April 2011 update

CHAGOS VISIT

 

Issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 25th March:

Twelve members of the Chagossian communities in the UK and the Seychelles will visit the British Indian Ocean Territory next week.

The Chagossians will travel to Diego Garcia and will have the opportunity to visit the northern atolls of Peros Banhos and Salomon including the graveyards on Ile du Coin and Ile Boddam.

The trip has been organised and paid for by the British Indian Ocean Territory Administration, based in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, and forms part of a wider commitment to an open dialogue with the Chagossian communities.

Speaking of the visit, Henry Bellingham MP, Minister for the Overseas Territories, said:

“I am pleased that we have arranged for a small group of Chagossians from the UK and the Seychelles to visit the British Indian Ocean Territory from 28 March to 6 April.

Although the Government will continue to contest the case brought by the Chagossians to the European Court of Human Rights on resettlement and compensation, we believe it is vital that we continue to engage with the communities and this visit is an important part of that commitment.

The Government is very keen for such visits to continue and I hope to be able to offer more visits in the future including opportunities to take part in environmental projects ongoing in the Territory.”

 

Occasional visits and “open dialogue” are no substitute for the restitution of basic Human Rights.

We are grateful to Bernadette Dugasse for this account of her trip:

There were twelve of us: two from Seychelles which we met in Singapore and ten of us from UK, we went via Singapore and spend one day and night there because the airforce plane was broken. Then we took the cargo plane on Tuesday morning which was on the 29th of March and we arrived on Diego Garcia Island at 10 pm.
The next day at 10.30am we had a welcome and met key British Forces BIOT personalities , this was after breakfast and after we had a group photo taken by their photographer and we were free till 4pm when we were transported to the harbour for the Pacific Marlin by minibus. There we were briefed by Captain Paul on ship’s safety  and we were also introduced to the crew. At 6pm the Pacific Marlin departed for Peros Banhos.
On Thursday morning when we were awake we were on Ile Du Coin, Peros Banhos island. After breakfast we were ready to board the lifeboat for our visit to the plantation HQ and flower laying and prayers at the graveyard. Soon after, we boarded the lifeboat back to Pacific Marlin. At 4pm we were sailing for Ile Salomans.
The next day the same things happened on Salomans Island. We saw eleven yachts in the harbour of these two islands and we were told that they have licences. After we watched the sunset in Salomans we set sail for Diego Garcia Island.
It was a very rough sail one of us got really bad seasickness during the trip. We arrived in Diego Garcia at 10am on Saturday the 3rd April. We went down town where we were staying in the guest house where we each have our own room for three more days.
The next day, Sunday, we went to attend the service at 9am after a late night out and afterwards we had the welcome packs which included bus schedules around downtown.
On Monday morning the bus was ready to take us to visit local graveyards, this included Banyan Cemetery and also Pointe Marianne Cemetery and the Settlement. After lunch we visited the East Point Plantation and the Turtle Cove
On Tuesday morning at 8.30am the bus was ready and we had a church service at 10 am with the new chaplain from America. Because of time limited we did not visit Minni Minni as planed on the schedule. We had time for some shopping down town and at 6pm we had our baggage  check-in then dinner and getting ready to leave Diego Garcia behind us. We do hope that one day soon the Good Lord will give us the chance to live there for good without any fuss or pressure.

I am so happy at last because my dream has come true, I have been on my birth land. We had a fantastic time and we worked like a team. To me it felt like a deja-vue of our old community. We had la joie de vie and we shared, cried and laughed together. I could not believe myself.
The sad part of the visit is in four or five years time all the grave yards will be gone forever. To me this is a disgraceful thing to see on all three islands. Even on Diego Garcia Island the kitchen on the plantation and even the big house is not being well cared for. Katalina is all most gone as well all building standing there have no roofs no doors and no windows, but the building, if fixed, can be used in the future. The chapel on Diego Garcia island is very dirty inside can you image on Tuesday when we were celebrating our service the priest was cleaning the altar with his cap? This seems a big shame to me.

 

May 19 is going to be a red-letter day for everyone interested in the future of the Chagos Archipelago and the seas around it.

A unique conference open to conservationists, politicians, anthropologists, supporters of the Chagos people and the Chagos people themselves has been called in central London at the prestigious Royal Geographic Society who have signalled the importance of the event by donating the Onaadtje theatre for the day. Host of the event is the chair of Committee Chagos and UKChSA Roch Evenor, and patrons Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory. Transport is being laid on from Crawley and Manchester for Chagos people wanting to attend.Philippa Gregory says ‘The conference is to gather current thinking on the desirability of a small eco-village, science station to house Chagos people and host visiting conservation scientists to be established on one of the outer islands. The plan is that Chagos people from all around the world would be able to visit, and some would stay on short-term contracts to work as conservators and guardians of the MPA, staffing and assisting at a science station, and patrolling. They would live in eco-houses and practice sustainable small-scale fishing and market gardening. Perhaps some of the older people would like to stay for long visits.’

