April 2013 update

UK CHAGOS SUPPORT ASSOCIATION

UPDATE APRIL 2013

 

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its postponed 35th meeting on 24 April 2013.  Olivier Bancoult, the Chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group, visiting the UK for the Judicial Review of the Chagos MPA, was invited to address the Group. He was accompanied by the new chair of the UK Chagos Support Association, Sabrina Jean.

 

In closed session members discussed the Foreign Secretary’s reply to the Chairman, in which Mr Hague had said he would be happy to meet the APPG later in the year once progress had been made with the review of policy on BIOT. Members noted that it was now 4 months since Mr Hague had announced on 20 December 2012 that he would take stock of the policy towards the resettlement of BIOT. They questioned how it was possible for such a review to take so long given that the FCO had been considering the options since an earlier review announced by the new Foreign Secretary in June 2010. Members wanted to discuss their proposals with the Foreign Secretary before decisions were taken.

 

The Group discussed the 21 PQs and Questions on Chagos tabled since the last meeting on 13 February. They felt that, although largely repeating the same positions, the tone was more positive. They were encouraged by the reply of Mr Simmonds to a PQ on 25 March from Andrew George MP in which the Minister had stated that “Ministers and officials continue to engage with Chagossians as part of our review of policy. This will include the costs, benefits and other consequences of any kind of resettlement”. Members felt that Baroness Warsi’s replies to Lord Avebury’s letters, regarding diplomatic solutions concerning Mauritius and the Chagossians, rather than litigation, were not positive.

 

Members took note of Dominic Kennedy’s interview with Henry Bellingham MP, the previous Foreign Office Minister in charge of BIOT and now a member of the Group, in The Times of 29 March. They were pleased to see his suggestions for moving towards a limited resettlement. These included a private sector led initiative, an eco-tourism project, a centre on the Outer Islands for research, enhanced mooring facilities, a jetty, an eco hotel and a visitor’s centre on Diego Garcia for Chagossians. Members agreed with Mr Bellingham that it would give the Chagossians “a feeling that Britain and America were atoning for the sins of the past”.

 

The scientific review (Oct 2012) by Dr Paul Kench of the 2002 Feasibility Study was discussed. Members agreed that his report demonstrated that the Feasibility Study, on which the FCO had always based their policy against resettlement, had been seriously flawed, contained contradictory evidence and was lacking in transparency and tested scientific data, resulting in incorrect conclusions. The Group reiterated their wish for a new scientifically rigorous and up to date study.

 

The Coordinator briefed the Group on the current Judicial Review of the MPA (15-24 April). The Group took note of the judges’ ruling concerning the inadmissibility of wikileak evidence (which had been allowed in an earlier judgment by a High Court judge) on the grounds that Article 24 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations precluded the use of communications belonging to diplomatic missions. Members wondered if FCO Ministers had properly considered the wider implications of such a ruling before it was raised by the FCO legal team in court.

 

The next meeting will be on 5 June.

 

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Chagos Islands APPG.

 

It was a relatively quiet month of parliamentary questions due to the Easter recess in the same period.  On the 25th March Andrew George asked: “if he will make an assessment of Professor Paul Kench’s 5 October 2012 review of his Department’s 2002 feasibility study into the practical consequences of a policy of voluntary repatriation of Chagossians to the Chagos Islands.”

 

Mark Simmonds: “As part of our review of our policy on the British Indian Ocean Territory, we will consider all relevant contributions, submissions and views, as appropriate.”

 

10th April- Baroness Whitaker: “further to the Written Statement by Baroness Warsi on 4 March (WS 117-8), how the principles of the Commonwealth Charter apply to the situation of the Chagossian people.”

 

Baroness Warsi: “Many Chagossians are members of the Commonwealth by holding UK, Mauritian or Seychellois nationality. The Commonwealth Charter is a clear statement of the values that all Commonwealth member states should adhere to.

Successive Governments have expressed regret for the way the resettlement of the Chagossians was carried out in the 1960s and 1970s. This would not have met the values aspired to in the Commonwealth Charter. Because it was wrong, substantial final compensation has been paid.”

 

15th April- Jeremy Corbyn: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what fishing and marine protection patrols have been undertaken in the British India Ocean Territories in the last year; how many vessels in breach of licences have been apprehended as a result of such proposals; and what violations have been discovered.”

