December 2009 update

  • On November 10th David Miliband, Foreign Secretary, announced:

    The Government is today launching a public consultation into a proposal put forward by the Chagos Environment Network to establish a Marine Protected Area in the British Indian Ocean Territory.

    The Chagos Environment Network’s proposal “The Chagos Archipelago: its Nature and the Future” advocates the creation of one of the world’s greatest natural conservation areas and is a remarkable opportunity for Britain to create one of the world’s largest marine protected areas and double the global coverage of the world’s oceans benefiting from protection.

    The purpose of the consultation is to seek views from stakeholders and interested parties to help the Government assess whether a Marine Protected Area is the right option for the future environmental protection of the Territory and we are, therefore, strongly encouraging as many people as possible to participate in the consultation.

    We are also arranging for a facilitator to travel to Port Louis and Victoria early next year to listen to the views of the Chagossian communities and other stakeholders in Mauritius and Seychelles. The consultation will run until 12 February 2010.
    Copies of the consultation are available on the UK in the Seychelles British High Commission website and are being disseminated widely to interested groups.

    How to respond
    The consultation period will begin on 10 November 2009. It will run until 12 February 2010. There will be meetings in Port Louis, Mauritius and Victoria, Seychelles between 21 January and 9 February (exact dates to be advised later). There will also be a meeting in the UK. These meetings will be organised by an independent facilitator who will record all the views expressed. Alternatively, you are welcome to respond by post or e-mail. Please ensure that your response reaches us by 12 February.
    If you live overseas and intend to respond by post, please ensure that your response reaches us no later than 12 February.

    You may respond to this consultation in the following ways:

    (i) Write to: BIOT marine protected area consultation
    Overseas Territories Directorate
    Foreign and Commonwealth Office
    King Charles Street
    London
    SW1A 2AH

    (ii) E-mail your response to: biotmpaconsultation@fco.gov.uk

  • This Association looks forward to reading supporters’ views on the FCO site. Some are already there including this from Island Bob:

    There are some 4000 Chagossians and descendants who claim the right of return to their homeland. Most of them are living in extreme poverty in the slums of Port Louis in Mauritius. Giving menial jobs to a dozen or two of the men will not make things right.
    To get the people’s attention, then-Governor of the Colony, Sir Bruce Greatbatch, ordered the extermination of the children’s pet dogs on Diego Garcia, the largest island. This was carried out by proud members of the United States Navy. It is more than bizarre to read a cleaned-up history of these people’s islands on a website devoted to the preservation of birds. I love birds. I also have some fondness for people.
    The Foreign Secretary is not entirely at fault for this shameful episode in British history, having been six years old when the dogs were gassed. He has, however, spent millions of pounds preventing these people and their families from returning to the northern atolls, which are 100 kilometers from the military base on Diego Garcia. The compensation they were coerced into settling for may have been less than the Minister has spent to keep them in forced exile.
    Did I mention that the Chagossians are full British citizens? The story is so shocking that it is difficult to believe. To learn more, you may watch John Pilger’s “Stealing a Nation”, at video.google.com/videoplay

    …and this from Peri Batliwala:

    Of course there must be efforts to protect and conserve this pristine archipelago, and who better to be involved with this than the Chagossians themselves, who lived in harmony and with respect for their environment long before their expulsion by Wilson’s government. So please Mr Miliband, could HMG finally redress that wrong, face its obligations and assist the Chagossians to re-settle on their islands and continue their stewardship of their homeland? It is long overdue.