This proposal is to be considered while the legal claims for return for the Chagos people goes through the European Court of Human Rights. Says Philippa Gregory: ‘I have such a sense of urgency for the Chagos people. Some of the older people especially want to return at once. I am hoping that the scientists and politicians will agree that this is a way that people could return immediately.’

Major scientists, anthropologists, Chagos representatives and consultants will give brief papers outlining the possibilities and the difficulties of this plan, and the conference will discuss the arguments for and against. Everyone will be able to give their opinion and the papers will form part of a briefing which will go to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has expressed interest. Conservationists have responded to Ben Fogle’s call for openness.

The conference, Chagos Regagné: Chagos Regained will be held at the Royal Geographic Society in London, May 19 2011, 10-4pm and there will be four major sessions:

The first will look at Chagos reef ecology now. Lead speakers will be Mark Spalding, John Turner, and Bernadette Dugasse. Debate 2 will be on Human impact now. Lead Speakers will be John Howell, and the US author and historian, David Vine.

The afternoon will open with a debate about the possible future of the islands led by Richard Dunne, Sean Carey, Paul Gardiner, and a Chagos conservation volunteer. Additional information will come from the Mauritius Lead Legal advisor Philippe Sands and Richard Gifford of the Chagos Legal team. An open discussion will follow and Ben Fogle conservationist and adventurer will close the meeting with a discussion with Sabrina Jean and other Chagos people.

Senior politicians, advisors and scientists have confirmed their attendance, some flying in to the UK just for this conference. ‘I hope this will open the debate for the new government at an entirely new level,‘ says Philippa Gregory. ‘I believe that this is an opportunity for the Chagos people to work out how they can return to the islands with the support of conservationists, scientists, and the British government.’

The conference has been funded by Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory and Roch Evenor will open the day at 10 am.

Tickets are obtainable from Info@PhilippaGregory.com, price thirty pounds.

PARLIAMENT.

The next meeting of the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group has been postponed because of the Easter Recess and will now take place on 4th May.

 

House of Commons
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Written answers and statements, 15 March 2011
Michael Connarty
(Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who the successful bidder was for the provision of a patrol vessel for the British Indian Overseas Territory.
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
The successful bidder for the provision of the British Indian Ocean Territory’s patrol vessel was Swire Pacific Offshore.

House of Commons
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Written answers and statements, 21 March 2011
Rehman Chishti
(Gillingham and Rainham, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent consideration he has given to the recommendations of the Seventh Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 147, on the Overseas Territories, in respect of the Government’s oversight responsibility for the Overseas Territories.

Henry Bellingham
The Government take their oversight responsibility for the Overseas Territories very seriously.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) updated the House on our approach to the Overseas Territories in a written ministerial statement on 10 March 2011, Hansard, column 76WS.

 

House of Lords

Debate on British Overseas Territories.10th March 2011 (extract)

Lord Luce (Cross bench)

The Minister will not be surprised to hear that the last issue on which I wish to touch is the British Indian Ocean Territory. This is a longstanding problem. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the territory’s very few inhabitants – 1,500 of them-were expelled to enable the United States to set up a base in Diego Garcia. This was an abuse of human rights. No successive Government – one of whom I was a part – has succeeded in restoring justice to these people……..

I appeal to the Government to develop a strategy involving discussions with the United States and Mauritius that could lead to compromise proposals which could be incorporated into the exchange of letters between the United States and Britain, which is subject to renewal in 2016. This is an ideal opportunity to ensure that justice is done to the Chagossians. Mauritius has a vital role as it claims sovereignty over those territories should the United Kingdom no longer need to continue with its sovereignty. Mauritius now has the support of all 52 countries of the African Union, and of a growing number of members of the Commonwealth.

Earl of Selborne, Conservative.

I turn, as did the noble Lord, Lord Luce, to some of the problems in the British Indian Ocean Territory, where, in April, the previous Administration agreed to the establishment of a marine protection area in what has been described as probably the richest marine ecosystem under United Kingdom jurisdiction. My noble friend who will respond later told us in June that the intention to proceed with the MPA was confirmed. That designation has been widely – but, it has to be said, not universally – welcomed. The problem, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred, is, as with anything to do with the Chagos, the smouldering sense of injustice arising from the clearance of the entire archipelago between 1968 and 1973. Generation after generation, or decade after decade of politicians since then – including David Miliband as Foreign Secretary last April – pointed out that we have to accept responsibility for that long-term suffering. That responsibility will never go away.

