August 2012 update

HIGH COURT

In July the judge in a pre-trial hearing connected with the Judicial Review of the MPA, gave a highly significant judgment by ordering two senior FCO officials (Colin Roberts, Commissioner of BIOT and Joanne Yeadon, Administrator of BIOT) to give evidence under oath on what they said to the US Embassy in May 2009. This hearing was attended by Sabrina Jean, Bernadette Dugasse and Roch Evenor.  This will be the first time that information from Wikileaks has been allowed as admissible evidence in court and the first time that FCO officials have been ordered to appear in court. This decision augurs well for the Judicial Review in early October. We shall follow this case with much interest.

John Ashton took up the story in this article from the Independent.

It is encouraging news for all of us here at the UK Chagos Support Association and represents another historic landmark in this quest for justice for the Chagossian community.  We will now wait with anticipation for the case to be heard later this year.

 

SCHOOL REPORT

School is out for the summer so we have news of our very own Chagossians on an ESOL course.  ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) is a special course designed for anyone where English is not their first language, and is extremely useful for Chagossians who have arrived in England and are struggling to adapt and integrate into their new community.  The course commenced in March and has adjourned for the summer recess, but will recommence in September.  The Chagossian students on the ESOL course tell us more:

 

Thank you very much for helping us towards the cost of our English course.  We have made a lot of progress since we first started in March 2012 and now it is coming to an end.  We are very grateful that you will help us again and the new session will start the week beginning 24th of September.  We are very keen to discover more about the beauty of English as a new language and improve our IT skills. Here are pictures of us in our class environment

 

Here are some of my thoughts about what has been accomplished so far in the class; it has been an enjoyable experience to be in the class as Learner Support.

 

The aim of the course is:

 

  • To learn English and develops IT skills (alphabets, verbs, grammar, creating word document, using spell check)
  • To be able to communicate with friends and colleagues in English.
  • The course also covers Speaking, Reading, Writing and Citizenship.

The first lesson was about getting to know each other with question and answer.  Then the lessons progress gradually and each week doing and discovering new things; learn alphabet, introduction to computers, keyboard & mouse function etc.  Creating a card using clip art before Easter holiday was a confident boost up for the student as they could see the progress they have made.  As we came to the end of the course the students are more confident and happy about continuing the next session.  Each one of them has shown progression.  For some of the student it was easier as they already had some Basic English & IT skills and for others it was quite challenging as they didn’t know anything about English & IT.

 

  • Anncy is a native of Chagos, she can now switch on the computer, open word document, type text etc.
  • Clifford is a native of Chagos, he can now use the computer, type his text, save his work and he is more confident with his learning.                                                                                        
  • Adeline native of Chagos, has improved her English verb and grammar.  Has been able to use the computer and did confess proudly that she can now use Facebook and communicate with family.
  • Serge is a native of Chagos, he has made progress with his English and learn IT skills. He is happy to be able to use the home computer now. 
  • Liseby is married to a Chagossian native;   she has made progress with her communication in English.  Has learn new computer skill and is very happy to be able to use home computer and communicate with her children over the internet.
  • Rosario has made progression with his English grammar and improves his computer skills.  He is very helpful in the class.
  • Veronique has learn more about English grammar, verbs and acquire new computer skill.  She is also always ready to help others who find a task tricky.
  • Joseph and Philip had their exam last Wednesday and the tutor said they had done very well during the entire session.  Joseph has made lots of progress with his communication in English and has learned new vocabulary.

 

Some have erroneously suggested that in our various projects there is a bias towards providing more assistance for second generation Chagossians as opposed to those who were first generation descendants from the Chagos Islands.  This wonderful report from our Chagossian ESOL students firmly puts that suggestion to bed and proves that donations are being used to help Chagossians across the board, including those who have now settled here and made their home in the UK.  This report is truly inspiring, and demonstrates how much of a difference relatively small scale projects such as the ESOL courses can make such a positive impact on Chagossians right here in the UK.

 

A big “well done” to all involved and keep up the fantastic work everybody!

 

A WIND OF CHANGE?

Sean Carey wrote a piece for New African Magazine at the end of July, which was almost a nod to the significant changes which Britain had to face in the immediate aftermath of World War II.  As several prominent nations celebrate 50 years of independence this month, Carey offers hope that soon the Chagos Islands may indeed be experiencing their very own “wind of change”:

 

Those words were coined more than half a century ago – the same year as Macmillan made his speech in South Africa which inaugurated a second wave of decolonisation in sub-Saharan Africa – so why has it taken until now for the UK to signal that it
is willing to return to the negotiating table? There may be four major reasons.

