August 2011 update

PARLIAMENT

Parliament is in recess so there is no meeting of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group in August. The next meeting will be on 7th September.

 

House of Commons
Ilois: Resettlement
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 19 July 2011
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs with reference to the outcome of Al-Skeini v UK at the European Court of Human Rights, what consideration he is giving to withdrawing from the Chagos Islanders v UK case; what consideration he has given to an out-of-court settlement; and if he will make a statement.
Jeremy Browne (Minister of State (South East Asia/Far East, Caribbean, Central/South America, Australasia and Pacific), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)
We will continue to contest the case brought by a group of Chagos Islanders before the European Court of Human Rights. The Government believes the arguments against allowing resettlement on the grounds of feasibility and defence security are clear and compelling. We do not consider there to be a case for paying further compensation to the applicants as part of a settlement.

 

UKChSA has already had a comment on this from Prof. David Simon AcSS (Royal Holloway, University of London) saying:  Hmm … this is the unwavering mantra – which doesn’t sit too well with Hague’s recent conciliatory tones in meetings… The ducks are clearly not all in line.

Last September, readers may recall, Vince Cable mistakenly announced that the Coalition Government was dropping the case in the European Court and opting for an out of court settlement, and that steps had been taken to ensure the return of the Chagossians. He said that the Liberal-Democrats would continue to aid their campaign to see justice done. Mr. Browne’s re-statement of Foreign and Commonwealth policy seems to demonstrate that FCO officials still determine the policy on Chagos.

As both Mr. Browne and Mr. Cable are Lib-Dems, perhaps they should discuss the issue together and check out the Lib-Dem commitments to the Chagossians  made before they joined the Coalition?

 

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

Letter sent to a constituent on behalf of Jean Lambert MEP (Green Party):

The European Commission is currently considering the rights of the Chagossians as EU citizens. Jean has written to the Commission urging it to support the stance of the European Parliament on this issue: during the course of a trade debate on 25 March 2009, it adopted a resolution calling on the EU institutions to help work towards the return of the population to the Chagos Archipelago, known as the British Indian Overseas Territory.

EUROPEAN COURT

Final submissions to the Court are due by beginning of September. After that they should start considering judgment. We are hoping for the Autumn, but there is no certainty. The Grand Chamber took one year after a hearing to decide the Al-Skeini case.

Richard Gifford.

BIOT: FCO summary record of meeting of 27 July 2011 with Chagossian Leaders to discuss visits and projects

In attendance

Dr. Martin Longden        Deputy Commissioner, BIOT [Chair]

John McManus                Administrator, BIOT

Julia Campbell                Assistant Administrator, BIOT

Oliver Bancoult*             Leader of CRG (Chagos Refugee Group)

Jenny Bertrand                UK CRG (Chagos Refugee Group)

Marie-France Bheeka     Secretary CICA (Chagos Islands Community Association)

John Bridiane                  7 Degrees South East

Bernadette Dugasse        Chagos Committee

Roch Evenor                   Chair of UK Chagos Support Association

Anne-Marie Gendron*   Seychelles

Fernand Mandarin*        Chagos Social Committee

Pierre Prosper*               Chagos Committee, Seychelles

Allen Vincatassin             President of the Diego Garcia and Chagos Islands Council

Marcus Booth*                Vice Chair of UK Chagos Support Association

Peter Raines                    Coral Cay Conservation

*participating by telephone

 

Introduction

The Chairman welcomed participants, and asked that the meeting concentrate on the agenda items of visits, restoration work and environmental work. The Foreign Secretary was keen to put Chagossians at the heart of these activities, and while there would always be resource constraints, he thought much might be achieved by working together.

Visits

We all recognised that the opportunity to visit the islands was important, especially for elderly Chagossians.  British Ministers wanted the British Government to do more of these visits, though there were some very practical issues to overcome (eg the number of berths on the Pacific Marlin was limited to twelve).  Demand was likely to outstrip supply, so we would need to prioritise.

A number of ideas were put forward on how to allocate places on visits more fairly, including the criteria the FCO should use for prioritising applicants. There was little support for a proposal to run alternative visits for UK, Seychelles and Mauritian Chagossians – most agreed that Chagossians from all three countries should be able to meet and talk with each other on these visits.

Similarly, there was sympathy for the idea that all Chagossians should be treated equally, regardless of where they lived.  Chagossian leaders performed an important function in advertising the availability of places, and in ensuring that their Chagossian colleagues applied for them.  But each Chagossian application, including those not affiliated with a particular group, should be treated strictly on its merits, based on established criteria.  Leaders would be able to assist with the verification of the eligibility of applicants (see below).

