By the time Zerbanoo’s newsletter arrived, there had been a decision which dashed the dreams of Chagossians.
She recalls that the Feasibility Study of 2002 was finally discredited in 2012 but immediately Wm.Hague announced a new one which reported in 2014 that there was no obstacle to resettlement. Then in June 2016 the Supreme Court decided that any failure to follow the new study could be attacked in Court as “irrational” and gave leave to challenge the Marine Protected Area which Wikileaks had disclosed was intended to prevent resettlement. This followed a decision of a UN Maritime Tribunal which held the MPA unlawful because it did not respect the rights of Mauritius as a neighbouring state and one with residual sovereignty rights to Chagos. The UN required Britain to start negotiations over the return of sovereignty of the islands to Mauritius.
Her husband Richard had been giving legal services pro bono for 20 years since meeting exiled islanders in Mauritius and the first court victory in 2000 led to premature hopes of a humane solution. Zerbanoo commented ruefully: “But foreign policy is not changed so easily, and FCO had many tricks up their sleeve, requiring two decades of court cases and parliamentary oversight to turn the tide and bring the islanders back home. The effects of the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were all deployed to defeat resettlement”.
Shamefully, Chagos islanders who were expelled in the 1960s to make way for military bases will not be allowed to return to their Indian Ocean homes, the British Foreign Office announced in November 2016, citing the UK’s interest in its “defence relationship” with the US.
Reacting to the decision, David Snoxell, who was deputy commissioner for British Indian Ocean Territory in the 1990s, said: “A small-scale resettlement could have been tried and 15 years of deception, litigation, wasted public funds and damage to the UK’s human rights reputation avoided. Judges at all levels have deplored the treatment of the Chagossian population since 2000. I cannot recall any other issue, at least in the 35 years that I was in the diplomatic service, which has so let down the FCO, undermined our ethical standards, been so carelessly and unsympathetically handled and caused so much unnecessary anguish than this one. I still feel ashamed at the way the FCO has treated and tricked a people whom we had a sacred duty to protect.”
The US is to be granted a further 20-year lease to use the military base on the largest island, Diego Garcia, when it comes up for renewal at the end of this year.
Later, in Part 2, Zerbanoo’s news of cheering work at the Asha Centre.