Will Hague and Clegg deliver on their pledge to the Chagossians?

Is the Coalition Government's commitment to human rights an accurate reflection on their foreign policy or is it just a hypocritical string of half-truths?

Kieran Roberts (@kieranlroberts), is the director of the Labour Friends of Chagos Islanders

Is the Coalition Government’s commitment to human rights an accurate reflection on their foreign policy or is it just a hypocritical string of half-truths? On the 31st August, William Hague wrote in the Telegraph that “human rights are key to our foreign policy”, adding:

“In our first 100 days we have brought the energy of a new government to bear on the promotion of human rights.”

Indeed, just over 100 days ago, when asked about his view on the treatment of the exiled Chagos Islanders, the then shadow Foreign Secretary said:

“I can assure you that if elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute.”

Also, around the same time, Nick Clegg’s office went on record saying:

“Nick and the Liberal Democrats believe that the Government has a moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return home.”

One would assume that with these two working together in two of the most senior roles in government – David Cameron dodged the issue, as Left Foot Forward reported last month – and with a commitment to finally finding a fair settlement for the Chagossians, it would only be a matter of time before the Chagossians would be able to return home. But no.

The “energy of a new government” that Mr Hague talks of was spent on the total reversal of their pre-election pledge to the Chagossians. This u-turn was revealed recently when, in a reply to Olivier Bancoult, the minister responsible for British Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham, said:

“The UK government will continue to contest the case brought by the Chagos Islanders to the European Court of Human Rights. This is because we believe that the arguments against allowing resettlement on the grounds of defence, security and feasibility are clear and compelling.”

Labour have been no better in this and, as Mr Bellingham’s reply reveals, it is just a continuation of the last Labour government’s policy but Labour did not campaign at the last election pledging to “work for a fair settlement”. Many of the promises the Coalition have reneged on since the election have been appalling. But this, after cynically raising the hopes of the Chagossian community and the possibility of returning home, is one of the worst.

The notion that the arguments of “defence, security and feasibility” are “clear and compelling” is absurd. In no way would the Chagossians returning to the outer islands, 100 miles away from the military base on Diego Garcia, interfere with the military. Even if they were to live on the same island as the base, Guantanamo Bay is proof in itself that natives need not be exiled to successfully operate a military base.

The moral argument in this however far exceeds the political one. People have asked me before whether the Chagossians are bothered about returning. I was at the UK Chagos Support Association AGM on Saturday and what surprised me most was not how much they want to return to their homeland but the immediacy with which they want to return.

They live in a foreign country, speaking foremost their native creole and live in a society that is alien to their previous way of life. To put it simply: they want their home back.

In Chagos, it is a belief that human beings and the land are symbiotic. In learning that, that was what epitomised to me how important it is that they return home. As a Labour party that started this sorry history in the first place and played such a role in their uprooting, we can’t change what happened but we can help bring help in finally delivering justice.

Labour Friends of Chagos Islanders have started a petition to allow the Chagossians the right to return home; to sign it, click here.

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