    The Pew Environment Group is part of the Chagos Environment Network (referred to by Mr. Miliband). Mr. Alistair Gemmell of that group said:

    The Chagos islands are a very special and rare place… The UK has the unique opportunity to protect an entire ecosystem and its marine life.
    It is sad that the only reference to the proper inhabitants (surely part of any ecosystem?) of the Archipelago by either the Pew Group or CEN is as a legal footnote: Whilst the members of the Chagos Environment Network are fully aware of the legal challenges brought by Chagossian groups against the UK government, we believe these islands need conservation now…

    Andrew George MP (St Ives, Lib-Democrat) submitted a pertinent question to Mr. Miliband:
    British Indian Ocean Territory: Environment Protection
    Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
    To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which international parties are considered to be stakeholders for the consultation on the proposed creation of a Marine Protected Area for the Chagos Archipelago in the British Indian Ocean Territory; what criteria were used to decide who the stakeholders were; and what weight will be given to stakeholder responses to the consultation.

    Chris Bryant (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Rhondda, Labour) in a written response, replied:

    The public consultation into whether to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the British Indian Ocean Territory is not a limited one. The purpose of the consultation is to seek views from all stakeholders and interested parties to help the Government assess whether an MPA is the right option for the future environmental protection of the territory. We are, therefore, strongly encouraging as many people as possible to participate in the consultation.
    The consultation document (pages 12 and 13) does however recognise that the international fishing community, the US, the Republic of Mauritius and the Chagossian community are all groups which may be either directly or indirectly affected by the establishment of an MPA and any resulting restrictions or a ban on fishing.
    All responses to the consultation will be taken into consideration.

  • The Liberal Democrats are proving themselves good friends to the Chagossians:
    Speaking after the House of Lords ruling, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, Edward Davey said:
    Removing the Chagossians in the 1960s was a scandalous decision. Yet this Government has continued to mistreat these people in the face of opposition from the UN. Regardless of the legal arguments, the Government has a moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return home. They must also come clean about the rendition activity that has taken place on these islands. Only by doing so can they hope to salvage Britain’s damaged global reputation.
    This Association would be delighted to see something positive about repatriation for the Chagossians in the Liberal-Democrat manifesto for the next election.

  • Staying in Parliament:
    Queen’s Speech — Debate (2nd Day)
    House of Lords debates, 19 November 2009, 11:14 am
    Excerpt:
    Lord Luce (Crossbench)
    Lastly, we must do something about a shameful problem that has been on our shoulders in Britain for the past 40 years. In 1964, Harold Wilson’s Government had an exchange of letters with the United States and a decision was taken to set up Diego Garcia. My quarrel is not with that decision at all; for all I know, the existence of Diego Garcia as a military base has made a major contribution to the security of the world. However, what brings shame on the reputation of this country is that 1,500 Chagos islanders, living in Diego Garcia, many of whose families had been there for more than one generation and some for three or four generations, were expelled from the Chagos archipelago. It was an absolute disgrace.
    When, in 1982, as a Minister of State, I arrived in Mauritius to find a demonstration at the airport, I did not even know of the existence of these people. They were Chagos islanders who had been expelled and who were living in great poverty in the islands. I managed to get them £4 million but I am ashamed to say that a condition of getting them that money was that they were asked to renounce their right of return. Events overtook us. The late Robin Cook restored their right to return, but that was then withdrawn by Jack Straw as Foreign Secretary and the islanders have now made an application to the European Court.
    That is a blot on our copybook. It is a disgrace. There is now an all-party committee of 44 members. I very much hope that this Government will take on their shoulders the responsibility to restore the right of those people to return at the very least to the outer part of the Chagos Islands, which is a good 150 miles away from Diego Garcia and does not pose a security issue. I look to the Government to take a lead on that.

    It was highly honourable of Lord Luce to take responsibility for what happened over compensation. He was the Minister who resigned over Falklands in 1982 with Lord Carrington and we, in UKCSA, hope the current ministers will follow Lord Luce’s highly honourable example towards the Chagossians.

