February 2010 update

  • On Sunday 31st January the association held its annual general meeting, at which it was resolved to keep fighting hard as the hearing at the European Court of Human Rights approaches, and the general election gives the Chagossians an opportunity to put pressure on politicians to do the right thing. There’s a full report by Peter Harris on the blog.
  • The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group held its tenth meeting on Tuesday 12th January. From the co-ordinator, David Snoxell:

    The Group took stock of developments, including several PQs, since the last meeting on 24 November and various ministerial and parliamentary contacts. It was felt that in the remaining time before the election they would need to increase their activities in order to make FCO aware of their deep concerns. This would take the form of further PQs, meetings with Ministers and adjournment debates in both Houses. The Chairman reported that he had written to Barbara Lee, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and that a date for the Group to meet with William Hague would be fixed.

    The Group discussed the FCO public consultation on the proposed MPA and decided that the APPG should also send a response to the consultation. The Chairman had sent an interim reply, to the Foreign Secretary, supporting an MPA providing it made provision for the safeguarding of Chagossian interests, in particular fishing. The Group took note of the emerging conclusions of the scientific workshop on 7 January at Royal Holloway which the Chairman had addressed, in particular that resettlement and sovereignty were issues which needed to be addressed if the proposed MPA was to be both legitimate and workable. The position of the Mauritian Government that they would not support an MPA unless these issues were resolved, was also noted. Members would want to raise these points in an adjournment debate before the closure of the consultation exercise on 12 February. The Chairman would send a reply to the parliamentary lobbying by the Chagos Environment Network, on behalf of the APPG.

    Developments in Strasbourg were also discussed. The FCO had been given a third opportunity to make a submission to the Court, the deadline for which was 17 January. A result was not likely before the middle of the year. But it was noted that there was no impediment to HMG settling out of court.

    The next meetings will be on Tuesdays 9th February and 9th March.

  • Parliament

    Thanks to the APPG, there have been a number of Parliamentary Questions recently.

    19th Jan, Jeremy Corbyn MP asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what organisations had been consulted on the proposed MPA for the Chagos Archipelago.

    Chris Bryant MP (Under-Sec FCO) listed many scientific and environmental organisations (including all of those in the Chagos Environment Network who are, of course, the begetters of the scheme). At the end, just before the Indian Tuna Commission, mention is made of “listening to the views of the Chagossian communities” in Mauritius and Seychelles. UK Chagos Support Association has not been consulted.

    26th Jan. Lord Luce asked if the government were planning to proceed with the proposed Marine Protected Area and was told by Baroness Kinnock (Minister of State, FCO) that a decision will not be made until the consultation process has concluded.

    26th Jan. Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked whether the Government will wait for the European Court of Human Rights ruling before declaring the Chagos Islands an MPA and this elicited the same reply.

    26th Jan. Lord Ramsbotham asked how the proposed protected area would be policed and the cost of doing so.
    Baroness Kinnock replied that no decision had yet been taken regarding the MPA. However, if a decision was taken in favour of a “no-take” fishery there would be an extra annual cost of around a million pounds in order to maintain a patrol vessel as the current vessel is partly paid for by the income from fishing licences.

    (The cost of a “no-take” fishing zone to resettling Chagossians would be the loss of their main food source.)

    26th Jan. Baroness Whitaker asked how the interests of the Chagos islanders will be safeguarded in the proposed marine protected area.
    Baroness Kinnock replied that “the establishment of a marine protected area (is), of course, without prejudice to the outcome of the current, pending proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights. This means that should circumstances change, all the options for a marine protected area may need to be reconsidered.”

    (Maybe this explains the indecent haste by the CEN to get the MPA established – before the Court Hearing. It’s hard to see how options could be changed at a later date.)

