February 2008 update

  • Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) in Mauritius, came to London to give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Overseas Territories. Mike Gapes (chairman), Menzies Campbell, Eric Illsley, Paul Keetch, Andrew Mackinlay, Sandra Osborne and Sir John Stanley were all present. The committee were very well informed and asked searching and pertinent questions about the past, current and future situation. Thanking Olivier and Richard for attending, the chairman said: “As you know… your islands have a particular history. We hope at some point they will also have people resident there who can act as guardians of the environment.” Most encouraging!

  • On 19 January a colloquium was organised by the Cambridge Centre for Public Law on “The Common Law, the Royal Prerogative and Executive Legislation”. David Snoxell, former High Commissioner to Mauritius, and Dr Mark Spalding, Chagos marine expert, took part. Snoxell said: “Much of the time was spent exploring arcane legal matters. My task was to set the political context and remind participants of the human drama behind it all. I hope that my intervention will make a contribution to the longer term outcome.”

  • We are about to launch a major campaign entitled ‘Let Them Return!’ This will be launched in early April, publicising the Chagossians struggle to get back to their homeland. The website will be www.letthemreturn.com, and digital brochures will be available from jane@letthemreturn.com. Various projects are in the pipeline and all proceeds raised will benefit the Chagossians.

  • Following the visit by 100 Chagossians to their Islands in March-April 2006, Olivier and the CRG made a request to the BIOT Administrator to have ancestral graves restored as the cemeteries were in a very neglected state. Now John Murton, the UK’s High Commissioner to Mauritius, has announced that six masons with several labourers would be going this month to tidy up the cemeteries on Peros Banhos and Salomon islands, spending a week on each island.

  • The CRG held its general assembly on 3 February in Mauritius. One unanimous decision taken at the meeting was that all Chagossians, both bearers and non-bearers of British passports, would register as British citizens with the High Commission in Port Louis. It was also agreed that, if any proposal of compensation should be made by the UK Government, they would not renounce their right to return to their birthplace.

  • Allan Vincatassin of the Diego Garcian Society (DGS) gave a talk to the Politics Society at Trinity College, Cambridge on 6 February about the Chagos Islanders.
    The DGS will be sending written evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry mentioned above. Allen had a positive meeting with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office last month and the DGS’s campaign for a visit to their homeland is getting more support.

    The DGS and the Crawley Council for Voluntary Service are working in partnership to provide basic English courses for Chagossians – so far, there are about thirty islanders following these courses.

  • On 1 February Robert Vervaik, law editor of The Independent, reported on a cover-up over government knowledge of rendition flights and the use of UK military bases to hold suspects. Ministers have blocked access to military papers which the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition believe would reveal whether Diego Garcia is or was used as a detention centre for rendition prisoners. Supporters of the islanders are well aware of how distressing this is for them.

  • The Government’s appeal to the House of Lords against the May 2007 decision in favour of the islanders is due to be heard on Monday 30 June.