December 2011 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 25th meeting on 23 November 2011.

The Group reviewed recent developments and the state of play on the current legal and parliamentary actions. The Group discussed further exchanges of correspondence between the Vice Chairman Andrew Rosindell and the FCO Minister Henry Bellingham. As several of the issues remained unanswered the Group felt that Mr Rosindell should persevere with the correspondence. The Group was pleased to note that the postponed meeting with the Foreign Secretary had been fixed for 15 December. Members were keen to discuss a wide range of issues at that meeting. The Group were surprised that the US Ambassador had not yet answered a request for a meeting made in a letter from the Chairman on 10 June and asked for this to be pursued actively with the US Embassy. The Group noted the comments on Question Time on 3 November by Benjamin Zephaniah concerning the undemocratic use of the 2004 Orders in Council banning the Chagossians from returning to their homeland.

The APPG discussed the latest research, shortly to be published on sea-level in the Chagos Archipelago by Dunne, Barbosa and Woodworth in Global and Planetary Change. Members noted that measurements showed that there had been no detectable change in sea level over the last 20 years and that the islands should continue to be able to support human habitation, as they had done for much of the last 200 years. This contrasted with the advice of the BIOT Conservation Adviser that sea level rise was accelerating and the Foreign Secretary’s comments to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 8 September 2010 in which he raised the spectre of the “pressure of climate change on sea levels” which made resettlement “a very daunting prospect”. The issue was likely to surface at the Chagos Marine Protection Area conference on 24 November at the Linnean Society at which the Coordinator would represent the Group. Members took note of an on-line article about the findings, by Fred Pearce in the New Scientist, which commented that since 2002 UK Ministers had repeatedly cited rising sea level as a “clear and compelling” reason why resettlement was not feasible.

Finally the Group decided to ask for a debate in the Commons on Chagos in the new year.

The next meeting of the APPG will follow the meeting with the Foreign Secretary on 15 December.

David Snoxell

Coordinator.

 

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION.

House of Commons
Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister
30 Nov 2011
Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)
The Prime Minister will be aware that there remain 16 British overseas territories around the world where the Union flag still flies proudly. Will he pledge that Her Majesty’s Government will protect, defend and cherish the loyal subjects of all those territories?
David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)
I can happily give my hon. Friend that guarantee. Let me add that the overseas territories will remain British for as long as the people of those territories want to maintain their special relationship with us, and that the Union flag will continue to fly over the Governors’ residences. We are increasing our assistance to overseas territories—my hon. Friend will be familiar with what we are doing in St Helena with the airport—and, of course, next year is the anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands, which will be a moment for genuine celebration in all overseas territories.

UKChSA is happy to know that the Prime Minister guarantees to protect, defend and cherish the loyal subjects of the Overseas Territories – does he include the Chagossians among those – even though they are, regrettably, not on their homeland to see ‘the Union flag still flying proudly over the Governor’s residence’? They were forcibly exiled from their homeland by the UK government, which, a decade later, went to war to keep the Falklanders on their Islands!

 

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE

October Update included information about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office consultation period on a new strategy for the Overseas Territories.

From the FCO website:

Thank you for your interest in the UK Government’s strategy for the Overseas Territories. The UK Government’s overall vision is for the Overseas Territories to be vibrant and flourishing communities, proudly retaining aspects of their British identity and generating wider opportunities for their people.

We recognise that the Overseas Territories are remarkably diverse and that the policies needed to meet our goals need to be tailored to each Territory. We therefore want your views on priorities for each relationship and invite you to respond, in particular, to six key questions. If you are responding from the UK, then your views can cover the Territories as a whole.

We will publish a White Paper on the Territories in 2012 that will set out in detail this Government’s approach to the Overseas Territories.

Any responses will need to take into account current global economic challenges which are likely to impose constraints on public expenditure in the UK and the Territories for the foreseeable future.

You can respond online, by private email to the FCO in London or by post to the Overseas Territories Directorate (Consultation), FCO, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH.

Responses need to be in this month and UKChSA would be grateful if you would give the FCO yours views on the resettlement of the Chagos Archipelago (BIOT)

 

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Application no. 35622/04

Chagos Islanders v the United Kingdom

No news yet but UKChSA has been told that very few cases achieve hearings and merely attract written decisions.

At the beginning of this month, a letter was sent by the Applicants to remind the Court of the urgency of their complaint: “in view of the morbidity and mortality of the islanders, we consider those people to be particularly at risk of early death, so that we would respectfully submit, there is a case for urgency in seeking a remedy for the long-standing violation of their Human Rights, if such a remedy is to have any bearing on their lives“.