On criteria, there was wide support for the proposal that older candidates should be taken first, provided they were medically able.  Groups should however include some younger Chagossians so they could learn from their elders as well as give any necessary practical help.  Priority should also be given to those who were born or lived in BIOT.

The meeting discussed the quality and content of the trips.  Several who had visited BIOT argued for longer visits: five hours on Peros Banhos, for example, was not enough.  It was understood that there was a trade-off between length of stay and the number of people who could visit.  There was considerable support for a large visit at some stage by boat, which would allow a much larger group to travel, even if the 2006 boat visit had been disappointing in some respects.  The Chairman said this was something the FCO would consider, though the costs of chartering a boat from Mauritius were significant.  The meeting also suggested that we should aim for one of the visits each year to be around All Souls’ Day.  The Chairman agreed the FCO should begin planning for this visit.

Restoration Projects The Chairman asked the meeting to identify the heritage sites that should be prioritised in any restoration work, noting the resource and logistical constraints, as well as the ability of the jungle quickly to reclaim uninhabited areas.  The potential list of sites was long, but the meeting agreed that priority attention should be given to cemeteries and the churches. More could be realistically achieved by tackling work on DG in the first instance.  Whilst some of this could be done by volunteers, some in the meeting cautioned that a professional approach would be needed, with skilled artisans required to do the majority of the restoration work.  More basic upkeep thereafter could be included in visit programmes.

Environmental Project

Some participants excused themselves from discussion on this issue, due to their political position on the MPA.  But others thought it was possible for Chagossians to be involved in environmental work in BIOT whether they gave the MPA full support or had some reservations.  The Chairman stressed that, whilst there was nothing in the provisions of the MPA that would prejudice any other issue, he hoped we could consider environmental issues generically, rather than endure an unproductive political discussion.

There was significant interest on how Chagossians could contribute to the scientific and environmental debates currently being had.  Questions were asked in particular about possible Chagossian representation on the Science Advisory Group.  The Chairman explained this was a specialist and non-political body convened to give independent and objective expert scientific advice.  It did not take decisions.  Membership was open to anyone with the appropriate scientific expertise.

The meeting discussed the important of investing in the capacity of Chagossian communities to contribute to the science and environmental projects.  There was support for some general environmental education for all Chagossians, regardless of age. There was also a role for volunteers. The most committed and talented might then take further training to work as para-scientists. The difficulties of building up a cadre should not be underestimated though a number of NGOs had indicated a willingness to help.  The Chairman indicated that we should convene a meeting of this group with a selection of NGOs who had expertise in this area.

Conclusion

The Chairman thanked the participants for their constructive approach. An FCO summary of the discussion would be distributed to all participants and to stakeholders who had a close interest.  There was a broad sense that the meeting had been worthwhile, and should be regarded as the start of a more regular dialogue.

The above was issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a few points will, no doubt, have already have occurred to you!

  1. All attendees were either Chagossian leaders or civil servants with one exception and his role is not explained. No politicians were present.
  2. Why were none of the ideas discussed at Chagos Regagné brought up for discussion here?
  3. To say (in Environmental Project paragraph)  that some participants excused themselves for ‘political ‘ reasons from the discussion is ridiculous. You cannot get more political than applying an MPA with the deliberate intent of keeping people off their homeland. See WikiLeaks! It cannot be said often enough that all Chagossians wish to preserve their environment but it should be done by them and not without their knowledge and active participation.
  4. The Conclusion says the meeting should be regarded as the start of a more regular dialogue. Excellent idea but discussion of some more fundamental issues in the Chagossian situation would be good.

 

Marcus Booth, vice-chair of UkChSA commented afterwards: The most positive thing about the meeting was the unity which all, and I mean all, the Chagossians spoke, the dignity of their responses and their conduct.

One point the FCO note omits is the fact that many of the representatives raised the issue of the historic and ongoing abuse of their human rights.

 

PRESS COVERAGE

Little this month, which gives space to reprint Dr. Sean Carey’s article for Mauritius Times, 22nd July.