 

Mark Simmonds: “The British Indian Ocean Territory patrol vessel, the Pacific Marlin, was at sea for 310 days between January 2012 and January 2013. The vessel multitasks, but fisheries protection was the principal task.

No fishing licences were issued and therefore no breaches of licences were possible.

Three Sri Lankan fishing vessels were apprehended and successfully prosecuted in the last year up to 25 March 2013. There were three violations relating to fishing in the fishing waters of BIOT without a licence contrary the Fisheries (Conservation and Management) Ordinance 2007; three violations relating to possession of prohibited fishing gear, namely wire trace lines; and one violation relating to possession of prohibited fishing gear, namely a harpoon.

One yacht was found without a valid mooring permit.”

 

22nd April- Kerry McCarthy: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 4 December 2012, Official Report, column 753W, on British Overseas Territories, how many at-sea inspections of fishing boats over 24 metres long to check for compliance with territorial legislation and international fishery treaty obligations have taken place within the exclusive economic zones of each Overseas Territory in each of the last five years.”

 

Mark Simmonds: “Territory governments are responsible for the protection and conservation of their natural environments and not all information related to vessel inspections is held centrally in the UK. Information gathered on the inspections undertaken in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory and Ascension Island is as follows:

Inspections Number
2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
Falkland Islands 85 107 63 — —
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands 4 11 10 6 11
British Indian Ocean Territory 11 7 10 30 24
Ascension Island — — 2 — —”

 

22nd April- Kerry McCarthy: “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 4 December 2012, Official Report, column 753W, on British Overseas Territories, which of the Overseas Territories has the service of a patrol vessel capable of enforcement against illegal and unregulated fishing to the edge of their exclusive economic zone; and, in each such territory, on how many days enforcement has taken place in each of the last five years.”

 

Mark Simmonds: “The Falklands Island Government has one such patrol vessel. Vessel deployments on enforcement operations for the last five years are as follows:

Days
2012 294
2011 251
2010 274
2009 190
2008 204

The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands operates one such patrol vessel.

Deployments over the last five years are as follows:

         Days
2012 205
2011 227
2010 210
2009 220
2008 193

The British Indian Ocean Territory has one such vessel which patrols the marine protected area. 


Enforcement deployments for the previous five years are:
Days
2012 204
2011 207
2010 259
2009 240
2008 204

The Government of Grand Cayman has three vessels capable of enforcement against illegal, unreported and unregulated vessels. Patrols are carried out daily within a limited area.

The Territories of Ascension Island, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha do not have the routine services of a patrol vessel. However, in 2010 a dedicated patrol vessel was deployed in these territories for 12 days, six days and nine days respectively.”

 

23rd April- Jim Murphy: “To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many civilian and military personnel from his Department are based in (a) Anguilla, (b) Bermuda, (c) British Antarctic Territory, (d) British Indian Ocean Territory, (e) British Virgin Islands, (f) Cayman Islands, (g) Falkland Islands, (h) Gibraltar, (i) Montserrat, (j) Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, (k) St Helena and St Helena Dependencies (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha), (l) South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands,
(m) Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia and (n) the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

 

Andrew Robathan: “The military and civilian personnel based in the Overseas Territories in March 2013 are shown in the following table:

Overseas Territories Military personnel-Civilian personnel
British Indian Ocean Territory 41-0
Falkland Islands 1,050-47
Gibraltar 420-580
Ascension Island 28-0
British Forces Cyprus including Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia 2,750-1,650

The civilian personnel figure includes locally employed civilian personnel.

The military figures may vary from published statistics as personnel change location or are deployed on operations. Figures above 100 have been rounded down to the nearest 10.

There are no military and or Ministry of Defence civilian personnel serving in the following regions Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Antarctic Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn; Henderson; Ducie and Oeno Islands, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia South Sandwich Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands.”

 

JUDICIAL REVIEW OF THE MPA

Earlier this month Chagos Refugees Group leader Olivier Bancoult flew to the UK to join other Chagossians for the Judicial Review into the Marine Protection Area.  The hearing had been much anticipated due to the fact that it would be the first time that Foreign Office officials would be cross-examined in relation to evidence attained from the Wikileaks cables which were released in 2010.