Although I, like most others, welcome the designation of the marine protected area, I must say that the way that we are negotiating for it to be established leaves something to be desired. Whatever the outcome of the apparently interminable litigation now in the European Court of Human Rights, we have accepted that if in future – it is probably a long way off – the defence base at Diego Garcia is no longer required, the archipelago will be transferred to Mauritius. Therefore, in all conscience, we simply must get the Mauritius Government’s support for any initiative in the long-term interests of the environment and, of course, for any future population there.

 

MATTERS OF LAW.

European Court of Human Rights.

Richard Gifford (Chagos solicitor): The latest from Strasbourg is that the Court expects to deal with the prior case of Al-Skeini (the Iraqi civilian deaths case) at the end of March, and they expect to consider Chagos Islanders versus UK after that.

International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

From the Blog of the European Journal of International Law by Dapo Akande
Saturday, Mar 26th 2011
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has announced  that its President has
appointed three arbitrators to serve as members of the arbitral tribunal which will hear the dispute between Mauritius and the United Kingdom concerning the ‘Marine Protected Area’ around the Chagos Islands. The dispute concerns the creation by the UK of a Maritime Protected Area (MPA) in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)  around the Chagos Islands Archipelago. Mauritius, which
claims sovereignty over the Chagos Islands, submitted the dispute to an Annex VII arbitral Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It claims that the UK is not competent to create the MPA and that only Mauritius is entitled to create an EEZ around the Chagos Islands…..

According to the ITLOS Press Release:
The arbitrators are Ivan Shearer (Australia), James Kateka (Tanzania), and Albert Hoffmann (South Africa). The President appointed Ivan Shearer as the president of the arbitral tribunal. These

appointments were made in consultation with the two parties to the dispute.
James Kateka and Albert Hoffan are both judges of ITLOS and Ivan Shearer, who is Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of  Sydney has been ad hoc judge at ITLOS in two cases. The rest of the press release explains that:
In accordance with article 3 of Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement on the appointment of one or more of the members of the tribunal to be appointed by agreement, or on the appointment of the president of the arbitral tribunal, these appointments shall be made by the President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea at the request of a party to the dispute and in consultation with the parties.
In a letter dated 21 February 2011, the Solicitor-General of Mauritius, acting on behalf of the Government of Mauritius, requested the President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to appoint the three arbitrators, since the two parties were unable to reach an agreement thereon.

PRESS COVERAGE

Mauritius Times 25th March. Introductory paragraphs by Dr. Sean Carey to transcript of the letter sent to the BBC as a reaction to “Costing the Earth” broadcast on Radio 4. (Copy of letter available via email on request.)

BBC in row over misleading Chagos programme.

A letter signed by a galaxy of reef scientists, academics, parliamentarians, lawyers, broadcasters, the Patrons and Chair of the UK Chagos Support Association and Chagos exile, Roch Evenor, and the former British High Commissioner to Mauritius, David Snoxell, has been sent to BBC Complaints regarding a programme broadcast on Radio 4 earlier this month.
The programme, ‘OK Coral’, which focused on some of the world’s coral reefs, included an interview with Rachel Jones, Deputy Team Leader of the Aquarium at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) about the Chagos Archipelago, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Former UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, unilaterally declared the Archipelago, which had been excised from the colony of Mauritius in breach of international law prior to independence in 1968, a Marine Protected Area (MPA) on 1 April 2010.
Amongst other things, the signatories of the letter take exception to the idea that the current health of most coral reefs in the Chagos Archipelago can be explained by the absence of a human population after the forced removal of around 1600 islanders from their homeland by the British authorities between 1971 and 1973, which allowed the US to build its military base on Diego Garcia, the largest and southernmost island in the Archipelago.
Apparently, the science of the coral reefs of the Chagos Archipelago is much more complex than Ms Jones and her colleagues in the Chagos Environment Network (CEN), which actively lobbied for the creation of the MPA, claim. The signatories accuse the programme of undermining the work of all those who are engaged in trying to reconcile the rights of the Chagos Islanders to return to their homeland with the need to conserve this unique marine environment. They have invited the BBC to commission a further

programme, which balances the arguments on all sides.

