Redressing the rights of a displaced indigenous population - Chagos Archipelago, Indian Ocean

Since its inception, SPEAK has dedicated itself to assisting the Chagos Islanders. Their case is about the unlawful deportation by the United States and British Government of an indigenous population, from their homeland, the Chagos Archipelagos (also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory or “BIOT”), in the late 1960s to make way for the U.S. Naval Military Base of Diego Garcia on the main island of the Archipelago.

Over the decades, the Chagossian people have suffered judicial whiplash in a series of appeals; initially favorable court decisions, then shocking reversals and legal subterfuge. For example, after a landmark judicial review judgment favoring an appeal by the Chagossians, in 2004 the British Government re-introduced the ban of the Chagossian people on the Chagos Islands through a Royal Prerogative that is immune to judicial review. In 2006, the High Court unanimously ruled in favor of the islanders, which was overturned by the House of Lords in August 2008. The case filed in the United States judicial courts were dismissed when the courts decided that they have no judicial power to review the decisions of the Department of Defense to establish naval bases anywhere it pleased. To this day, no government has ever been held accountable for the appalling treatment of the Chagos Islanders.

For both litigation and advocacy efforts, SPEAK works on a number of international and regional platforms:

  • SPEAK has collaborated with U.K. barristers in filing an application of Judicial Review at the High Court in the United Kingdom challenging the Government for unlawfully declaring the Chagos Islands a marine protected area in April 2010.
  • SPEAK has assisted Clifford Chance LLP in filing a petition at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), claiming for their right to return to their islands and for compensatory damages for the harms suffered.
  • SPEAK has worked with Greenpeace International on the issue of the marine protected area and the closely related human rights and environmental issues.
  • SPEAK has engaged in discussions with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and looks into all matters to do with feasibility studies and the resettlement of the islanders.
  • SPEAK has mobilized leading distinguished people in law, government and human rights who lend themselves to the Chagossian campaign, including Nobel Laureates Joseph Stiglitz, Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, French Members of Parliament, the Mauritian Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, African National Congress delegates, EU-ACP Parliamentarians and other diplomats.

In March 2012, SPEAK in collaboration with UNROW Impact Litigation Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law prepared an online petition to the White House – collecting nearly 30,000 signatures in thirty days; successfully creating a widespread awareness-raising and support-gathering campaign for the Chagos islanders across the globe.