Amal Clooney defends Chagos Islanders bid to return home

Amal Clooney represents Chagos Islanders who want to return to their homeland following their forced exile to make way for US military base

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney, is representing Chagos Islanders who were evicted from their home by Britain to make way for a US military base in the 1960s and 1960s appealed to the UK’s Supreme Court on Monday in their latest attempt to return to their homeland.

Britain evicted about 2,000 people from the Chagos archipelago, a British colony, five decades ago so the United States could build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the 60 islands. Its total land area is 56 square kilometres.

The Diego Garcia base has been used in US military operations from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also used for CIA planes that transferred people to secret prisons during the so-called "War on Terror" campaign. The island is leased to the US for 50 years and it will expire in 2016.

Five Supreme Court judges heard the case by exiled islanders, including how the British government failed for nearly a decade to disclose crucial documents which discussed the feasibility of a re-settlement of the territory.

London argued in the report that the re-settlement project for nearly 100 Chagossians would cost a minimum of 54 million pounds and it will take at least three years.

The lawyer said during the appeal hearing that the final report shows the possibility for the re-settlements and demanded that a 2008 decision against the return should be overturned.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, a lawyer representing the Chagossians, said “We say that the non-disclosure is significant and material and that it affords grounds... to set aside judgment.”

“There has been a significant injustice in the earlier proceedings,” he added.

The Chagos Islands are located at a strategic point in Indian Ocean, halfway between southeast Asia and eastern Africa. The eviction of the locals has long been a controversial issue in Britain, and it is also an ongoing dispute between Mauritius, from which the Chagos islands were “detached” from, and the United Kingdom.

It is estimated that around 1,500 Chagossians moved to Mauritius and 500 in the Seychelles after forced eviction. Approximately 1,400 moved to Britain when they were finally given eligibility to apply for British citizenship in 2001.

Exiled Chagossians have been in a long court battle against the British government in the UK since 1978 for their right to return. Britain offered some compensation to the islanders in 1979 on the condition that they will withdraw their case and never file any other case demanding to go home. The Chagossians rejected the proposal.

Recently, Britain's attempt to create the world's largest marine reserve around the Chagos Islands in 2010 renewed tensions with Mauritius. The UN previously ruled that Britain acted illegally when it imposed territorial controls and ignored the rights of Mauritius by damaging the fishing industry in surrounding waters.

TRTWorld and agencies