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UK Law Lords rule against Chagos islanders return

[JURIST] A judicial panel of the UK House of Lords [official website] Wednesday ruled [judgment text] that the British government acted within its power in denying a group of Indian Ocean islanders known as Chagossians [advocacy website] the right to return to an archipelago under British control. The group had challenged a 2004 order [backgrounder] prohibiting permanent residence on the Chagos Islands [CIA backgrounder], arguing that the government had abused its power by not acting in the best interest of the territory. The government had argued [Guardian report] that allowing the Chagossians to return to the islands would pose a threat to the US Diego Garcia naval base [official website], now located on the largest of the islands. In a 3-2 decision the panel ruled for the government, holding that the order could be considered to be in the best interest of the UK as a whole, and was therefore lawful. Dissenting Lords argued that the order, issued under the authority of the Queen, should not be granted such deference because had not been voted on by Parliament. The Law Lords, is the UK's highest court and the last resort for the issue and the decision cannot be appealed. The Guardian has more.

Approximately 2000 Chagossians were exiled form the islands to make way for the base in the 1960s. In May 2007 the UK Court of Appeal had ruled [judgment text; JURIST report] in favor of the islanders, and would have allowed them to resettle 65 islands in the archipelago, but not Diego Garcia itself. That decsion upheld a 2006 High Court decision [judgment text; JURIST report] granting the islanders the right to return, but both are overruled by the Law Lords decision. Earlier that year, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] ruled [PDF opinion; JURIST report] in a similar suit against the US Department of Defense that federal courts lacked the authority to grant compensation to the Chagossians for losses they incurred because of the development of the military base.

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