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Chagos families win legal battle

By doina — last modified May 23, 2007 03:51 PM

Published: 2007-05-23 15:51:12
Countries: BIOT (Chagos)

EXTRACTED From BBC News 23 May 07 1000 Hrs GMT

Families expelled from the Chagos Islands by the British have won their legal battle for the right to return home at the UK Court of Appeal.

Some 2,000 residents were forced out when the British colony in the Indian Ocean was leased to the US in the 1960s to build an airbase at Diego Garcia.

The government took the case to the Court of Appeal after two earlier rulings declared the actions unlawful.

Many former residents now live in Mauritius or in the UK.

The residents were evicted from their homes on the Chagos archipelago between Africa and Indonesia, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Lord Justice Sedley, giving the lead ruling, said the government's use of the Order in Council under the Royal Prerogative - powers that allow action without reference to Parliament - was an unlawful way of preventing the islanders from returning.

Lord Justice Waller said the decision had been taken by a government minister "acting without any constraint".

Earlier rulings

The Diego Garcia base, which was crucial during the Cold War, has gained new significance in recent years as a launching point for bombing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2000, the courts ruled that Chagossians could return to their homes in 65 of the islands, but not to Diego Garcia. The government said it would not appeal but in 2004 the government used the royal prerogative to effectively nullify the decision.

Last year the High Court overturned the order and rejected government argument that the royal prerogative, exercised by ministers in the Queen's name, was immune from scrutiny.

The government took the case to the Court of Appeal, saying the High Court ruling seriously affects the government's control over security matters and its legal relationship with overseas territories.