US forbids British courts from operating on British soil

 The US government has blocked a British court hearing from taking place on a British territory due to security concerns, according to official documents.

The supreme court of British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was scheduled to hold a hearing this week on whether a group of migrants was being unlawfully detained on the island of Diego Garcia. The hearing, which the BBC planned to attend, was halted by the US government’s withdrawal of consent for lawyers and press to access the island.

Diego Garcia hosts a secretive UK-US military base with heavily restricted access. According to court papers, the US government stated it would not allow participants to board US military flights to Diego Garcia or provide transport, accommodation, or food on the island until its security and operational concerns were adequately addressed. This was confirmed by a witness statement from BIOT’s deputy commissioner, Nishi Dholakia.

The US expressed a willingness to reconsider the requests if they could be conducted in a manner addressing its concerns. The group of migrants arrived on the island in October 2021, claiming they had fled persecution and were attempting to sail to Canada for asylum when their boat encountered trouble near Diego Garcia.

Late last Thursday, just hours before the judge, UK government lawyers, those representing the migrants, and the BBC were due to board flights for the first leg of the journey, the court issued an order canceling the hearing. The US security concerns pertained to a scheduled site visit on the island, which included the migrant camp and several other areas of Diego Garcia.

Communications from July 3, titled “United States Notification to the United Kingdom of denial of the 6-12 July 2024 visit by the BIOT Supreme Court to Diego Garcia,” indicated that the site visit posed risks to the security and effective operation of the base. Court documents filed on behalf of BIOT’s commissioner stated that the US military commander’s assessment of the island was confidential and based on the US’s national security needs.

Tom Short, a lawyer from the UK firm Leigh Day representing some of the migrants, described the cancellation of this week’s hearing as “a devastating blow to our vulnerable clients” and called for the hearing to be rescheduled as soon as possible. Short emphasized the importance of the judge seeing the detention camp and the migrants attending the hearing in person.

A virtual court hearing on Tuesday, attended by lawyers in London and the migrants in Diego Garcia, aimed to determine the next steps in the case as discussions between the UK and US governments continue.

Migrants expressed their disappointment at the cancellation. “It has taken away all our hope,” one woman said. “We have been stuck in this place for almost three years. We were hoping that this hearing would provide us some relief.” Another man in the camp added, “It’s so stressful. We were hoping the hearing would end our misery.”

The UK took control of the Chagos Islands, including Diego Garcia, from its then colony, Mauritius, in 1965, evicting over 1,000 people to make way for the military base. Agreements signed in 1966 allowed for an initial 50-year period of US use of the territory, plus a further 20 years, which was extended in 2016 to expire in 2036.

BIOT is administered from London but is described as "constitutionally distinct” from the UK. Mauritius, which gained independence from the UK in 1968, claims the islands as its own, and the United Nations' highest court has ruled that the UK's administration of the territory is "unlawful" and must end.

Most personnel and resources on Diego Garcia are under US control, including accommodation, transport, restaurants, and shops. The US military commander can refuse access to areas operated or controlled by the US military for security reasons. BIOT's official website states that access is only permitted to those with connections to the base.



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