 

MEDIA

ITN regional news (Meridian) carried an item about the newly formed Chagos football team on 4th  December. More about the match later.

 

To listen to an interview given on US Radio by our Patron, Philippa Gregory, please visit the website: www.chagossupport.org.uk. The early part of the interview is about her writing and this is followed with an in-depth discussion of the Chagos situation.

 

An article in the New Scientist, 23rd November, by Fred Pearce:

Chagos islands in sea-level rise controversy

Sea-level rise is bad news for many island nations, but it may not be severe enough to prevent Chagos islanders from returning home four decades after they were expelled by UK authorities.

In the late 1960s, the 1000 or so inhabitants of the Chagos islands – a British overseas territory – were forced out to make way for American military. The UK has resisted all demands made in its courts by the Chagossians to be allowed to return to the outer islands of the archipelago.

Central to the British refusal has been the claim that the coral islands would be uninhabitable within decades because of rising sea levels due to climate change.

A management plan for the islands, written in 2003 by biologist Charles Sheppard at the University of Warwick, UK, said annual sea-level rise since a tide gauge was installed in 1988 had averaged 5.4 millimetres a year – twice the global average. He added that the figure was accelerating, and earlier this year at an event at the Royal Geographical Society in London, he revised the annual figure to 12.0 millimetres.

Philip Woodworth, a researcher at the UK’s National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool, says these figures are “definitely wrong”. He agrees that high year-on-year variability, created by ocean-current fluctuations, means there are legitimate arguments about the precise underlying rise. But his best estimate, based on an analysis of the same data, to be published in Global and Planetary Change, is that sea level has been rising by just 2.2 millimetres a year since 1988.

Sheppard dismisses the new findings, but the issue will no doubt come up again when the two researchers attend future meetings to discuss the islands. Whatever the true measure, it should “certainly not be used for extrapolation” of future sea levels, says Woodworth.

This is what the British government has been doing, though. Since publishing a study in 2002 on the feasibility of repatriating the Chagossians – who currently live in Mauritius, the Seychelles and the UK – ministers have repeatedly cited such extrapolations as a “clear and compelling” reason why resettlement is “unfeasible”.

(UKChSA notes that the USA does not seem alarmed by Professor Sheppard’s warnings or they would not be extending their base on Diego Garcia at great expense.)

 

Richard Dunne has kindly sent us this:

New expert study of sea-level rise in the Chagos Archipelago concludes that human habitation remains feasible, 40 years afterthe islanders were exiled.

Those who attended the Chagos Regagné at the Royal Geographical Society in May of this year would have heard Dr John Turner telling us during his presentation, that sea level in the Chagos was rising at a rate of 12 mm yr-1. You would also have seen an ‘expert’ review of Chagos science led by Professor Charles Sheppard saying the same thing. This is an astonishing rate which would see these low-lying islands inundated in less than 50 years. It is also nearly four times the rate of global mean sea-level rise measured by the major expert research groups.

The inevitable consequence of this alarming news would be that there is very little point in contemplating resettlement anywhere in the Chagos, now or ever. It would thus be a clear vindication of a ‘prudent’ anti-resettlement policy pursued by the FCO ever since the findings of a Study in 2002 where consultants reported that rising sea levels of 5 mm yr-1 were a factor making resettlement precarious and costly. Moreover, members of the Chagos Conservation Trust will doubtless have seen the ‘CCT factsheet’ on “Sea-level change and shore erosion”, with its equally disconcerting story of sea-level rise and its erosive effect on the islands.

Thankfully the truth is nowhere near as dire. Sea level in the Chagos is rising more slowly than in many other parts of the world’s oceans. In fact, the data from a tide gauge at Diego Garcia and from satellite measurements of the ocean height, which between them span the past 23 years show a ‘best estimate’ of 2.2 mm yr-1 but because of the variability we cannot confirm this as a ‘true’ rate. Further north at Peros Banhos and Salomon, sea-level rise is even smaller and virtually undetectable. The reason behind this is a complex interaction of oceanic and atmospheric processes across the Indian Ocean.

