23 May 2007

In the 1960s and 70s, the people of the Chagos archipelago were secretly and illegally evicted by Britain, so it could lease the main island, Diego Garcia, to the United States for use as a military base. Forty years on, the Chagossians are still suffering in exile. They!ve had their homeland, their livelihood, their possessions and their culture stolen from them by the British Government, which refuses to return what!s rightfully theirs. Instead, it!s flouting two High Court rulings (in 2000 and 2006) that declared the evictions unlawful, and said the islanders should now be allowed to go home. Enough is enough: Britain should stop appealing against the inevitable and pay for the Chagossians to return to their islands as soon as possible.
For further information contact: Robert Bain (Chairman) UK Chagos Support Association +44 7773 896 811 robertbain@chagossupport.org.uk

It!s time for the Government to back resettlement
Instead of implementing the first High Court ruling in the islanders! favour, the British Government dragged its feet, spending half a million pounds on a discredited study that claimed resettlement was unviable. It then used the Royal Prerogative to bar the Chagossians from their islands forever – an act ruled unlawful in 2006. The Government has now spent around two million pounds on fighting the islanders in court. That works out at more than £500 a day over the past decade, or about £1,000 for every person who was evicted. • Everyone has a fundamental right to live in their homeland. The Chagossians are British citizens, and the Government has an obligation to them to stand up to the U.S. and support resettlement of the Chagos islands. The Government should not only acknowledge the right to return but provide proper support in terms of planning, funding and access to resources. The Chagossians do not have independent means to resettle the islands, so for the Government to accept the right to return but do nothing about it - as it did between 2000 and 2004) would be both meaningless and immoral.

• •


The first step: a proper feasibility study
The Government!s initial opinion on resettlement, drafted before the 2000 court case, concluded: “there is no obvious physical reason why one or both of the two [main outlying] atolls should not be repopulated". That finding was ignored by a later study, completed in June 2002, which asserted that: “the costs of maintaining long-term inhabitation are likely to be prohibitive.” This conclusion is misleading: the study did not even investigate costs, never mind potential sources of funding, such as the multi-billion-euro European Development Fund. It!s also inadequate in the context of financial support given to the UK!s other overseas territories. The islanders themselves were not consulted – an omission breaching all recognised guidelines. The changes from a (fairly optimistic) draft to heavily qualified conclusions, and the time taken to complete the study, suggest strongly that the outcome was politically determined. Richard Gifford, the islanders' solicitor, says: “Nobody takes the conclusions drawn from the feasibility studies seriously and, insofar as the Government repeats them, they!re just opening themselves up to ridicule.” • • The Government should therefore commission a proper study. It should consult the islanders and agree with them how to conduct it. Any study has to consider the economic bases for sustainable resettlement, which include coconut farming, mari-culture, fisheries and tourism.

Environmental concerns: the reality
The 2002 study said global warming would make resettlement impracticable, despite forecasting that its impact would not be felt fully for 100 years. In the meantime, the U.S. continues to invest heavily in its base on Diego Garcia, building defences to protect against the rising sea levels that could soon pose a threat. The Chagos Conservation Trust, which includes the leading scientific experts on the region, wants “full consideration to be given to the profound environmental implications” of resettlement, but has not taken a position for or against it in principle. The Trust, which was not consulted in 2002, says: “resettlement needs to take account of the importance of safeguarding the archipelago!s unique, delicate and vulnerable ecology (one of the only nearly pristine tropical marine environments surviving and of universal value for the world!s natural heritage) while providing a satisfactory framework for sustainable habitation.” • • The Government must therefore give due consideration to environmental concerns when drafting plans for resettlement. It should also stop relying on assertions unsupported by evidence.


Security concerns: the reality
The U.S. Government claims settlement of the outer islands, 100 miles from Diego Garcia, would pose a security risk to a base that was used to bomb Iraq. In fact, Diego Garcia is the world!s only military base without an adjacent civilian population. Instead, it imports hundreds of foreign workers to do jobs that were blocked to all Chagossians until last year. • • The security risk from resettlement is negligible. The British Government should admit this and facilitate discussions between the Chagossians, the UK, and the U.S. military, rather than using its “treaty obligations” to the U.S. as a justification for rejecting High Court rulings.

A “full and final settlement”: the reality
The Government says it has no financial obligation to the Chagossians after authorising two compensation payments in the past. In the early 1970s, £650,000 (£5.5 million at today!s prices) was paid to the Mauritian Government towards the cost of resettling Chagossian exiles. In 1982, a further £4 million (£9 million at today!s prices) was paid into a Trust Fund for the benefit of 1344 registered Chagossian natives (£2,750 each), but to receive any money they had to accept it as a “full and final settlement” of all claims. Release forms for this purpose were only produced after the islanders’ legal representatives had already left. Moreover, it was only after they had been evicted and lost everything that the islanders actually received any compensation, and then without them being consulted on what they needed. Of the money that actually reached the Chagossians, much was spent immediately on paying the debts they had accrued by this time. The Government offered no support to ensure its money was used wisely by people who had little experience dealing with it. • • The Government!s claim that compensation has been adequately paid is erroneous. Its payments were derisory, mismanaged and too late, and came with strings attached.

The best way for the Government to compensate the Chagossians now would be to give them back their homeland. “The Government has spent £2 million fighting court cases to keep the Islanders waiting,” said Robert Bain, Chairman of the UK Chagos Support Association. “It!s time for them to stop wasting taxpayers! money denying these people their rights, and start using it to give them back what was stolen from them, by offering resettlement and compensation.”