  • Report from the Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group:

    The Chagos Islands APPG held its 9th meeting on Tuesday 24 November. The next meeting will be held on Tuesday 12 January at 3.30pm in W 2.
    The Group re-elected Jeremy Corbyn MP as Chairman, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Avebury and Andrew Rosindell MP as Vice chairmen and Andrew George MP as Secretary. The Group reviewed the progress that had been made since it was established on 16 December 2008. They felt that whilst much had been achieved in raising the profile of the plight of the Chagossians in Parliament, with the FCO, the US, and in public it was disappointing that no discernable progress had been made in restoring the right of the Chagossians to return to their homeland.
    The Chairman reported on contacts with William Hague who was happy to meet the Group on a date to be arranged. The Coordinator reported on developments in the case in Strasbourg. Because of further submissions by both sides and the possibility of an oral hearing it looks as if there will not be a conclusion until sometime next year. The Group discussed further parliamentary action which will include PQs and tabling motions for debate in both Houses.
    The Group discussed the public consultation exercise launched by the Foreign Secretary into the proposal for a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos Archipelago. The Group decided that the Chairman should reply to the Foreign Secretary’s letter and express the support of the Group for the proposal providing provision was made in the MPA to safeguard the interests, including fishing, of the Chagos Islanders for when they returned to the Islands. The Group decided that the best place to pursue a detailed examination of the proposal was through parliamentary debate before the 12 February deadline for the end of the consultation and after the scientific workshop on 7 January at Royal Holloway. This workshop will also consider the human dimension of the proposed MPA and how to protect Chagossian interests. The Chairman will address the workshop.
    David Snoxell

  • News from Olivier Bancoult and the CRG in Mauritius:

    Pilgrimage to the Chagos islands (27 October-07 November 2009)
    As scheduled, 18 Chagossians from the Chagos Refugees Group left Mauritius on 27 October for the Chagos islands via Singapore to pay a personal tribute on the tombs of our ancestors on the occasion of All Saints’ Day /All Souls’ Day.
    We appreciated the welcome and hospitality during this intense pilgrimage as well as the means put at our disposal to facilitate our transport and enabling us to go to places particularly on Diego Garcia which we did not have the opportunity to visit during our last trip in 2006.
    Upon our return to Mauritius we wrote to the BIOT Commissioner and the British High Commissioner and made certain requests following what we saw with our own eyes.

    Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund
    The Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund that was duly registered with the local authorities on 21 April 2009 was launched on Thursday 19 November in Port Louis with the following trustees:
    (1) Former President of the Republic of Mauritius, Mr. Cassam Uteem
    (2) Rev. Mario Li Hing
    (3) Mr. Thierry Leung
    (4) Prof. Vinesh Hookoomsing

    The objectives are:
    1. The relief of poverty;
    2. The advancement of education;
    3. The advancement of social and spiritual conditions;
    4. The advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Chagossian people;
    5. The preservation and promotion of the heritage and culture of the Chagos people;
    6. Any other purpose beneficial to the Chagossian people, by birth or by descent.
    Any donation to help us in our endeavour is welcome. The bank details are as follows:

    Name: CHAGOS SOLIDARITY TRUST FUND
    Address: c/o Former President of the Republic of Mauritius, Mr. Cassam Uteem, Mare Gravier, Beau Bassin, Mauritius
    Bank: State Bank of Mauritius Ltd (SBM)
    Bank Address: 1 Queen Elizabeth 2 Avenue, Port-Louis
    Account Number: 62030100125847
    Swift Code: STCBMUMU
    IBAN Number: MU42STCB1180030100125847000000

    Training and Resource Centre
    We need £ 4,110 to complete the first phase of the building. Below are the details of expenses still to be incurred.
    Electrical Fittings £745
    Sanitation £532
    Paint £320
    Flooring, tiles etc. £1,725
    Labour £788
    Total of £4,110

    Since their visit, the CRG has submitted a detailed list of what they found and what needs doing. On Peros Banhos: 75 graves in a deplorable state, need cleaning, mending and restoring, repairing the church, painting the Great Cross and erecting a Mission Cross. On Salomon: as Peros Banhos but 225 graves need attention. On Diego Garcia: all three cemeteries in a deplorable state, and over 300 graves involved. The CRG renew their request to return to the three islands to carry out this work.

