August 2005 update

The Government has now exceeded the time directed by the Court for their response to the Chagossians’ case which is based on international law and human rights law. They were given twenty eight days which expired on 21 July. They then asked for the end of July, which was agreed by the solicitors. Then they said they could do nothing until 30 September, despite the Court Order. Is procrastination the name of the game?

A simple request for information made by this association to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which should have been answered on 10 August, has been delayed, citing many reasons including:

Section 27 of the Freedom of Information Act. This states that information is exempt from disclosure under the Act if its disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice:

a) relations between the UK and any other state.

c) the interests of the UK abroad, or

d) the promotion or protection by the UK of its interests abroad.

There was no b).

This extract begs several questions:

a) what about relations between the UK and its own citizens – the Chagossians?

c) how does it help the UK abroad (and its image abroad) to trample on the human rights of its own people?

d) Surely the promotion or protection by the UK of its interests abroad does not include exiling them illegally from their own land and leaving them in a destitute state?

We have been contacted by a student of journalism, Gayle Fitzpatrick, who writes:

Diarmuid O’Peicin has written a couple of articles and books about his own experiences as a parish priest on Tory Island which is located off the coast of Donegal in the West of Ireland. This was because the Irish government made plans to evict the population to the mainland secretly, and with no provisions for them on the mainland where they planned to dump them. He found out and fought for them to stay. He, with the help of the Scottish lawyer, Winnie Ewing, managed to bring the Tory case against the Irish Government to the European Court of Human Rights and won the islanders the right to stay on Tory. During this time, on a trip to Mauritius, he met up with Chagossians who had been banished to the slums of Cassis and was horrified to say the least. He had thought his own fight was bad enough! Anyway, as it happened, a Mauritian named Kishore Mundel was studying in Norwich University and helped Mr. O’Peicin with his campaign so I guess he is trying to return the favour. Considering how hopeless he felt and yet how the Tory team managed to win, he really believes that the Chagossians have a chance to see this through and get justice.

Gayle is helping him with research.

Another contact, Phuc Quach, is planning to visit Mauritius and Seychelles next month to do a “photographic document on the remarkable and dignified campaign of the Chagossian people in their fight and struggle for the right to return to their homeland, Diego Garcia and the other Chagos Islands.”

Previous photo essays by him on the effects of agent orange in Vietnam and landmines in Afghanistan can be seen at www.phucquach.co.uk

An enthusiastic and knowledgeable supporter in Canada is planning to really get things going over there which we are delighted to hear.

It is not possible to mention everyone who gets in touch, but all contacts, donations and help of any sort are much appreciated.

If you have any contacts in New Zealand please let them know there will be a showing of John Pilger’s documentary “Stealing A Nation” in the Waiheke Island Community Cinema at 7.30 on Tuesday August 23rd.

Although visitors to Mauritius are unable to visit Diego Garcia and the Chagos Archipelago, a guide book to that country includes the following:

The Chagos Archipelago lies 1,930km northeast of Mauritius. Diego Garcia is in the form of a serpent bent double, its interior forming a broad, steep, coral wall standing in the ocean. This encompasses a lagoon which is itself a large natural harbour and safe anchorage. The island is 28.5 km square in area with a steep coral reef all around, except at the entrance to the lagoon.

The French exiled leprous slaves to Diego Garcia from Mauritius claiming that the turtle, which would be their sole diet, would restore them to good health. In 1792, an English merchant ship sent two Lascar crew members ashore for water and some of the leper residents – women as well as men – met them and showed them to a well. When the master of the brig learned of the encounter, he made the Indian seamen stay on the island and sailed away as fast as he could.

After the British takeover in 1810, the exiling of leprosy sufferers was discontinued and some 300 migrants, including Europeans, went voluntarily from Mauritius to set up a saltfish trading company and to plant and harvest coconuts. The settlement flourished peacefully for 150 years.

By 1965 the population of the entire archipelago had grown to 900 families representing 2,000 inhabitants…who were content with their simple and presumably happy existence.

In the countdown to independence, Britain decided to detach Diego Garcia and the nearby islands from Mauritius…the politicians in Mauritius were obliged to agree because, being a colony, they had little choice and getting independence was their priority. Mauritius stipulated two conditions for letting Britain keep Diego Garcia: it would be used for communication purposes only, and the atoll would be returned to Mauritius if Britain no longer needed it.

As we know, the islanders were forced to leave and the new British Indian Ocean Territory was leased to the USA, which has turned it into its main military base in the Indian Ocean, with superb port facilities, the capacity to handle and refuel B52 bombers and thousands of military personnel there. Not exactly “communications purposes only”. As Royston Ellis, author of the guide, says, “the coconuts have been replaced with a nuclear arsenal” and “BIOT is a blot on the peaceful waters of the Indian Ocean.” As well, of course, as being a human tragedy and a fine example of political and government deviousness.

We have heard from Steffen that there is an exhibition (called “Searching For The Lost State” ?) in Halle, which is close to Leipzig in Germany. It will run for almost four weeks from September 9th. Some of Steffen’s photographic work is on show as well as some quotations from the Chagossians themselves. A Norwegian, Steffen will soon start postgraduate work in Germany. A possible source of further information about the exhibition is here. As this information has only just come in, we haven’t had an opportunity to check this for ourselves.

As usual, please can you try to inform others about the plight of the Chagossians?
Parliament has recessed for the summer but you may catch your MP before or after their holiday!

Best wishes,

Celia Whittaker

Secretary