Clock is ticking for the UK over Chagos
Three weeks ago representatives from the UK Chagos Support Association, including bestselling novelist Philippa Gregory, TV adventurer Ben Fogle, and Chagossian exile Roch Evenor, met UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to discuss the highly contentious issue of the Chagos Islanders’ continuing exile. The delegation was led by Andrew Rosindell MP, vice chair of the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group. The member for Romford, East London, famous for campaigning with his Staffordshire Bull Terrier Spike dressed in a Union Jack waistcoat, asked the Foreign Secretary, a fellow Conservative, whether the long-running legal battle to allow the Chagos Islanders to return to their homeland could be laid to rest by an out-of-court settlement. Hague was quick to reply that the case concerning the Islanders’ right of return, currently before the European Court of Human Rights, was a test case of the court’s power to rule on issues relating to the UK’s remaining 14 overseas territories.

Needless to say the Strasbourg court’s recent judgement on the Al-Jedda and Al-Skeini cases concerning the internment and extrajudicial killing of Iraqi civilians by British troops stated that the European Convention on Human Rights applies wherever the UK exercises “effective control” over a territory or its people, will have disappointed the British Foreign Secretary and his advisers. The UK would much prefer some legal wriggle room when its personnel are operating in – how to put it? – unusually demanding circumstances overseas. Judge Bonello of Malta was certainly in no mood to pull punches about the UK’s attempt to defend the behaviour of its wayward military personnel by recourse to geographically parochial legal arguments:

“I confess to be quite unimpressed by the pleadings of the United Kingdom Government to the effect that exporting the European Convention on Human Rights to Iraq would have amounted to “human rights imperialism”. It ill behoves a State that imposed its military imperialism over another sovereign State without the frailest imprimatur from the international community, to resent the charge of having exported human rights imperialism to the vanquished enemy.”

Make no mistake the implications of the latest judgements from the European Court of Human Rights are hugely significant for the UK government’s attempt to keep the Chagos Islanders and their descendants from returning to their homeland from which they were forcibly removed between 1968 and 1973 and dumped at the docksides in Mauritius and the Seychelles to make way for the strategically important US military base on Diego Garcia.

The former Labour Government won a narrow and largely unexpected 3-2 victory in the House of Lords in 2008. Making law on the hoof, Lord Hoffman decided that the rights of the Islanders, who had enjoyed the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights since its extension to the British colonies in 1953, had evaporated when Mauritius gained its independence in 1968. This almost Damascene legal insight meant that the highest court in the land, going against the unanimous decisions of the lower courts, provided the UK with an excuse for its deportation of an entire population of its colonial citizens. No wonder legal experts from around the world were dumbfounded by the decision.

But it is the relegation of fundamental human rights to the level of “implied evaporation” as Richard Gifford, solicitor for the Chagos Refugees Group, has called it that will now be judged by the Court in Strasbourg, which has dismissed the UK’s defence in the Iraqi killings case as the weasel words of warmongers. For his part, the former President of the House of Lords, Lord Bingham, widely acclaimed as the greatest British judge since the Second World War, who along with Lord Mance found for the Chagos Islanders’ right of return in 2008, has stated that the Convention forms the bedrock of human rights in the modern era. As he says in his 2010 book The Rule of Law: who in their right mind would want to live in a country in which human rights are not legally protected? There can be little doubt that the judges in Strasbourg will give due weight to the late Lord Bingham’s view.

All things considered, the writing must be on the wall for that small group of Foreign & Commonwealth Office officials, who blindly defending the actions of their predecessors, have used every trick in the book, including persuading Jack Straw to pass the Order in Council in 2004, which forbids anyone having the “right of abode” in the British Indian Ocean Territory, and then in 2010 getting David Miliband to unilaterally declare the Chagos Archipelago the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA) to make it even more difficult for the Chagossians to return.

Last December Mauritius, which claims that Chagos was illegally excised from its territory in 1965, advised by Philippe Sands QC, professor of international law at UCL, initiated proceedings against the UK under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Now, the Assembly of the African Union has stated that it supports fully “the action of the Government of the Republic of Mauritius at the United Nations General Assembly with a view to enable Mauritius to exercise its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago”. Suddenly, the UK looks very isolated indeed.

The lesson? It is surely that it is never a good idea to allow undoubtedly clever civil servants to pursue their own policies, and then bamboozle often inexperienced ministers about the wisdom of their views and practices (including the current tactic of exploiting divisions between different Chagossian groups). The proper place for democratic debate and judgement about the UK’s interests overseas — including the future of the Chagos Islanders and the sovereignty of the Archipelago — is in the Palace of Westminster not offices in Whitehall.

