After 40 years of exile, the Chagos islanders, the descendants of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers, forcibly and sometimes brutally removed from their homes by the British authorities between 1968 and 1971 to make way for the American military base on Diego Garcia, -may finally be going back home.Dr Sean Carey reports.
This really is it. The British government has run out of legal road. The still surviving expelled islanders of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) will soon find out whether they can return to their homeland after their case was heard before the British Law Lords on 30 June. Since 2000, seven senior British judges have found in favour of their right of return. British foreign secretary, David Miliband, who was earlier this year forced into a humiliating admission before parliament that the island had been used by the US for the rendition of two prisoners in 2002, has backed the decision of his immediate predecessor, Margaret Beckett, to refer the matter to the highest court in the land ostensibly to find out whether the use of "orders in council"-obscure legal devices issued under the royal prerogative, which avoid parliamentary scrutiny-can be used to control not just what goes in the BIOT but also the other 13 British overseas territories. All this has undoubtedly been great fun for the government-employed lawyers. About [pounds sterling]3m of UK taxpayers' money has been spent so far and is still counting-but no one with an interest in this case takes any of this legal manoeuvring at face value. The reality is that keeping on the right side of the Americans is the name of the game and that the numbers and the racial origins of the exiled islanders are both important factors when doing the political arithmetic.
"Now that there is a greater awareness of the injustice done over Diego Garcia, there is the usual realpolitik reluctance to admit error," observes former Labour leadership contender, Bryan Gould, who worked at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on European issues between 1964 and 1968 and knows a thing or two about its culture and organisation. "The cost is minimal but we don't want to lose face with the US and we calculate that few in domestic politics will be concerned about the future of a handful of people-not even white!"
Gould argues that it is important to understand something of the wider context in which the Chagos Archipelago was excised by...