April 2005 update

Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugee Group in Mauritius visited South Africa recently where he had interesting discussions with senior members of the ANC including Mr. Louis Mguni and Mr. Aaron Mudemele. He also met Archbishop Tutu (and other church leaders) who was distressed by the history of the exiled islanders and has pledged them his support.

The visit to the Chagos Islands by a limited number of Islanders (arranged by the UK government) seems to have developed another snag. There appears to be a problem with the licensing of the ship which should be sorted in the next week or two. We hope.

We are delighted that John Pilger’s “Stealing a Nation” has won the Royal Television Society’s top award as Britain’s best documentary for 2004 – 2005. Congratulations to him and all concerned. We have had little positive reaction from Nigel Packard regarding a repeat of the programme but can everyone please email or write to him again pointing out that the UK deserves to see an award-winning documentary again and at a more reasonable time? It has now been seen in New Zealand and Australia.

On April 11th. in Geneva, the 61st. Session of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was presented with two “Oral Interventions” which are three minute talks to back up earlier written submissions. One was given by Mary Nazzal-Bataynat on behalf of Liberation and the other was given by Michael Sutton. This was an interesting experience for both of them. Although Oral Interventions are speeches (strictly limited to three minutes), their texts had to be sent to the UN for translation then read to the delegates by their authors and interpreters simultaneously – so no deviation! The delegates were interested in the issue and some asked for further information. Michael’s Oral Intervention is included here and Mary’s will be forwarded when I have her permission.


United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Sixty-First Session

Agenda Item 15, Paragraphs 207-209 of the Provisional Agenda

INDIGENOUS ISSUES:

HUMAN RIGHTS AND INDIGENOUS ISSUES

On behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers in the United States, the Chagos Refugee Group and the UCE Justice Project, we speak today on behalf of the displaced Chagossian peoples. Between 1965 and 1973, The Government of the United Kingdom intentionally and systematically displaced the established indigenous inhabitants of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. Their forced removal was done to facilitate the leasing of the islands, principally Diego Garcia, to the United States for use as a strategic military base. Since that time the displaced Chagossians have been abandoned to a life of poverty and social marginalization on the islands of Mauritius and Seychelles.

Despite successful legal challenges brought by the Chagossian movement against the UK, the Chagossians have never been adequately compensated for their losses. Likewise, their many efforts to regain control and resettlement of their islands have never been realized. After winning a UK High Court ruling that permitted resettlement of the Islands, the Government has refused to respect it. It now claims the islands are not suitable for resettlement or such a resettlement is prohibitively expensive. We must always demand government respect for the Rule of Law. It compels them to do the right thing even when it is not in their self-interest and it lessens us all when these ideals are demeaned by leadership.
The UK has told the Commission that the British Indian Ocean Territory is not covered in its ratification of the ICCPR. This semantic convenience leaves the UK with a pocket of colonialism inoculated from international human rights scrutiny. The UK is selectively dismissing international law and Human Rights.

There are now over 8000 Chagossians living displaced on the Island of Mauritius. They suffer greatly from the effects of poverty and social decline including discrimination, inadequate access to justice, and lack of education, substandard housing, and poor health. All these are obstacles to their right to development and flow from the forced displacement.
The state and the society they have been forced onto have marginalized the Chagossians. Of particular importance to NACDL are reports that the displaced Chagossians have been disproportionately denied access and rights by the security and justice system, with arbitrary arrests and detention without due process and transparent trials. We urgently request the Commission to investigate the denial of the protections of the ICCPR by the States in which the Chagossians are exiled.
For a long time, the international community could claim it knew little or nothing about the Chagos situation, but not anymore. The Chagossians deserve much better than the treatment they have received from the UK. We therefore request the Commission for its voice to gain assurances from the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles that they will extend the realization of the ICCPR protections to the Chagossians and that the Commission instruct the ‘Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples’ to investigate these issues we have highlighted.

Thank you.


Mike is very grateful to Professor Speedy Rice of the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers for his invaluable help.

As an Association, we are in contact with the Swiss Chagossian group and thought it might interest you to know there are ten people in the Geneva area who were either born in Chagos or are a direct descendent. In the whole of Switzerland there are known to be three dozen.

It would appear that Dr. Charles Shepherd of Warwick University was able to visit different islands of the Archipelago courtesy of the British Party on Diego Garcia and wrote about his trip in Chagos News (the official organ of the Chagos Conservation Trust.) How much more speedily and straightforwardly HIS boat trip seems to have been arranged than the indigenous Islanders! He found some of the islands had been damaged by the tsunami but none very badly. His one sentence summary said that coastal erosion had been accelerated by 1 –2 years. As we know from television and newspapers, all the countries around the area, sadly, suffered far greater damage.

The “British Party” mentioned above consists of forty British military personnel stationed on Diego Garcia where they usually serve for a year. A Royal Navy Commander wears six hats : Commissioner’s Representative, magistrate, principal immigration officer, Imports and Exports control officer, coroner and postmaster. He has a Royal Marine Major as deputy to all those jobs plus public prosecutor and fisheries officer! They have a staff of 38 including Peace Officers to enforce BIOT civilian law which is most interesting as there are not actually and BIOT civilians ON the Islands.

Finally, some practical ways in which you can help :

1. The General Election is on May 5th (which those living in the UK will be well aware of) Please ask candidates of ALL parties what they will do for the Chagossians. There is usually a contact address on the pamphlets they send out. As they probably won’t know what it is all about, you can always give them a copy of Mike’s Oral Intervention.

2. Please contact Nigel Pickard to repeat “Stealing a Nation” now that it is a feather in ITV’s cap. His address is ITV Network Ltd., 200, Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1 8HF His email address is nigel.pickard@itv.com and his telephone number is 0207 843 8000

3. We are, as usual, grateful for donations received and the money goes where it can do the most good.

4. Please keep your ideas coming for publicizing the cause – we have had some very interesting suggestions which will be passed on to the Chagossian groups and discussed by the committee.

With thanks and best wishes,

Celia Whittaker,

(Secretary)