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Olivier Bancoult et al. v. Robert S. McNamara et al.

Court United States District Court for the District of Columbia, United States
Case number 01-2629 (RMU)
Decision title Memorandum Opinion
Decision date 30 September 2002
  • Olivier Bancoult
  • Terese Mein
  • Marie Isabelle France-Charlot
  • Chagos Refugee Group
  • Chagos Social Committee
  • Robert S. Mcnamara
  • Donald H. Rumsfeld
  • Thomas Moorer
  • Melvin R. Laird
  • James R. Schlesinger
  • George T. Churchill
  • James L. Holloway III
  • Eric D. Newsom
  • United States of America
  • Halliburton Corporation
  • De Chazal Du Mée
Categories Genocide
Keywords Forcible transfer, jurisdiction, persecution, torture
Other countries involved
  • Chagos Archipelagos
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The Chagos Archipelagos are a collection of small islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Under British administration since 1814, they were home to approximately 1000 inhabitants by the 1960s who lived on and cultivated the land, educated their children and raised their families.

In 1964, the British and the United States governments entered into secret negotiations the outcome of which was the establishment of a military base on Diego Garcia, the Chagos Archipelagos largest islands. In order to do so, from 1965 until 1971, the population of Chagos was forcibly relocated: those who had left on trips abroad were denied re-entry, an embargo was put in place preventing the delivery of crucial food supplies and the remaining population was forcibly loaded onto ships and relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles.

The present civil suit is brought by the indigenous peoples of Chagos, their survivors and their descendants against the United States and a number of high-ranking individuals within the US Government whom the plaintiffs consider responsible for their forcible relocation. By its memorandum opinion of 30 September 2002, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the plaintiffs’ motion on procedural grounds, namely that it required further submissions with regards to the exercise of jurisdiction over the claim considering its implication of the United States, a party that ordinarily cannot be sued unless there has been an implicit or explicit waiver of immunity. 

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Procedural history

On 20 December 2001, the plaintiffs, all indigenous Chagossians, their survivors and their direct descendants, filed a complaint before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia seeking relief for their people’s forceful removal from the Chagos Archipelagos by the United States and their exportation against their will to another land.

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Related developments

Proceedings in the United States:

On 18 November 2003, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in order to respond to the request for further submissions from the District Court. On 21 December 2004, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the plaintiff’s second motion.

The plaintiffs appealed.

By a decision of 21 April 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court by holding that the case was non justiciable.

Proceedings in the United Kingdom:

The islanders also brought three lawsuits before British courts in 1999, 2002 and 2006. The cases were all defeated, including the two that went to appeal.

  1. High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division, R v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office ex parte Bancoult, Case No: CO/3775/98, Judgment, 3 November 2000 ([2000] EWHC 413);
  2. High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division, Chagos Islanders v. Attorney General and Her Majesty’s British Indian Ocean Territory Commissioner, Case No: HQ02X01287, Judgment, 9 October 2003 ([2003] EWHC 2222 (QB));
  3. High Court of Justice, Divisional Court, R (on the application of Louis Olivier Bancoult) v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Case No: CO/4093/2004, Judgment, 11 May 2006 ([2006] EWHC 1038 (Admin)).

See also R. Alford, 'High Court Rules on Displacement of Chagos Islanders', Opinio Juris, 12 May 2006; and H. Wallis, 'British colonial files released following legal challenge', BBC News, 18 April 2012.

Proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights:

On 20 September 2004, the islanders also lodged proceedings in the European Court of Human Rights alleging violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.

On 11 December 2012, the Court ruled that the British Indian Ocean territory does not come within the jurisdiction of the Convention and therefore the case was declared inadmissible. See Chagos Islanders v. The United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights, Application No. 35622/04, 11 December 2012.

See also J. Vidal and O. Bowcott, 'Chagos Islanders Forced into Exile left ‘Dumbstruck’ by Court Ruling', The Guardian, 20 December 2012.

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Legally relevant facts

The Chagos Archipelago is a collection of small islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The French ceded it to the British in 1814 and it remains under British administration today. By the 1960s, some 1000 Chagossians lived on the islands and cultivated its land.

In 1964, the British and the United States governments entered into negotiations to establish a US military facility in the Indian Ocean. In 1965, the British detached Chagos from Mauritius and incorporated it in a newly created British Indian Ocean Territory. The Chagossian population was forcibly removed in three phases. First, entry was barred to those Chagossians returning from travels abroad. Second, an embargo prevented the delivery of necessary supplies of food in a bid to starve out the remaining population. Third, people were forcibly boarded onto ships and relocated, most often to Mauritius or the Seychelles.

Subsequently, Diego Garcia, the Archipelagos’ largest island, was appropriated by the United States and is currently in use as a military installation (par. II.A).

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Core legal questions

Not Applicable.

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • UN Charter.
  • Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel. Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
  • Paras. 1091, 1331, 1350 and 1367 of the US Code.

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Court's holding and analysis

The District Court dismissed the plaintiff’s motion on the grounds that the plaintiffs must provide a further briefing clarifying subject-matter jurisdiction, that is, the plaintiffs must submit:

(1) The specific statutory, common law or international law basis for each claim against the United States and the satisfaction of the associated jurisdictional conditions;

(2) The type of relief that is sought pursuant to each claim;

(3) Whether the claim’s legal basis and type of relief sought affect the availability of a sovereign immunity waiver (par. III.A).

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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