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Posts published in “Environmental Law”

Establishment of a Marine Protected Area in the British Indian Ocean Territory – environment v human rights

The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) is composed of a group of low-lying islands situated in middle of the Indian Ocean. The largest of the islands, Diego Garcia, is only 30 km2 in area.  The islands are subject to British control, although sovereignty over the islands is also claimed by Mauritius.  The British Government entered into an agreement with the United States in 1965 to allow the latter government to use the islands for defence purposes. The local population was expelled from the islands in order to make way for the building and operation of a military base.

The BIOT was the subject of significant litigation in the United Kingdom when a group of Chagossians (the indigenous population of the islands) challenged government policy refusing to allow them to return to the islands.  However, in 2008, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords ruled that the BIOT constitution promulgated by the British government was valid and the government had not committed an abuse of power by limiting the rights of the islanders to return to the BIOT.  The case is now pending before the European Court of Human Rights and it is expected to be decided in the coming months.

The latest twist in the saga is the decision of the British government to designate the waters surrounding the BIOT as a marine protected area.