August 2009 update

  • The latest sad news on the Chagossian situation is clearly summarised in this this letter from David Snoxell in The Times on 5th August.

  • The Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group, which David Snoxell also coordinates, held its 7th meeting on 20 July, the last before the Recess. The next meeting will be held in on Tuesday 13 October.

    The Chairman reported on the launch of David Vine’s book ‘Island of Shame’ on 3 July in Foyles and on his contacts with the Foreign Secretary about the invitation to meet the APPG. The Group hoped that Mr Miliband would still agree to meet the Group but in the meantime decided to invite the new Minister for the OTs, Chris Bryant, to meet the Group after the Recess. It was also agreed that given William Hague’s firm support for Chagossian rights, he should also be invited.

    The Group discussed the replies from FCO Ministers in both Houses to PQs from Lords Luce and Avebury and from Jeremy Corbyn, asking whether a friendly settlement, as suggested by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), was being considered. (The Court had served the request for FCO views on 17 February with a deadline of 12 June. The FCO had requested the deadline be extended to 17 July and had just asked for a further extension to 31 July).The Group believed that Parliament must be consulted since the response would be crucial to the fundamental human rights of the Chagossian people for whom the UK is responsible. Accordingly the Group decided that in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies Lord Luce would put down another Question in the Lords and an EDM would be circulated. The EDM was circulated last night. It reads:
    ‘This House notes that the Government has requested a further postponement in responding to the European Court of Human Rights request for its views on the Government’s position concerning a friendly settlement on the return of the Chagos Islanders to their homeland; notes that it is essential that the Government upholds the highest standard of human rights and accordingly consults with relevant parliamentarians before submitting their response’.

    The APPG agreed that Lord Luce should seek a short Chagos debate in the Lords early in the new session of Parliament which begins on 18 November.

    The APPG discussed the statement by President Ramgoolam to the Mauritius Parliament about the second round of the sovereignty talks being held with the UK in Port Louis this week which would include the right of the Chagossians to return. The Coordinator explained the FCO view on what was to be expected from the talks – an agreement to maintain the dialogue and to meet again. The Group also discussed contacts with the US Government.

  • The use of Diego Garcia for special rendition purposes has been aired again in the press and on air. (Years of UK government denial of any involvement came to an end in February 2008 with David Miliband’s statement in the Commons that this had, indeed, been the case on at least two occasions). The charity, Reprieve, and its founder, Clive Stafford Smith, is trying to help one of the victims of torture and wrongful detention to obtain more details from the FCO. Both David Vine and Afua Hirsch had articles in the Guardian about this on the same day – 29 July.

  • The Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius report that they met with the BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) administrator Miss J Yeadon who visited Mauritius on Wednesday 22 July. We raised many points, including visits on our archipelago, pension, health problems, funds on fishing licenses, our right to return to the Chagos… She visited the construction site of our Training and Resource Centre at Pointe aux Sables. Both she and the British High Commissioner were surprised to see how far the work has progressed.

    On 27 July we met with four MPs who were visiting Mauritius for talks with the government. We had a positive meeting sharing with them about the difficulties and hardships faced by the Chagossians. I invited them to join the APPG Chagos and to sign the EDM of Jeremy Corbyn. They had the opportunity to visit two Chagossian families and see for themselves about their conditions of living.

  • News from the Swiss Chagos group:
    On 13-14 May Georges Wuethrich and Cynthia Othello (former secretary if the Chagos Refugee Group) attended the meeting in Geneva of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) at which the UK periodic report was being considered. The UK has extended the Covenant to most of the Overseas Territories except British Indian Ocean Territory, British Antarctic Territory and Anguilla. The reason the UK gives for excluding BIOT is that there is no population, and yet the Covenant is extended to South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) which also do not have resident populations. It seems that the rights of penguins are covered!

    The UN Committee’s concluding observations apply to all Overseas Territories: “The Committee is concerned…about the lack of a national strategy to implement the Covenant. It is also concerned about the limited availability of information regarding the implementation of the Covenant in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.”

    “Bearing in mind that it is that State party which is responsible for the implementation of the Covenant in all its territories, the Committee urges the State party to ensure the equal enjoyment of the economic, social and cultural rights by all individuals and groups of individuals under its jurisdiction, and recommends that the State party adopt a national strategy for the implementation of the Covenant throughout the State party’s territories.”
    On June 13th, the General Assembly of the Swiss Chagos Support Committee was held in Laconnex and a new president was elected, Laurence Meier, who assumes the presidentship for the second time. Laurence was born in Peros Banhos 70 years ago. Cynthia Othello was elected as treasurer.

    On the cultural side, there are now some songs on YouTube from Chagossian musicians:
    Peros Vert from Ton Vie (whose real name is Olivier Sakir and who is a cousin to Olivier Bancoult of the CRG in Mauritius. Peros Vert is almost the national anthem):

    Perdition la natir is a song from Claude Lafoudre, (whose mother Regina died recently as you reported in Update earlier this year) sung by the Mauritian group Zotsa:

  • The crusading journalist, John Pilger, has long been a good friend to the Chagossians and most supporters will remember his special report for ITV ‘Stealing A Nation.’ We, in UKCSA, are delighted to hear that he has been awarded the 2009 Sydney Peace Prize. The citation for the award says : ‘For work as an author, filmmaker and journalist as well as for courage as a foreign and war correspondent in enabling the voices of the powerless to be heard. For commitment to peace with justice by exposing and holding governments to account for human rights abuses and for fearless challenges to censorship in any form.’

  • From 5-6 August the National Oceanography Centre at Southampton University held a workshop to discuss the establishment of a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands, as proposed by the Chagos Conservation Trust and others. No Chagossians or their representatives were invited to this gathering of marine scientists although the FCO fielded two desk officers and a legal adviser. In the run up to the workshop some participants pointed out to the organisers that the human dimension should not be excluded since the Chagossian people, sooner or later, may well recover their right to return to their homeland and some may wish to settle there. A meeting which took no account of this was in danger of invalidating the work and conclusions of the workshop. Since the organisers were unwilling to make provision for this dimension, two participants, Dr Lynda Rodwell, an Ecological Economist of Plymouth University and Dr Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist of The Nature Conservancy and Cambridge University decided to withdraw from participation.

  • A supporter, Simon Gould, wrote to the Privy Council Office to express his concern at the undemocratic nature of their work and here is part of the reply from the Secretariat Support Team Manager: ‘You are correct that the Chagos order in Council was not formally laid before Parliament….but it is a matter for Ministers in the Government department with the policy responsibility…..to determine whether an Order in Council is the appropriate mechanism for effecting change…..There can be no difference between Privy Council policy and Government policy, and Ministers are accountable to Parliament for all matters conducted through the Privy Council.’ Ministers, it would appear, are accountable after the event.