    26th Jan. Baroness Whitaker asked whether, following the government of Mauritius saying that they will not support the proposed marine protected area for the Chagos Archipelago until the issues of sovereignty and resettlement are addressed, her Majesty’s Government will open discussions about this with Mauritius.
    Baroness Kinnock replied: We welcome the prospect of further bilateral discussions with the Mauritians on BIOT. However, Government policy remains that they have no doubt about the UK’s sovereignty over BIOT but that they will cede the territory to Mauritius when it is no longer needed for defence purposes. And, following the judgment in the House of Lords in October 2008 in the Judicial Review of the 2004 BIOT Orders in Council which upheld the validity of the BIOT (Constitution) Order, the Government’s policy remains that no one has a right of abode in BIOT and permission is needed for anyone visiting the territory. The Government are not, therefore, seeking to facilitate the resettlement of the Chagossians on BIOT.

    (So wouldn’t applying an MPA be a bit like making permanent alterations to a “borrowed” house?)

    26th Jan (a busy day for questions about Chagos), Lord Wallace asked what assessment the government has made of the effect of a full fishing ban in their proposed MPA upon the Mauritian fishing industry.
    Baronerss Whittaker replied “…the Government recognise that there will be an impact on the international fishing community following the establishment of a marine protected area and any resulting restrictions or a ban on fishing…” which sounds as though the decision has been made. However, she also says that no decision will be made before the end of the consultation process.

  • The Press

    The Times published, on 26th January, an edited version of this letter from the APPG
    On 22 January you published a two page spread on the proposed Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA). The role that the Chagos Islanders could play in this was ignored. Frank Pope’s article stated that 2000 Chagos Islanders were ‘relocated’ to Britain and Mauritius to make room for a US base on Diego Garcia. In fact about 1500 Chagossians, of whom some 700 survive, were removed against their will from the Archipelago to Mauritius and Seychelles in the early seventies. Pope also claimed that resettlement would require an airport and town which would be financially and environmentally ruinous.

    How many would wish to return, and the nature of a resettlement on two atolls, 150 miles north of the base, is impossible to determine at this stage. The Chagos Islanders want to be involved with the conservation and environmental protection of the islands. Elsewhere in the world MPAs rely on local people to monitor and enforce the protection MPAs provide. Careful management and planning can, at modest cost, avoid degradation of the environment, provide sensitive transport links, not necessarily an airport, and a trained work force willing and able to police the proposed MPA, The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has urged the FCO to commission a rapid independent study of the numbers who would wish to resettle and the practicalities of resettlement. The APPG supports both the creation of an MPA and the aspiration of Chagossians to resettle. Many will not want to live permanently in the Islands but they all want the right to visit their homeland at will. The way forward is to make provision in the proposed MPA for Chagossian interests (such as local fishing) and those of Mauritius. Conservation and human rights must go hand in hand. We urge the Government, before the election, to lift the ban imposed in 2004 on the return of the Chagos Islanders and thus bring to an end this 40 year tragedy which has for too long dogged the UK’s reputation for respect for human rights and its international obligations.”
    Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Chair Chagos Islands APPG
    Baroness Whitaker
    Lord Luce
    Lord Ramsbotham
    Lord Steel
    Lord Wallace
    Andrew Rosindell MP

    The Mauritian High Commissioner, Abhimanu Kundasamy wrote to the Sunday Times last month saying:
    The right of Mauritius to enjoy sovereignty over the [Chagos] archipelago, and the failure of the promoters of the marine project to address this issue meaningfully, are serious matters. There can be no legitimacy to the project without the issue of sovereignty and resettlement being addressed to the satisfaction of the government of Mauritius.

    David Snoxell former High Commissioner to Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group wrote to the Times:
    In his letter (last week) commenting on Charles Clover’s article “Brown can build his legacy on coral reefs”, the Mauritius High Commissioner raises two issues, sovereignty and resettlement, which need to be addressed if the proposed Chagos marine protected area is to be legitimate and workable. It was a Labour government in the 1960s that expelled the islanders. What better legacy for a Labour prime minister than to resolve one of the most shameful episodes in recent colonial history, while also agreeing a timetable for transfer of sovereignty to Mauritius and creating the largest marine reserve in the world?

    Other papers and on-line articles have lauded the proposed MPA but with little or no mention of the exiled islanders. The petition by CEN (which has now been taken up by Care2 and Greenpeace) ignores them, and their rights, completely.

