The UK government responded this week to a petition signed by some 900 anti war activists. Read below a copy of the petition and the UK government's response to it, which Lalit received through the NO Bases network, of which LALIT we are a member.
"We believe that the forced expulsion of the Chagos Archipeligo at the request of the USA for the sole purpose of establishing a military base on Diego Garcia to be a shameful episode in our countrys recent history.
Perhaps even more shamefully, the UK government now intends to stop the Chagossians from ever returning to their homes. To do this it will have to overturn or ignore two High Court Judgements allowing the Chagossians the right to return. This is in spite of Home Secretary Robin Cooks position of not contesting the decision to allow repatriation in 2000.
It seems the continuing `War on Terror` allows for the continued theft of these Islands , simply for their strategic position in relation to the Gulf and any future campaigns."
British Governments response
The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was originally created to provide for the defence needs of both the United States and Britain. The British Government entered into a bilateral agreement with the United States in 1966 which provides that the Territory is to remain available for the defence needs of the two countries for an initial period of 50 years, with an option of a further 20 years.
Former Foreign Office Minister, Bill Rammell, stated in Parliament on 7 July 2004
"I shall start by acknowledging that, in my view, the decisions taken by successive Governments in the 1960s and 1970s to depopulate the islands do not, to say the least, constitute the finest hour of UK foreign policy. In no sense am I seeking to justify the decisions that were made in the 1960s and 1970s. Those decisions may be seen as regrettable, but the Government must deal with the current situation. The responsibility of the UK Government for the decisions taken in the 1960s and 1970s has been acknowledged by successive Governments since then, as is demonstrated by the substantial compensation that has already been paid to the Chagossians."
Full text of this statement can be found on the Parliament website .
Compensation was paid by the UK to the Chagossians in two stages. Firstly, 650,000 Pounds was paid to the Mauritian Government for the benefit of the Chagossians in the early 1970s (5.5 million at todays prices) for the express purpose of assisting resettlement.
Secondly, under a 1982 Agreement between the UK , Government of Mauritius and representatives of the Chagossians a further 4 million pounds (9 million at todays prices) was paid by the UK into a Trust Fund for the benefit of registered Chagossians. This was in full and final settlement of any claims they might have had. The High Court Judgement of 9 October 2003, upheld by the Court of Appeal on 22 July 2004, thoroughly examined the circumstances in which this settlement was reached. The islanders were advised at the time by their own lawyers that this represented a fair and reasonable settlement. It established that the UK had no legal obligation to make any further compensation.
The British Overseas Territories Act 2002 granted British citizenship to Overseas Territories citizens, including a large number of Chagossians. The citizenship provisions of the Act came into force on 21 May 2002. Since then over 1,100 Chagossians have been issued with British passports. Upon receipt of their British passport, the Chagossians were given a leaflet explaining what they were and were not entitled to if they exercised their right to live in the UK. Many have chosen to excise that right and have moved to the UK .
Mr Bill Rammell gave a written statement to the House of Commons in June 2004
" . . . whilst it may be feasible to resettle the islands in the short-term, the costs of maintaining long term inhabitation are likely to be prohibitive. Even in the short term, natural events such as periodic flooding from storms and seismic activity are likely to make life difficult for a resettled population . . . Human interference within the atolls, however well managed, is likely to exacerbate stress on the marine and terrestrial environment and will accelerate the effects of global warming. Thus resettlement is likely to become less feasible over time."
Specifically with reference to climate change, the report advised that:
" . . . the main issue facing a resettled population on the low-lying islands will be flooding events, which are likely to increase in periodicity and intensity and will not only threaten infrastructure, but also the freshwater aquifers and agricultural production. Severe events may even threaten life."
The report also highlighted the implications for resettlement on such low-lying islands of the predicted increase in global sea levels as a result of climate change.
In effect, therefore, anything other than short-term resettlement on a purely subsistence basis would be highly precarious and would involve expensive underwriting by the UK Government for an open-ended period probably permanently. Accordingly, the Government consider that there would be no purpose in commissioning any further study into the feasibility of resettlement; and that it would be impossible for the Government to promote or even permit resettlement to take place. After long and careful consideration, we have therefore decided to legislate to prevent it.
Equally, restoration of full immigration control over the entire territory is necessary to ensure and maintain the availability and effective use of the territory for defence purposes, for which it was in fact constituted and set aside in accordance with the UK s treaty obligations entered into almost 40 years ago. Especially in the light of recent developments in the international security climate since the November 2000 judgment, this is a factor to which due weight has had to be given.
It was for these reasons that on 10 June 2004 Her Majesty made two Orders in Council, the combined effect of which is to restore full immigration control over all the islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory . These controls extend to all persons, including members of the Chagossian community.
Orders in Council are the only current means, save an act of Parliament, by which we can introduce primary legislation for ceded Overseas Territories , of which the British Indian Ocean Territory is one. It is common to use Orders in Council to legislate both in the UK and in the Overseas Territories . For example, in 2000 the Government enacted an Order in Council under the Royal prerogative to decriminalise homosexuality in the Caribbean Overseas Territories .
The former Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, decided to seek permission to appeal against the 23 May 2007 Court of Appeal judgement primarily because the judgement raises issues of constitutional law of general public importance that, in her view, would adversely affect the effective governance of all British Overseas Territories . This would include confusion in the legal system to be applied in those Overseas Territories , and potential conflicts between local and English courts. For these reasons the former Foreign Secretary thought it to be in the public interest that the effect of the Court of Appeals judgement even if correct, should be clarified.
If permission is granted, we expect the case to be heard by the House of Lords in 2008. It would be inappropriate to comment further in relation to ongoing proceedings.