Dr Sean Carey is research fellow in the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (Cronem), Roehampton University

From British Ecological Society Blog:

A meeting at the Linnean Society on 24th November 2011 will unveil the highlights from a decade of research into the Chagos Archipelago; the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA). Organised in partnership with the Chagos Conservation Trust and supported by the Pew Environment Group, this one-day meeting will explore the ecology of the Chagos and the importance of safeguarding the archipelago from the damaging impacts of over-fishing and over-exploitation.
Professor Charles Sheppard, who works part-time at the University of Warwick and for the remainder as an advisor to the UN and Government on tropical marine ecology and conservation, is the lead organiser for the meeting and will oversee a programme of invited speakers discussing varied topics; from how to monitor fish populations in the Chagos to the way ahead for the management of the MPA.

(Will Chagossians be invited to speak and put their point of view?)

Dr. Magnus Johnson (Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull) tells Update that Chagos regularly comes up as an issue on Coral-List with people talking about the need to conserve the marine environment around it so he, and others, try to remind Coral-List and its readers that there is more than just simple conservation involved. Commenting on an article ‘Protecting the Chagos Archipelago – a last chance for Indian Ocean reefs?’ by Prof. Charles Sheppard, Dr. Johnson writes: An interesting article however . . it skirts over the fundamental breaches of human rights that took place in order to create the exclusion zone in the first place (are we all comfortable with the links between war and conservation?) Documents leaked to the public point out that the UK government stance on Chagos is driven by military/political issues rather than any love of the environment – and note that the author is the adviser to the UK Government on BIOT conservation.
I’d be interested to read articles relating to pollution around the islands. There has been a significant military presence in the region for a long time, I find it hard to believe that the impact of this huge military installation could be less than that of a native population. Building the airstrip? Noise pollution? TBT? Dumping of military hardware around the island? Weapons testing? Oil spills? Angling? Fishing by folk brought in to work on the bases? Organic pollution?
Of course the area needs protection from unconstrained development – but the Chagossians should be advised and encouraged rather than told or bullied, it is their home not ours. No negotiations on conservation should take place until the legitimate return of the Chagossians has been facilitated.

NEWS FROM MAURITIUS

Dr Laura Jeffery (University of Edinburgh) organised a workshop on the topic “Chagos – Sustainable Archipelago”, which was held at the Labourdonnais Hotel in Port Louis, Mauritius, on 10th July 2011. This knowledge exchange workshop was organised in collaboration with members of the Chagossian community, conservationists, and ecological scientists in Mauritius. It was funded under the aegis of Dr Jeffery’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Research Fellowship entitled “Sustainable resettlement and environmental conservation: a collaborative approach to the right of return to the Chagos Archipelago”.

This workshop was the first time that members of the extended Chagossian community had been brought together with scientists in Mauritius. It was also the first workshop on the environmental future of Chagos to take place in Mauritius and the first to be conducted entirely in Kreol to facilitate the participation of those Chagossians in Mauritius who do not speak either English or French.

Please contact UKChSA (via email) if you would like to read the full report but here are the conclusions and resolutions, sent us by Laura:

  1. Chagossian participants expressed their relief that the conservationists and ecological scientists present consider that people form part of the environment, expect environmental conservation to take place in conjunction with sustainable development and human rights, and believe that resettlement of the Chagos Archipelago could be compatible with environmental conservation. Chagossian participants therefore declared themselves eager to continue to collaborate with the conservationist groups and ecological scientists present.
  2. The conservationists and ecological scientists present expressed their satisfaction in discovering that Chagossians hold detailed ecological knowledge about the environment of Chagos and are dedicated to the protection of the Chagos environment. They argued that the international scientific community should acknowledge the value of this ecological knowledge for planning a sustainable future for Chagos.

Resolutions:

Chagossians must be at the heart of planning a sustainable future for the Chagos Archipelago because a sense of ownership contributes to sustainable development and environmental conservation.

The Chagossian community and environmental scientists in Mauritius should continue to share ideas about the feasibility (or otherwise) of proposals for the future of Chagos.

Any development must be carefully planned to ensure that in the future – as in the past – the natural resources of Chagos are not degraded.

Environmental conservation should be approached in conjunction with Chagossian rights, and sustainable development in conjunction with the preservation of cultural heritage.

Resources should be directed towards the transmission of environmental knowledge and cultural heritage from Chagos islanders to their descendants and raising the consciousness of the younger generations about sustainable development issues.

A centre for scientific research and sustainable development on Chagos should be established, with Chagossians trained in environmental monitoring so they can themselves look after it (i.e. citizen research).

 

READING LIST

Dr. Laura Jeffery’s monograph ‘Chagos Islanders in the Mauritius and UK: Forced displacement and onward migration’ has just been released by Manchester University Press.