These are the new findings of an expert study to be published in the journal ‘Global and Planetary Change’ later this year, entitled “Contemporary sea level in the Chagos Archipelago, central Indian Ocean”. The authors, Richard Dunne, Susana Barbosa, and Philip Woodworth present the first comprehensive analysis of sea level, storms and cyclones, waves and wind, and the past effects of tsunamis on the islands of the Chagos Archipelago. Their principle findings are that:

  • the dominant feature of sea-level variability in the Chagos Archipelago is one of large variability from year to year, driven it would seem by a process called the Indian Ocean Dipole, which is an oceanic and atmospheric interaction similar to El Nino.
  • there is no evidence of any established sea-level trend either from tide gauges on the island of Diego Garcia (1988-2000 and 2003-2011) or in the satellite altimetry record (1993-2011) for the sea area surrounding the Chagos between 70-74o E and 4-9oS (an area of 250,000 km2).
  • ocean models suggest that any longer term sea-level trend since the middle of the 20th century will have been very small.
  • there is no evidence of subsidence in the islands (which would contribute to an apparent ‘rise’ in sea level), and on Diego Garcia there has even been a small crustal uplift of about 0.5 mm yr-1 between 1996-2009.
  • the Chagos Archipelago experiences relatively low wind speeds and low levels of storminess, lying outside the Indian Ocean cyclone belt. The last known cyclone to pass over the islands was in 1891. Similarly, there is no evidence of long-term changes in the wave and wind fields in this area, which might lead to flooding or overtopping of the islands.
  • the ‘apparent’ erosion of the islands is most likely the effect of natural seasonal changes in wind/wave direction which has previously been documented in the Maldives to the north. The lack of any detailed studies in the Chagos throughout the year may have led to the observed erosion being misinterpreted as being due to sea-level rise.
  • the findings of earlier studies in 2003 (Chagos Conservation Management Plan) and in 2006 used incorrect statistical methods and gave an erroneous impression of the magnitude and significance of sea-level rise in this area.

The authors concluded that “Collectively, these results suggest that this has been a relatively stable physical environment, and that these low-lying coral islands should continue to be able to support human habitation, as they have done for much of the last 200 years.”

What should we do about this? We should tell William Hague, the FCO, and the UK Government that the 2002 Feasibility Study got it wrong, and that the Government’s evidence to the House of Lords in 2008, that resettlement was unfeasible because of sea-level rise, was wrong.

Whilst the future is always uncertain and much has been written about climate change and sea levels rising throughout the world, with predictions of the collapse of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, we should always carefully examine the facts. Alarm, misinformation and errors have all contributed to further exclusion of the Chagossians from their islands since the historic restoration of the right of return by the High Court in 2000. Indeed the judges in the House of Lords in 2008 might even have ruled differently had the present study been before them.

For those of you who would like to read the full paper, Richard Dunne has offered to make this available to you in a PDF format. Please contact him at richardpdunne@aol.com.

 

LINNEAN SOCIETY

A participant who is a member of the Chagos Conservation Trust sent us the following:

On 24 November an all day joint meeting of the Linnean Society and Chagos Conservation Trust, supported by the Pew Environment Group, held a meeting in London entitled ‘The Chagos Archipelago: The World’s Largest No-Take Marine Reserve.’ It is in fact no longer the largest MPA, as Australia has recently declared a larger one in the Coral Sea. The meeting was attended by about 70 scientists, many from universities abroad, in a range of disciplines, and the presentations were entirely scientific. Prof Charles Sheppard opened the meeting with a presentation on why Chagos is now the world’s largest MPA. He was asked by a member of the audience how he reconciled his long held view that sea level rise was accelerating to 12mm per year when the latest research, reported in the New Scientist that morning, showed that over the past 20 years it had been relatively stable. The professor replied that these findings were nothing new and that the main problem was erosion. At the end of the day five research projects were put forward for funding by participants in short presentations. This was an intensive scientific day which carefully skirted round the elephant in the room – the former inhabitants of the islands. It was as if the Chagossians had been airbrushed out of existence. Just as the conference was about to close UKChSA Patron, Philippa Gregory, got up and in a heartfelt and spirited intervention reminded the audience of the existence of a people who used to live on the islands which the participants had been discussing all day.  This was greeted with applause from a number of those present which seemed to indicate that they were pleased that somebody had had the courage to name the elephant in the room. That the conference which had certainly made a valuable contribution to scientific knowledge, should close on this note was highly gratifying. It is all too easy for the proponents of the Marine Preservation Area to blot out of their minds the uncomfortable truth about what happened to the Chagossians. By ignoring them they are to some extent fuelling this on-going violation of human rights.