The first is that for 14 years, successive UK governments have been involved in a no-expense-spared battle with Olivier Bancoult, 48, leader of the Port Louis based Chagos Refugees Group. An electrician, who was sent into exile when he was four years old, Bancoult is seeking the right of return for around 700 surviving islanders and their descendants, to their ancestral homeland.

After a series of spectacular victories in the British High Court and Court of Appeal, Bancoult lost by a narrow 3-2 verdict in the House of Lords, the highest court in Britain, in 2008. Nevertheless, the Chagos Refugees Group’s legal efforts have been backed unequivocally by Dr Ramgoolam. Unsurprisingly, his government has been keen not to let the UK drive a wedge between the Chagossians and Mauritius’s claim over the archipelago. Under the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, the Chagossians are entitled to dual British and Mauritian nationality – indeed around 1,800 of them
have migrated to Crawley, near Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.

The case is now before the European Court of Human Rights, and a judgement is expected later this year. Even the zealots in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, who have maintained a consistently hostile attitude towards Chagossian resettlement, must fear that the European Court will find against the UK.

The second reason is that Mauritius is currently contesting the right of the former UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, to have unilaterally declared Chagos a full “no take” marine-protected area on 1 April, 2010.

As Wikileaks later revealed, the policy, which outlaws subsistence fishing, was deliberately designed to put paid to the right of return of the Chagossians, described as “Man Fridays” by Colin Roberts, the BIOT commissioner.

Evidence of an unreconstructed colonial mentality and a strategy much influenced by Machiavelli is unlikely to go down well at the forthcoming tribunal, which will hear the case under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It is also noteworthy
that Mauritius will be represented by the formidable Philippe Sands QC, professor of international law at London University. If the judgement goes against the UK, this will have significant implications for America’s Diego Garcia base, where an extension
to the existing agreement between the UK and US has to be ratified by December 2014.

The third reason is that Mauritius, which has a population of nearly 1.3 million, has direct experience of the implications in the shift of power from West to East and South. The poly-ethnic, palm-fringed island, well-known as a high-end, paradise holiday destination, is now being wooed by China and India. Both emerging superpowers
see the oldest of the Mascarene Islands as an important gateway to fast-growing consumer markets in mainland Africa comprising over 1 billion people.

The courtship means that Mauritius, Which is diversifying its near $11 billion economy away from textiles, tourism and sugar towards offshore banking, business outsourcing, and luxury real estate, is no longer obliged to play a subservient role to the former colonial master or the US out of fear that its vital economic interests could come under pressure.

That leads to the final point. Although the threat from the Soviet Union has long since disappeared, the new powers, China and India, are both flexing their ever growing military muscles in the region.

And the competition is not just limited to blue water. India now has the capacity, with its surface-to-surface Agni-III rocket capable of carrying a 1.5 ton nuclear warhead more than 3000 kilometres, to reach not only the Chinese cities of Beijing and
Shanghai, but also Diego Garcia. In response, China is busy upgrading both its nuclear and conventional missile system. The arms race has caused alarm in Washington.

The US undoubtedly sees China as the main threat to its economic and political interests and for this reason is desperately keen for India to keep a check on its regional rival’s ambitions.

Indeed, on a visit to New Delhi last month, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, was very clear about the aims and intentions of the Obama administration. “In particular,” he said, “we will expand our partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia. Defence cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy.”

What is intriguing, however, is that both India and China are involved in ever widening trade relations. Indeed some analysts think that by 2030 India and China could form the world’s largest trading combination. But really, it’s anyone’s guess about what might happen in the Indian Ocean – more trade, more military activity, or a combination of the two.

Could it be, then, that the rapprochement between London and Port Louis is happening because the penny has dropped amongst UK and US foreign policy and military strategists, that it would be much better to have Mauritius as an ally, not an enemy at a
time of unprecedented geopolitical upheaval?

 

WIKI TRIBAL LANDS

Readers of this particular story should be able to draw parallels with our own battle for justice for the Chagossians, including the way in which goalposts have been repeatedly moved in order to maintain the status quo.  Peter Michael from the Courier-Mail fills us in on the events in Queensland, Australia:

 

MARTHA Koowarta has told the same bedtime story to her children and grandchildren for 35 years.

It is about land rights, kangaroo dreaming and the injustice bestowed on her late husband, John, after he took his fight against the Bjelke-Petersen government – for his Wik tribal lands – to the High Court … and won.

Yesterday, Mrs Koowarta, 67, of Aurukun, was given a new ending to that tale.