 

Newsnow Mauritius 17th March 2011 by Nitesh Boodhoo

The seven candidates of the Chagos Refugee Group bidding to become members of the board of the Ilois Trust Fund have been successful… They were the only candidates.
Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam will nominate the president of the trust by April 16.
The current president and also leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, Mr Olivier Bancoult, told NEWSNOW yesterday that the Mauritian Chagossian community was satisfied with the different projects which were accomplished over the years by the members of the board, which explained why there were no other candidates.
He said he expects that Dr Ramgoolam will once again gives him the opportunity to serve his community and would nominate him as the president of the fund.
“We have come a long way since we have been uprooted from our island and thrown into Mauritius. We have also improved the lives of the Chagossians with the funds of the Ilois Trust,” he said.
The priorities of the board have always been to use the fund for the education of the children of the Chagossian community.
“We have provided five scholarships to Chagossian children who have produced brilliant results at the Certificate of Primary Education level. We also pay the fees for School Certificate and Higher School Certificate for all Chagossian students.”
Mr Bancoult added that the Ilois Trust Fund also provides a funeral grant to all Chagossian families every time there is a death in the family.
They are also working towards providing free medical check-ups for Chagossians who are not able to attend hospitals.
The trust also finances several activities for their community and maintains the two centres of the Chagos Refugee Group in Pointe Aux Sables and Baie du Tombeau.
The elections of the Ilois Trust Fund are held every two years while the president of the fund is nominated by the prime minister.
The fund is financed by the Mauritian government and is composed of seven members of the Chagossian community living on the island, a president and seven representatives of different government ministries.

Nitesh Boodhoo of Newsnow has also interviewed the British High Commissioner to Mauritius, Mr. Nick Leake who was asked:

Do you think that the Chagos issue might negatively impact on bilateral diplomatic ties? Do you think that the Chagossians will one day return to their island?
We value our broad and wide-ranging relationship with Mauritius highly, and I think it is of huge benefit to both countries. There is much more to our bilateral relationship than our disagreement over the British Indian Ocean Territory including trade, tourism, and migration, which both countries continue to benefit from.
The UK government has facilitated and funded visits to the Chagos Islands for nearly 140 Chagossians in the past five years. Although the islands are remote and access is not easy, we hope to continue to provide these opportunities for Chagossians in future, too, funding permitting.

(This appears to say they will only ever return as visitors then?)

NEWS FROM THE CHAGOSSIAN GROUPS.

Chagos Refugee Group, Mauritius.

March 12th, 2011

On the occasion of the National Day 2011 and on the advice of Dr the Honourable Navinchandra Ramgoolam, G.C.S.K., F.R.C.P., Prime Minister, the Rt Honourable Sir Anerood Jugnauth, G.C.S.K., K.C.M.G., Q.C., the President of the Republic  has been pleased to confer the following award:

MEMBER OF THE ORDER OF THE STAR AND KEY  OF THE INDIAN OCEAN (M.S.K.)

To: TALATTE , Mrs Lisette

UKChSA congratulates Lisette Talatte who was born on 19th March 1941 on Diego Garcia.

In 1972, her life, and that of all the Chagossians, was thrown into turmoil when they were forcibly removed from the Chagos by the British government, who wanted to clear the islands for the US government to create a strategically placed naval base in Diego Garcia. The Chagossians were promised housing, education and employment in Mauritius; however the reality was that they were left to fend for themselves at the margins of society.

For over thirty years, Lisette Talatte has been a leading figure of the struggle of the Chagossian people for their human rights and in particular their right of return to the native islands. Lisette is also a prominent member of the Chagos Refugees Group and of the women’s movement in her community. She believes that women are responsible for the family’s financial security, and ensure that all the family’s needs are provided for with savings to spare.

 

Crawley and elsewhere.

The Comite Chagos (which includes all Chagossian groups wishing to attend) held a meeting in Crawley on 12th March where many issues were discussed including relationships with the established local community, passport issues and the “Leave to Remain”.

Another point discussed was Mr. A. Vincatassin’s letter to Chagossians in Crawley urging them to sign an undertaking that he will negotiate on their behalf if ever there is a compensatory outcome from the European Court of Human Rights.  It was explained to Chagossians present at the meeting that they must be careful what they sign – the issue of compensation has not been raised yet and Mr. Vincatassin’s group is the smallest.

It was decided to hold meetings, open to all, every three months.

The meeting was also attended by PC Jones, a Community Engagement officer in Crawley.

 

FEEDBACK AND COMMENTS

Dr. John Howell wrote of his concerns:

The Daily Telegraph ( 4 February 2011) revealed details of a US cable on the Chagos Islands following a FCO briefing in 2008 on its efforts to secure the support of the Law Lords in blocking the resettlement of the outer islands. The US is told that one of the main arguments against resettlement is that it would involve ‘expensive underwriting by the British taxpayer for an open-ended period’.