 

This is Philippa’s question:

There is an issue we’ve been skirting around today. People say “pristine environment” and “history” but I feel we should remember that the reason that the Chagos Islands have a pristine environment is because the British government removed the islanders without their consent and dumped them in Mauritius and Seychelles, and some found their way here, to the UK. The conference: Chagos Regagne showed the genuine commitment of the UK Chagossians to conservation and resettlement in an eco-sensitive way, and was the first time that you, the scientists had spoken directly to the Chagos people. In proposing research in this precious environment please bear in mind that for some people it is still their homeland. When you speak to the Foreign Office please include Chagossian interests. The Foreign Office is prepared to fund you but not Chagossians. And what the Chagossians is asking for is realistic. They’re not asking for a city, not for a big development, but an eco-village and to help preserve the reef and the environment. We’re asking you for advice on how to do that, as scientists, I wish you would advise us on what sort of development would be beneficial.

Prof Charles Sheppard’s answer: This is a science conference; I am simple scientist.

UKChSA is of the opinion that even simple scientists can grasp the principle of basic human rights, should they so wish, and treat homo sapiens with as much care and thought as all the other species.

NEWS FROM CRAWLEY

Football.

The newly formed Chagos Football Federation (made up of Chagossians from all the groups in the Crawley area) played their first match on Sunday 4th of December at the Oakwood Football Club ground against the Swiss team, Raetia Federation. This friendly game was won by the home team by five goals to one. A splendid start for a new enterprise.

The exiled islanders in Crawley enjoyed both the game and the opportunity to meet up with their friends. At half time there was a young group of dancers performing and sega drummers drumming. ‘Peros Vert’ was movingly sung. This is a much loved Chagossian song.

Mariefrance wrote: First thanks from everyone who has supported us. That was a great day it was not about the winning, mostly it was about seeing the Chagossian on a playing field and we were all like a big community. We were really proud. We had a player who had an injury he was sent to hospital. Hengride and Milene Augustin are the secretaries of the football team and Gianni is the coordinator. The gentleman talking on TV is Herold Mandarin who is the President of the Chagos Football Federation and we do have a lot of members.
After the match we had a little get together for all the footballers and their families and the visitors. Everyone brought their contribution to do a little party. Some dancers and musicians in the Chagos community brought their talent too. It was a real success. What we need now is to have some more friendly games. If you can pass the message to which ever team who would like to play with Chagos, it doesn`t have to be abroad, here in the UK will be OK. We are trying to find a playing field where the players can train in Crawley as it is very expensive to hire a field and most of the players don’t have this kind of money. Can you do a bit of canvassing so we can find some sponsors please?
Thank you,
Marie France.

Can anyone help Mariefrance and the team with this please?

Philippa Gregory sent a message later saying: Can I send huge congratulations to the Chagos Football Team? I am delighted that you got your team on the pitch, that you did such a good interview, and that you won is a bonus too! Well done. You did so well to represent your country as spokesmen and women and as football players.
Roch Evenor (Chair of UKChSA) enjoyed the match, which, he said, after a slight delay ‘went like clockwork, a Swiss one.’ He also went to ‘the sumptuous Creole buffet prepared by the Chagossian hosts’.

On 8th December 2011, he attended Ben Fogle’s book signing at Foyle’s bookshop. Ben gave a short resume of how he got into doing all those fantastic adventures.

 

Sabrina Jean tells us: we are planning a course for those who cannot read and write English. It will be morning and evening at Thomas Beckett Community College. If you are interested, or know someone who would benefit from this, please contact me on 07882226272. This course is for all Chagossians and will be taught by an English teacher and two translator/helpers.

Chagossians celebrated mass at Christ the Lord Church, Broadfield on 26th November where many paid tribute to family and friends who have passed away. The Chagossians community team women and youth group choir sang beautifully and ‘Peros Vert’ was very moving at the end.

 

Hengride Permal, Chair of the Chagos Islands Community Association, Crawley, attended a meeting of the United Nations Association, Canterbury Branch last month. She told the shocking story of the Chagossians and outlined the work she does within her community. She was accompanied by Jessie, 77 years old, who arrived in the UK in 2007 having spoken Creole all her life. Jessie is now learning English.

The audience were deeply shocked, one member saying they had been brought up to believe we had decent governments and that we live in a country that believes in democracy and justice, so how can this happen?

 

UKChSA is saddened to learn of the death of George Wuerthrich in Geneva. He had been a tireless worker in the Swiss Chagos group for many years. We extend our deepest sympathy to his widow, Nicole.