 

(Bernard Nourrice, Olivier Bancoult & Clifford Volfrin outside the High Court in Central London)

 

Although Colin Roberts and Joanne Yeadon, the former Commissioner and Administrator of BIOT respectively, were cross examined in depth about what they said to US embassy officials as reported in wikileaks cables, the judges agreed with the FCO and ruled that this evidence was inadmissible under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.  The judges may have got this wrong – if they have we can expect the lawyers to research into the negotiating history of that Convention and if they find that this was not the intention of the Convention for this issue to be re-opened in court.

 

Fresh from her election as the new Chair of the UKChSA Sabrina Jean was interviewed by French journalist Michel Arseneault on behalf of Radio France Internationale (RFI).  The full interview can be found here.

 

The Guardian newspaper was particularly damning during its editorial at the end of the day four of the seven day hearing:

 

“Faced with litigation concerning the lawfulness of the conservation policy, at the start of this week the Foreign Office was following its customary tactic of refusing to engage on the basis that it never confirms or denies leaks. Suddenly, however – and apparently without written argument – it switched strategies and announced that the memo could not be considered without violating the Vienna convention, which protects diplomatic correspondence.”

 

Chagos APPG Coordinator David Snoxell wrote to the same newspaper questioning the potential precedent that could be set by such a ruling:

 

“If the judges rule (Editorial, 19 April) that communications (eg WikiLeaks) emanating from diplomatic missions are protected by the Vienna convention, all such material held by their receiving governments will also be protected. The purpose of the convention was to protect diplomatic missions, not the archives of home governments which have more effective means of security protection. Do judges have the power to extend the scope of internationally negotiated UN conventions and would the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agree that this is desirable? Judges and government probably need more time to consider fully the implications of such a ruling than a complex judicial review on the legitimacy of the Chagos marine protected area allows.”

 

The hearing concluded on the 24th April and a judgement will be issued at some point in the not too distant future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAVID MILIBAND

The former Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced his departure from the British Political scene at the end of last month.  He took the decision to retire from his position as MP for South Shields to take on a role with the International Rescue Committee in New York.  The organisation was founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein to offer care and assistance to refugees.  As one of our most passionate supporters pointed out, the move was incredibly ironic given David’s contribution to the plight of refugees during his tenure at the Foreign Office in the UK.  The former Foreign Secretary managed to make sure that the forcibly exiled Chagos Islanders stayed in exile thanks to the creation of the Marine Protection Area in 2010.

 

The association hopes that other refugees are treated with more dignity and respect than was afforded to the Chagossian community during his time as Foreign Secretary.

 

YANNICK MANDARIN

Chagossian Yannick Mandarin caused something of a stir earlier this month with comments attributed to him following his four week long trip with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to the Chagos Islands.  Mandarin was scathing in his view on resettlement proposals to the islands, suggesting that if Chagossians would be allowed to return “it would be a paradise lost.”

 

We at the association never wish to get drawn into a war of words with anyone, but felt it was necessary in this instance to produce three other letters from other Chagossians with very contrasting views.  In the interests of balance and context, we feel compelled to produce these as part of this edition of our newsletter.

 

The first is from Courtney Elysee, who is President of the Young Chagossians Group:

 

“After consultation with the members of the Group “Jennesse Chagossians” on Saturday, April 20, 2013 the various statements and opinions have been collected:

 

We find it unacceptable that a young offspring carrying the same values and traditions as us can publicly renounce his roots. Usually it is said that every human being has his own beliefs and his way of thinking ….. But here we can say that it is downright unfair and inhumane to take into consideration the well being of animals and spit squarely on human rights…. Yannick Mandarin should put himself in the place of a person who has been deprived of everything, not just his home or his property but more specifically his rights to live on his native land  .In doing so, he does not only deny his identity and those of his ancestors but baffle out fundamental human rights.  He should awake his human consciousness …. Yannick Mandarin does not know its ancestral values if it was the case he would not do so especially in a first statement he recognized “feeling proud of finding the native island of his grandparents and today that same yannick declares that the marine park on the island Diego Garcia is his ultimate priority and that he prefers to preserve it rather than fight to restore the rights of its fallen ancestors. As youngsters we are revolted and disgusted … we want and when I say “we” this concerns more than 80 young people who deeply carry the aim of fighting for the Chagossian community so that they finally get their rights back and their exile ends up … Yannick Mandarin should come to ascertain the current situation in which refugees live, he should come and see the deep sorrow  which eats them up thinking that perhaps they will not be able to return to their native land one day ….. We believe that this man has no heart or feeling otherwise he would take more intelligent actions.”