  • News from Allen Vincatassin and the Diego Garcia Group, Crawley:
    1. DGS AGM coming on the 19th of December.
    2. DGS still looking into the Consultation paper on the turning of the British Indian Ocean Territory in a Marine park.
    3. English Courses and personal development courses continue in Crawley. Allen Institute will start new programmes in February 2010 for the community.
    4. There was a meeting on the importance of Environment protection in Crawley, organised by Chagos Conservation Trust, RSPB, Coral Cay Conservation.
    5. Allen Vincatassin met HRH Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester on the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Crawley Council For Voluntary Service, in his capacity as one of the directors.

  • Roch Evenor, (secretary of UKCSA) met with a generous supporter from Brighton:
    On Saturday 23rd November 2009 Adam drove from Brighton to Crawley with a vanload of goodies. We were able to meet up face to face though we had exchanged information both on the phones and emails. We contacted all Chagossians (from the Seychelles and Mauritius) living in Crawley and London who promptly turned up at Crawley Train Station for the 2:00pm meeting. Though it was raining, Adam rode in his van full with carpets, beds and mattress and other useful household items. The sharing of the items was done in an orderly manner and Adam was kind enough to transport some of the items to some Chagossians, whilst there he helped to assemble the beds. We are very touched by his kindness and wish him the best of health. We are planning to invite him to our next meeting where the committee and other members will officially thank him.

  • Report from the Chagos Island Football team, Crawley:
    We are not doing as well as last season as we have few players with serious injuries.
    Two of them will not be able to play for at least a year and half due to their injuries.
    However in the Premier we are still in the middle of the table which is not bad for the second season in the league.
    We will be playing the Sussex league next season instead of the Crawley league.
    UKCSA wish them well in their endeavours and a quick return to full health and strength.

  • From Dr. Stephanie Jones:
    On 5 November, “The Indian Ocean: Narratives in Literature and Law” (an AHRC Landscape and Environment funded project based at the School of Humanities, University of Southampton) in collaboration with The Centre for Law, Ethics and Globalisation (School of Law, University of Southampton) hosted a public lecture by Richard Gifford (Lawyer, Clifford Chance LLP) entitled “The Chagos Islanders – Do they Exist?: A consideration of the legal, political and moral ramifications of R (on the application of Bancoult) (Respondent) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Appellant)”

    As one of the most controversial and potentially far-reaching House of Lords rulings of recent years, the judgments handed down in October 2008 on this case are setting many constitutional and human rights agendas in both academic and practicing legal circles. Tireless, passionate, brave and persistent, Richard Gifford continues to be much more than the Chagos Islanders’ advising solicitor as he works towards a hearing of their case in the European Court of Human Rights.
    A response by Dr Mark Elliott (University of Cambridge) followed the lecture and opened up discussion. Dr Elliott is an esteemed academic of constitutional law, whose careful and insightful work reveals the legal and constitutional flaws in the Law Lords’ ruling.

    If you would like to read the text of Richard’s lecture and Mark’s research paper on the rulings, they can be downloaded here.

  • Important date for your diary:
    Annual General Meeting of the UK Chagos Support Association will be at 2 p.m. on Sunday January 31st in Pimlico, London. David Snoxell (Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands APPG, formerly both High Commissioner to Mauritius and Deputy Commissioner of BIOT) will give a short talk on Chagos developments in 2009 and prospects for 2010 – Colin Roberts (BIOT Commissioner) having refused the invitation.

  • Last but certainly not least:
    UKCSA is definitely moving into the twenty-first century helped by a young supporter who has set up a Facebook group, a Twitter account and is working wonders with our blogsite. Links are in the accompanying e-mail for the computer literate. We are extremely grateful for his assistance.