April 2007 update

  • Recent events in another British Overseas Territory, Ascension Island, have raised concerns that this may turn out to be another Diego Garcia.

    The tiny Atlantic island, home to a satellite tracking station and BBC transmission station, was until recently effectively controlled by the companies using its facilities, and Government bodies like the RAF and GCHQ. Islanders had no representation or right of abode. Only recently was an island administrator appointed.

    At the turn of the century, the Government made moves towards democratising Ascension with an elected council, taxation, right of abode and property register. But in 2005 the Government scrapped the remaining plans for reform. It seems that in the post 9/11 world the Government is reluctant to cede any control of this strategically important island – even if it means that the British subjects who live there pay taxes, but have no representative government, and have no right to stay unless they’re employed (leading to families being separated when children turn 18 or adults retire).

    Read Elizabeth Mistry’s excellent recent article on Ascension from the Sunday Herald.

  • It has been reported that the US Navy is upgrading its submarine base on Diego Garcia to allow its new class of SSGN nuclear submarines to operate from there.

  • Mauritius will have a new British High Commissioner from next month – John Murton. We wish him well in his new post where he will have much to consider – hopefully Mauritius’ Chagossians (British passport holders) will be high on his list.

  • The Diego Garcia and Slavery meeting last month in Canterbury was very well attended and proved extremely interesting. Marika Sherwood, author of After Abolition was on the panel with Allen Vincatassin, who was born on Diego Garcia.

  • A project by the Diego Garcia People’s Party in Crawley for a ‘Resettlement Centre’ in Crawley for incoming islanders who have no family link in the UK has received support from local MP Laura Moffatt and Henry Smith (leader of West Sussex County Council), and is now applying for funding.

  • Foreign Office minister Lord Triesman gave a talk at the London School of Economics last night on ‘Public Diplomacy – Steps to the Future’.

    After saying lots of inspiring things about promoting good governance and democracy, and the importance of creating a positive image for the UK, he took questions from the audience.

    He ducked two questions on the current situation in Ascension Island (which has alarming parallels with Diego Garcia) by saying that the matter was sub judice. His rationale, apparently, is that the current appeal case regarding the Orders in Council used against the Chagos Islanders, has relevance to Ascension too.

    Even in the case of Chagos, the sub judice excuse is flimsy, and applying it to Ascension is somewhat roundabout to say the least. It’s also rather worrying for people in other overseas territories that the Government sees the use of secret orders to evict a population as a matter not limited to the Chagos Islands…

    The very last question of the evening came from a Chagossian, who asked Lord Triesman what future lay ahead for the exiled islanders. The question may have been delivered in a strong accent, but I got it, and I think most of the audience did too.

    But not only could Triesman not make out the words “Diego Garcia” and “Chagos” as clues, he didn’t even bother to ask for clarification. He simply said, “I’m not sure I heard that last question,” and ploughed off on a tangent about the importance of the UN Human Rights Council. After that the session was hastily wound up.

    We had thought Triesman might fall back on the sub judice defence… but why bother when you can just ignore the question completely?

    If Lord Triesman had wanted to insult this Chagossian audience member, he could have just slapped him in the face. At least that way we wouldn’t have had to listen to him wax lyrical about human rights.

    At this rate, even when the court case is out of the way, questions to the Foreign Office look set to receive an answer of “Laa laa… I can’t hear you…”