The worst scandals are those that are already known but which are consistently either underplayed or entirely ignored because those involved are not the right kind of people. The asylum system ought to be a scar on the conscience of this country, where children are routinely imprisoned in conditions which do just that to them, whilst control orders can now be issued against "terrorist suspects" without any evidence whatsoever needed to be given to them in explanation for their treatment.
Most truly shocking about what happened to the population of Diego Garcia, the Chagossians, is that every detail of their plight since their home was leased to the United States of America is in the public domain. There doesn't need to be any journalistic sleuthing; everything is already there, from the US request for "an austere communications facility" in the Indian Ocean that turned into a massive base which has since been used to flatten the homes of other civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan, to the depopulation of the islands and the crushing poverty that the Chagossians then experienced in Mauritius, where the government washed their hands of them. The colonial and imperial contempt for these few "Tarzans" and "Man Fridays" was not even slightly hidden, and time has only made the attitude towards them even more disgraceful.
Why then is it that even the Guardian dumped yesterday's House of Lords decision, overturning the Court of Appeal's verdict that the islanders must be repatriated, back on the 20th page? The BBC News at 10 last night did not so much as mention it, and as for the tabloids, a Google search suggests that only the Mirror ran anything about them. The result itself was even a surprise: almost everyone thought that the House of Lords could not possibly rule in the government's favour, and in the event, the decision was by a majority of just one.
At the same time however, no one also believes for a moment that the Chagossians are ever going to be allowed to return to their home, however many courts rule in their favour. Before the world changed forever™ on September the 11th 2001, Robin Cook knew that this had to be a historical wrong that had to be righted. In 2004, this was simply unthinkable: the Diego Garcia base is now integral to the "long war", or as it was formerly known, the war against terror. While their other bases throughout the Middle East are subject to the vagaries of their hosts, not to mention their populations and the possibilities of them quite literally exploding in indignation at the gates, Diego Garcia is an oasis of calm and stability. To even consider that some noble savages might be allowed back to within spitting distance of the occupiers is anathema, just as it's similarly unthinkable that the Palestinians will ever have anything other than an emasculated husk of land which was once theirs. Indeed, the Palestinians will probably eventually get something; both sides will get tired of killing each other one day and do some sort of deal. The Chagossians however are being denied even one of the minor islands in the archipelago, such are the security concerns.
It's perhaps this complete lack of interest that means that the government and their learned friends can continue to get away with expressing such contempt for those they have treated so abominably. According to Jonathan Crow QC, leading the case for the government, "the Chagossians do not own any territory ... [W]hat is being asserted is a right of mass trespass," which is about as churlish and specious an argument can get without descending into outright sophistry, and only that is because it's true, in the sense that the government of the day ensured they did not own any territory.
The blame then should not reside with the judges, as some have lashed out at. The judgement in full, incidentally, is a joy, with quotes from Shakespeare, Magna Carta and the kind of sharp legal argument which you will now only find in such rulings. The 3 judges who ruled in the government's favour have undoubtedly reached the wrong decision, but the real anger should be directed at that government which continues to treat those "Tarzans" and "Man Fridays" as just that, as fictional characters that have no right to exist, let alone to return to their homeland which was so cruelly snatched from them. As Lord Mance concludes and quotes from Richard the II:
“A heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege,
And all unlook'd for from your Highness’ mouth".
To which in my opinion the Crown cannot here simply reply:
“It boots thee not to be compassionate;
After our sentence plaining comes too late".
The only difference is that it seems unlikely this time that Mowbray's prediction that Richard will sooner or later be overthrown can be applied to the Chagossians' situation.
Labels: affront to justice, Chagossians, Diego Garcia, foreign policy, johnny foreigner