 

Still in Switzerland, Venen Paratian tells us that on May 4th 2012 in Geneva, Chagos International Support is participating in the International Film Festival. They will be showing John Pilger’s documentary ‘Stealing A Nation’ followed by a roundtable where we hope all Chagossian groups will be represented. Detailed information will be available early in 2012. He sends best regards to all for 2012.

 

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

This will be on Sunday February 12th 2012. All will be welcome – details after Christmas.

 

FEEDBACK

We are fortunate in having another email from Marifrance this month. This one is about her recent trip to visit the Chagos Archipelago:

Hi Celia
That was one of the most beautiful things to happen in my life seeing these islands.
When I was a kid my parents always told me stories about Chagos and I thought they were not real.
There were a couple on that visit who were married and had their children on Peros .
I saw the church where they got married. My parents, too, were married in that church as we had only one church on the island.
Unfortunately my parents passed away – they never got the chance to visit. It meant a lot for me.
There were 15 of us who made the visit. Some were born on Diego and some on Peros and one person was born on Bodham. For all of them it was the first time they put their feet on Chagos since the eviction.
It was with great emotion that we set foot on Chagos (Peros and Bodham).
Watching the coconut crabs, we were surrounded by coconuts and listening to everyone as they were talking about their childhood.
Mariefrance

A very moving experience for Mariefrance and the other Chagossians, but brief, supervised visits are no substitute for reinstating their basic human right to live on their homeland.

A supporter wrote to point out that St. Helena, the southern Atlantic island where Napoleon was exiled and died, will get its first airport in 2015, financed by the UK Government. UKChSA does not begrudge the 4,000 Saints their £200 million airport but would like that amount of money spent repatriating the Chagossians please.

 

After we had congratulated him on mentioning the Chagossians in an answer on ‘Question Time’,

Benjamin Zephaniah wrote to UKChSA: As you could imagine, I am sent lots of reading material every day, and it’s difficult keeping up with it all, but I am very keen to know what is happening around the Chagos Islands issue. I spent some time with some of the islanders in Mauritius some years ago, and I have always been frustrated by the lack of media coverage their struggle gets.

 

Alan Partington, after November Update, wrote to say how very good he found David Snoxell’s lecture at Bristol University and that he is forwarding it to his MP, the Foreign Secretary and other parties who should be interested. This sounds like an excellent idea so please get in touch by email for a copy if you have not got one already.

 

Commenting on the problems with UK passports for some Chaggosians, because of an anomaly in the law (covered in November Update), one supporter agreed, saying that the strongest argument for using an Order in Council is: If you can use Orders in Council to deprive people of their basic human right to live in their homeland, then common sense dictates that you use the same method (i.e. Order in Council) to correct the sad side effect of that action.

 

READING LIST

From Mauritius Times (Port Louis, 10 December 2011)

Jean Claude de l’Estrac’s ‘Next Year in Diego Garcia’ now available in bookshops The English version of L’an prochain à Diego Garcia by Jean Claude de l’Estrac, is now available in bookshops. Translated by Touria Prayag, Editor in chief of l’Express Weekly, the book provides readers with a predilection for the English language with the opportunity to discover the poignant account behind one of the stories of the worst human rights violations in the region: the expulsion of the people of Diego Garcia.

The foreword of Next Year in Diego Garcia was written by David Snoxell, who has been closely involved with the Diego Garcia issue and the struggle over recent years of the Chagossians to regain their island. He has been Deputy Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory as well as British High Commissioner to Mauritius. He has also been coordinator of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group since 2008. 

In his appreciation of Next Year in Diego Garcia and the situation it describes, he says, “De L’Estrac chronicles it all. He draws from his detailed knowledge and experience of the times. He presents the facts without value judgment. He is severe on his own countrymen, as I am on mine, but hindsight can set things in a different context from the one prevailing at the time. (…) The Chagos Islands were of little economic value to Mauritius at the time but they were of inestimable value to the people who lived there.” 

Below is an excerpt from the book describing the web of complicity surrounding the deportation of the islanders: 

“This story is one of deceit, lies and cowardice. Perhaps worse; it is the story of the British Foreign Office admitting that large sums of money were at stake in Whitehall negotiations, which led to the butchering of the Mauritian territory. The decision to rip the Chagos Archipelago from the mainland was, thus, sealed as was the fate of its inhabitants who were forced to leave their birthplace to make room for the Anglo-American military base, Diego Garcia.” 

The book, published by Editions Le Printemps, is at Rs 350.