That argument would have been familiar enough to the US. It was originally stated following the commissioning of a technical feasibility study in 2002.  Although the consultants were explicitly asked not to consider either the nature or costs of resettlement, their report nonetheless concluded that resettlement would be prohibitively costly. An investigation by The Times  (Paradise dossier was doctored to keep deported families from their homes, 22 April  2010) revealed manipulation of the study by FCO officials and suggested that the conclusion was not clearly derived from the evidence.

However, in the 2008 cable, further technical evidence for its case is claimed by the FCO. It consists of ‘a 2008 study by UK engineers’. This also, notes the cable, says the cost would be prohibitive and it mentions the problem of a suitable airport site and the difficulty of offloading building supplies in the shallow water around the islands. The cable also says the Chagossians have failed to consider such practicalities or their costs.

In early 2008, in fact, the Chagos Refugees Group and the UK Chagos Support Association presented its settlement proposals  (Returning Home: a Proposal for the Resettlement of the Chagos Islands) and invited the FCO to respond (it has yet to do so).

I was closely involved in the consultation that led to the Returning Home proposals and in their subsequent drafting. The proposals were a conscious effort to challenge the FCO view that resettlement would be prohibitively costly to the UK taxpayer and that permanently high subsidisation would result. Based upon estimates of returnee numbers, environmental sustainability and economic opportunities, a detailed five year capital cost was prepared for discussion.

Consideration was also given to alternative sources of financial support including the Overseas Territories budget available to member states of the EU and major international environment foundations.

Beyond the five year capital cost of resettlement, consideration was given to economic viability, both in terms of revenues for the islands as a whole and incomes for settlers from which payments would be made for services and utilities. Discussions were held with existing commercial interests in environmental tourism, fresh fish exporting and natural oils extraction.

On the issues raised by the FCO in the cable, airport siting was considered and proposals made as well as calculations of economic usage, and the type of aircraft suitable for operating on a limited runway with bad weather provision. The landing facilities issue was also addressed and the cost of building long jetties estimated.

The truth is that the FCO has never given serious consideration to the economics of resettlement, just as it has never considered the role that a settled community could play in environmental conservation. The term ‘expensive underwriting’ may have convinced some Law Lords but, devoid of any cost figures, it is meaningless. It would be more candid to say it is a conclusion based on political judgement by FCO officials and not, as revealed in the cable, hiding behind what is claimed to be independent technical advice.

Dr. John Howell, Senior Research Associate, Overseas Development Institute.

Alan Partington wrote to say:

I’m sure that William Hague’s statement (The Times 9th April) calling for an “independent figure to oversee the release of potentially incriminating evidence removed from former colonies” will give heart to all seeking Justice for innocent people. I know the context of what he is saying refers to compensation claims on behalf of Malayan and Kenyan inhabitants but the Government will no longer be able to ignore the shameful treatment suffered by the islanders from the Chagossian Archipelago.

Comment from a supporter about the BBC Radio 4 programme “Costing the Earth”:

Rachel Jones of the Zoological Society managed to skip blithely over the tragic exiling of the Chagossians  (who cannot return) whilst rejoicing in how wonderful it is for HER (Ms Jones) to dive there. Did the programme makers not spot the irony?

 

Sent to UKChSA by a supporter with yachting interests:

The BIOT office in London has confirmed that the length of stay for yachts visiting the Chagos Islands is 28 days. The cost is 50 pounds sterling per week.
The BIOT office also says, “We obviously do not want to put lives or boats at risk and we will allow sometimes extensions, however as with all permits, these are at the gift of the Commissioner and he will ultimately make the decision as to the circumstances that merit an extension. We also are happy to issue subsequent permits – for example a yacht recently left Chagos to get supplies from the Maldives – was there a week and applied for a new permit to allow them to return.”I wonder if he is better at giving gifts to cruisers than he’s been with providing them to the hapless plantation employees who were illegally exiled from the same islands?

The quotation in March Update has inspired a small flurry and here are two more sent by supporters:

There are times when one tragedy, one crime tells us how a whole system works behind its democratic facade and helps us to understand how much of the world is run for the benefit of the powerful and how governments lie.

To understand the catastrophe of Iraq, and all the other Iraqs along imperial history’s trail of blood and tears, one need look no further than Diego Garcia.

This is not only a story of a single injustice; it is a glimpse of great power at it’s most ruthless.

John Pilger. 2.10.04

 

The punishment we suffer, if we refuse to take interest in matters of government, is to be governed by the worse men.

Plato 400 BC