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UK court upholds expulsion of Chagos islanders in marine protected area

The High Court in London ruled Tuesday that the British government acted legally when it set up the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) [official website] in 2010 on the Indian Ocean archipelago of Chagos [CIA backgrounder]. In 1965, the UK government severed the Chagos Islands from the colony of Mauritius just three years before freeing it from colonial rule in effect since 1814. The islands were subsequently deemed part of the British Indian Ocean Territory despite fervent protest from the Mauritian government, which alleged violations of a UN resolution prohibiting the severance of colonial settlements before independence. The UK government then oversaw the deportation of more than 1,500 Chagossians [advocacy website] from the island of Diego Garcia, which was later leased to the US for use as a military base. After decades of controversy and litigation, the UK government moved to set up the CCT in 2010, which upon completion became the world's largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) [government website]. Although many Chagossians relocated to the UK after gaining citizenship under the UK Overseas Territories Act of 2002 [text], many remained on the islands to fight the CCT, which allegedly precludes islanders from fishing in the area. In December the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website) ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the Chagossians' claims, thus clearing the way for UK jurisdiction. The High Court on Tuesday found the CCT congruent with EU law, but Chagossian groups have already expressed their intent to continue their fight against the UK government.

Litigation over the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands has occurred for decades. In October 2008 the UK House of Lords ruled [JURIST report] that the British government acted within its power in denying the Chagossians the right to return to the archipelago. The group had challenged a 2004 order [backgrounder] prohibiting permanent residence on the Chagos Islands, arguing that the government had abused its power by not acting in the best interest of the territory. In May 2007 the UK Court of Appeal had ruled [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 decision upheld a 2006 High Court decision [JURIST report] granting the islanders the right to return, but both were overruled by the Law Lords' decision. Earlier that year, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled [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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