“It’s a much better story now. This time, it’s got a happy ending,” she said at a land handover ceremony at Coen on Cape York.

Premier Campbell Newman, on his first trip north since taking power, publicly apologised for the anguish and injustice done to traditional Cape York landowners over nearly four decades.

He formally handed over more than 75,000ha of the Mungkan Kandju (Kaanju) National Park – once the Archer River cattle station – to the Wik-Mungkan, Southern Kaanju and Ayapathu people.

More than 380,000ha of land in the new Oyala Thumotang National Park will also be jointly managed, with the possibility of contract work, commercial tourism as well as indigenous ranger jobs.

Carbon trading has also been floated as a possible income source.

“It’s about the kids,” Mr Newman said. “Thirty-five years ago a great injustice was perpetrated. Today we are here to put that right.

“Let’s hope this is the start of a new beginning of self-determination of people here on the Cape.”

He conceded that most of the work for the handover had been done by the Bligh government since the death of Mr Koowarta in 1991. Mr Newman also took the opportunity to reiterate that he would wind back the Wild Rivers legislation and lift alcohol bans in indigenous communities, both imposed by the Bligh government.

Mr Koowarta earned the title of “Mabo of the mainland” when he took his bid to buy Archer River cattle station to the High Court in 1977 after the sale was blocked by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen because the then premier was opposed to Aboriginal groups acquiring large tracts of land, calling it “land rights by the back door”.

On May 11, 1982, in a landmark decision, a majority of the High Court found the government had contravened the Racial Discrimination Act.

Then – in an act of spite after Mr Koowarta won a final case before the Supreme Court in 1988 – Sir Joh declared the land a national park so no one could own it.

Land Council chairman Richie Ah Mat said the battle to regain the land had been a “struggle for blackfellas on Cape York”.

He said: “There are so many wrongs that have to be righted here on the Cape.”

Anthropologist Bruce Martin said it was a historic moment.

JUSTICE AT LAST

February 1976 
Aboriginal stockman John Koowarta contracted to buy Archer River Cattle Station
Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen refused to approve the transfer of the lease

1977 
Mr Koowarta sued Queensland Government for discrimination in a case that went to the High Court

May 11, 1982 
The High Court ruled in favour of Mr Koowarta

1988 
Supreme Court in Queensland also ruled in favour of Mr Koowarta
Sir Joh declared the Archer River a national park

October 2010 
Premier Anna Bligh announced that a 75,000ha portion of the park would be given over to the Wik-Mungkan peoples as freehold land

May 22, 2012 
Wik-Mungkan, Ayapathu and Southern Kaanju signed an indigenous land use agreement with the Queensland Government over nearly 450,000ha of land. Most to be jointly managed as Oyala Thumotang National Park and Yuukingaa Nature Refuge

Thankfully the story of the wiki tribal lands did ultimately have a happy ending and one can only draw inspiration from the tale that in the end “right” can overcome “might”.  With a busy few months ahead in terms of legal activity, this is a reminder to never give up the fight for justice.

 

NEW CHAGOS CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT PLAN PUBLISHED

The announcement in early August by Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) on their web site that a new Chagos Conservation and Management Plan has been published, is very disturbing. It had been expected that a management plan could not be instituted until after the legal cases (the Judicial Review and the Mauritian case) had been completed. It seems that only CCT has been involved by the FCO over drawing up a draft plan. Chagossians would expect to be consulted by the FCO over any plans to entrench the MPA in law since this will have a considerable impact on resettlement. We hope the Chagos Islands APPG will also be consulted.

 

FALLEN COMRADES

It is with deep regret that we announce that the Manchester-based Chagossian, Marie Jean Jubeau also known as Paraquerrette died this month.  She was 66.  Also Marina Asonne, the mother of CRG secretary, also passed away this month as well.

 

Rest In Peace to both of our Chagos fallen soldiers and we will carry on the fight in their name.

 

IFIELD COLLEGE COMMUNITY CHOIR CD NOW ON SALE

The Ifield College Community Choir CD is now on sale via their website.  Young Chagossians sing on every track and 5 of the 12 feature Chagossian drummers.  The CD includes the track “Calling My Children Home”, which was dedicated to the cause.  Celia Whittaker, my predecessor, would like to mention that the CD is fantastic and that she cannot stop listening to it and recommends that everyone purchases it.

PETITION

We are of course still promoting the official UKChSA petition which is on E-Petitions and recently passed 180 signatories. The target is for 100,000 signatures by May 2013 so we really do have our work cut out and now is the time for us to really step up our efforts to get this petition moving.