnant.”

In its latest appeal, allowed only if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office picked up the legal costs, the government has proved successful. The government had said there were too many security concerns to allow the island to be resettled.

Foreign secretary David Miliband welcomed the law lords’ ruling but expressed regret at the way in which the resettlement in the 1960s and 70s was conducted.

After the US military was granted leave to establish a military and naval base on the island for an $11 million discount on the Polaris nuclear missile system, livestock on the island was gassed and pregnant women forced into ships’ holds.

“It is appropriate on this day that I should repeat the government’s regret at the way the resettlement of the Chagossians was carried out in the 1960s and 1970s and at the hardship that followed for some of them,” Mr Miliband said.

“We do not seek to justify those actions and do not seek to excuse the conduct of an earlier generation.

“However, our appeal to the House of Lords was not about what happened in the 1960s and 1970s,” the foreign secretary continued.

“It was about decisions taken in the international context of 2004. This required us to take into account issues of defence [and] security of the archipelago and the fact that an independent study had come down heavily against the feasibility of lasting resettlement of the outer islands of [the British Indian Ocean Territory].

“We realise, of course, that this judgment will be a great disappointment to many Chagossians. We will keep in close touch with the Chagossian communities and consider carefully future requests to visit the territory.”