UK Liberty

Latest on Chagos – this Government is a disgrace

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on November 9, 2007

The Times on the Chagos Islanders:

Almost four decades have elapsed but Dervillie Permal remembers clearly the summer day in 1971 when the British Government evicted him from the Chagos Islands, the tropical idyll in the heart of the Indian Ocean that was his home.

The Permals are the polar opposite of most immigrants to Britain. They want to go home but the Government will not let them. They have never stopped dreaming of their palm-fringed coral islands. Their hopes suffered a further blow this week when the Government quietly launched another round of its legal battle to prevent the islanders from returning.

It did so despite three unanimous court rulings in favour of the Chagossians in the past seven years [see [2006] EWHC 1038 (Admin), [2003] EWHC 2222 (QB), and [2001] QB 1067 – ed] the entreaties of parliamentarians of all parties and widespread condemnation of a policy that is, in the words of the most recent court judgement, denying the islanders “one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings”. As the legal process drags on, the original Chagossians are dying. Of about 2,000 evicted from the islands in the late 1960s and early 1970s, barely 700 are still alive, according to Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the exiles, who has lost a father and brother to what Chagossians call “sadness”, a sister who killed herself and two other brothers who drank themselves to death.

Mrs Permal told The Times through an interpreter: “The British Government is playing with us until one by one we die and there is nobody left and they can silently close the case.” Richard Gifford, the lawyer for the islanders in London, said: “I’ve lost count of the old folk I’ve met who have subsequently died broken-hearted at the fact they couldn’t see their beloved homeland.”

The Permals and their fellow Chagossians are the ultimate victims of geopolitics: they were evicted because of the Cold War and are prevented from returning by the War on Terror.

The legal battle began in earnest in 1998 and, in 2000, they won their first victory when the Divisional Court ruled that the deportations were unlawful and “official zeal in implementing those removal policies went beyond any proper limits”. The Government did not appeal and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary at the time, agreed that the islanders should be allowed to return to any of the islands except Diego Garcia.

Then came September 11, 2001. The military base of Diego Garcia – with its B52 bombers, surveillance aircraft and support facilities – became a vital launchpad for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is also where top al-Qaeda suspects are allegedly held and interrogated.

In 2004 the Government abruptly issued two Orders in Council [wikipedia], allowing it to bypass Parliament to negate the court ruling. In 2006 the High Court ruled that the Government’s move was unlawful and “repugnant” and, in May this year, the Court of Appeal agreed [see Bailii – ed]. It accused the Government of abusing its power: “The freedom to return to one’s homeland, however poor and barren the conditions of life, is one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings.”

The Court said,

The question is where in the spectrum should an Order in Council fall in the modern era? Should it be categorised with primary legislation passed through Parliament or with secondary legislation subject to a negative resolution or in some other category? So far as legislation passed in Parliament is concerned, there is an opportunity for debate and scrutiny. So far as subsidiary legislation in the form of regulations is concerned there is little opportunity for debate but at least there is the negative resolution procedure. So far as Orders in Council are concerned there is simply no opportunity for debate at all and no opportunity for scrutiny. It involves a minister acting without any constraint.

Indeed, that “the 2004 Orders were an abuse of power“.

That minister was Jack Straw, by the way. You know, that great defender of liberties.

Indeed the Crown may be doing something that, if she only knew the true position, she would prefer not to do, and yet it is then said that the government can hide behind the “Crown’s prerogative”

Back to the Times:

The Lords granted the Government leave to appeal last week, provided that it paid all costs regardless of the outcome. Supporters of the Chagossians begged the Government not to prolong the agony of the islanders. In a letter to The Times a cross-party group of MPs and peers referred to Gordon Brown’s recent speech on liberty and declared: “For the FCO to proceed with a further appeal would waste more public funds, delay justice for the Chagossians and expose the Prime Minister’s words as hollow. Can we please have a return to good sense, justice and British liberties?” On Tuesday, when attention was on the Queen’s Speech, the Government lodged its appeal anyway.

A spokesman for the FCO said that the Government was required by treaty to preserve the islands for the defence needs of Britain and the US, cited a government-commissioned study which suggested resettlement was impracticable and argued that the court ruling raised issues of constitutional law that could “adversely affect effective governance of overseas territories”.

The Chagossians and their supporters said that the study was fixed and that it is nonsense to suggest that they could not survive on islands where their families lived for generations and where 3,000 military and civilian officials presently exist quite happily. They have commissioned their own study with a £15,000 grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. They also argue that their return to islands more than 150 miles from Diego Garcia could not possibly pose a security threat.

The decision to appeal by the Government has brought a barrage of criticism and the Chagossians plan to demonstrate outside Downing Street tomorrow. Mr Bancoult said that it disgraced a government that “always presents itself as a champion of human rights”. Robert Bain, the deputy chairman of the UK Chagos Support Association, said that it was shameful that the Government “continues to drag this out at massive expense to the taxpayer and great emotional cost to the islanders . . . Justice delayed is justice denied”.


2 Responses

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  1. Dud Hendrick said, on November 10, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    I am a professor of peace studies, a peace activist, and a member of Veterans for Peace. I am currently gathering first person reports from victims of the U.S. military empire. Can you help me make contact with Devillie Permal or any other Chagossians who were among those deported.
    Dud Hendrick
    P.O. Box 10
    Deer Isle, ME 04627 USA

  2. […] island the Chagossians used to call their home before an older Government kicked them out and we compounded the injustice by abuse of power – I mean, for national security reasons we said they were neither entitled to return or […]

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