 

The second is from another Chagossian called Pascalina Nellan:

 

“It is completely incredible reversal of values that starts with a marine park and forgets the people who were there in the first place. When setting up the new marine reserve, UK could have done it in a way that made resettlement of the islands feasible. It chose not to. One thing the marine reserve have without any doubt accomplished is keeping on to hinder the rights of the people of the Chagos. It is clear that animals are well treated than the Chagossians but sounds ironic when these same people threatened to gassed the Chagossians’ dogs during the deportation process. one more ironic aspect of the MPA is that the Chagossians are not allowed to return back to avoid disturbing the marine eco system but other people are fishing in its territorial sea and are allowed to pay great sum of money to see the flora of the Archipelagos. It is more a business marine park than a marine protected area and more of a pretext than a good cause. No need of the wikileaks revelation to see the “supercherie” but saying that the revelation is not valid here while it has been used elsewhere is no doubt a way to prevent the truth from prevailing. Is it the nuclearisation of the Chagos archipelagos that they called protecting nature??? I totally disagree that foreigners come to my country and say that they will protect our Eco system while we the people of this country should firstly bare this responsibility.”

 

And the third and final letter is from Police Inspector Claudy Pauline, another Chagossian:

 

“Further to the letter of Yannick Mandarin.

We the younger generation of the Chagossian community expresses our complete disapproval of the stance taken by Yannick Mandarin. We believe that he has been grossly misled.

We live in Mauritius but the dream to go back to our forefathers’ homeland remains ours and not to be snatched cruelly by anyone.

Our identity, origins, norms, traditions and values are inspired and derived from the Chagossians’ culture. Despite the fact that we have never been to Chagos, our parents and/or grandparents have ensured that the culture is not eradicated.

Ultimately, we would one day like to visit, develop and stay on our forefathers’ homeland.

We strongly reject the assertion that the Chagossians natives should be expected to forget the land where they were born. We are not against the preservation and conservation of the environment but we do not accept that these measures should be implemented at the expense of fundamental breaches of Human Rights.

It is be to be noted that the hearing regarding the judicial review contesting the legality of the unilaterally declared Marine Protected Area “MPA” a claim brought by Olivier Bancoult, Leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) is currently being held at the Royal Court of Justice, London. “

 

It is the opinion of the association that no further comment is necessary as the letters outline our own position emphatically.

 

UK CHAGOS SUPPORT ASSOCIATION AGM ROUND UP

The full minutes from this years UKChSA Annual General Meeting have been circulated along with this newsletter.  A very warm welcome to Sabrina Jean who has been promoted from Secretary to Chair and we are sure you will join us in wishing her all the best in her new role.

 

The association wishes to place on record its gratitude for everybody who was available to join us on what was an important day in the history of our organisation.  We would also like to extend our thanks and appreciation to members of the committee who served us over the past year and look forward to your continuing support over the next twelve months.  It was unanimously agreed that the next AGM will be announced a minimum of three months before it is held and this proposal was submitted by George Beckmann.

 

A follow up meeting will take place in Crawley Library on Saturday 25th May at 2pm.

 

CHAGOS REFUGEES GROUP UK NOW ON TWITTER

The UK branch of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) is now on Twitter and can be found here.  The account was launched under a month ago and already has over 800 followers which is truly remarkable.

 

The power of social networking was touched upon during the AGM- when used correctly (and frequently!) it can be an essential tool in our armory to reach out to new supporters.  This is especially true for attracting younger followers who are of course critical for the long term survival of the association.

 

It was especially inspiring to see some were able to join us for our AGM as well. We hope this is merely the start of an exciting chapter of continued expansion as we seek to take our message beyond the wonderful support base we have accumulated over the years.  As highlighted by David Snoxell during his AGM address: maintaining public awareness of our cause is imperative to the success of this struggle.

 

 

 

 

 

PETITION

With just one month to go we have just passed the 800 mark and are of course still seeking more signatures. It is not too late to add your name, the closing date for submissions is the 25th May and it would be fantastic if we can all make a concerted effort to get this as high as possible in the final few weeks.

 

The petition as usual can be found here: http://bit.ly/LLvt4P

 

Thank you as always for your continued interest and support,

 

Clency Lebrasse (Update compiler)