    The Marine Education Trust’s Director, Tara Hooper, wrote this reply to a Guardian article:
    Your coverage of the campaign to create a marine protected area in Chagos is much more balanced than that I have seen recently in other national newspapers, and I am cheered to see this.
    However, one thing to which you do not refer is that the Chagos Environment Network petition itself makes no mention at all of the Chagos islanders, their pending case with the European Court of Human rights, or the fact that the full no-take option advocated would allow no means for resettled islanders to use their marine resources for subsistence or income generation.

    The CEN campaign also fails to mention that the UK Government has agreed to ultimately cede sovereignty of the archipelago to the Government of Mauritius, who are currently refusing to engage in the MPA development process. This too is a major stumbling block to the creation of a full no-take reserve, as the fishery licences to which Mauritius is entitled cannot be unilaterally revoked, so a full no-take zone cannot be declared without their cooperation.

    A petition which asks the public to endorse a campaign but fails to fully inform them of the issue involved is misleading, to say the least, and cannot be considered an accurate reflection of the view they would have expressed had they been fully informed.

    Jessica Aldred’s article lists the three options for the MPA given in the FCO consultation document. These options arose following a workshop commissioned by the FCO and held at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) in August 2009. The Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG) was invited to that workshop, which perhaps explains why two of the three options allow for, effectively, business as usual for pelagic fishing. That there was not a fourth option proposed, that of zonation within reef areas to allow for sustainable fisheries by resettled islanders, is perhaps because no representatives from the Chagossian community were invited.

    One member of the organising committee and other scientists due to attend the NOCS workshop boycotted it for this very reason.
    That this fourth option is necessary was the outcome of a second scientific workshop, held at Royal Holloway on 7 January, to discuss the socio-economic issues related to the creation of an MPA, and to which Chagossian representatives and the Government of Mauritius were invited. (Report out soon)

    The outcome of this second workshop reflects the belief of conservationists that the aggressive campaign for full no-take protection is actually harmful to the long-term prospects for conservation of Chagos, as well as being morally questionable (for the reasons already outlined above).

    MPAs fail through lack of engagement, be that the lack of political will to properly manage and enforce the MPA, or through a lack of community ownership. By failing to engage with the Chagossians or the Government of Mauritius, the current approach to the MPA designation is doing a great job of alienating those who will govern and live alongside the MPA in the future, threatening any chance of success in the long term.

    A Pew employee has recently said “The CEN position is that if the government decides to designate the Chagos as an MPA, this should be done “without prejudice” to any future changes in circumstances regarding the islands, meaning that any conservation arrangements could be modified if necessary.” Viewing an MPA as something that is transitory, that can be modified as circumstances change, sends entirely the wrong message and, again, has implications for the long term success of the initiative.

    Given that the European Court of Human Rights may make their recommendations on resettlement as early as this spring, it may prove necessary to make modifications to the MPA before the ink on the shiny no-take zone is even dry.

    The Marine Education Trust would like to see the Chagos Archipelago become a world-leading example of a successfully functioning MPA, one that actually achieves the objective of long term protection of the marine environment. It is for that reason that we organised the January workshop and also explains why we are campaigning for a process that incorporates the perspectives of the exiled Chagossians and the Government of Mauritius in the development of the MPA.
    We are a tiny charity, and lack the resources of the Chagos Environment Network. That our campaign has been supported by, for example, the President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance and the Emeritus Professor of Tropical Marine Biology at Newcastle University clearly shows that respected mainstream reef ecologists endorse this point of view.
    Yours sincerely
    Tara Hooper
    Director, Marine Education Trust

  • A new supporter of the Chagossians recently discovered UKCSA and wrote:
    My own experience.
    In 1979 I visited Diego Garcia as a young Lieutenant in the Royal Navy. One of my roles was as the Ship’s Diving Officer and I took my team diving around the atoll. We also landed on the now deserted part of the atoll where the islanders had lived. It was a surreal experience – the deserted houses which had scrawled messages in French on their walls – heartfelt pleas from the islanders as they had been forced off into exile – overhead US heavy transport planes thundered into the US Air Base, in the lagoon were the rusting hulks of the C19th coaling ships and on the beach was a decaying WW2 flying boat. Even as UK military personnel we were not allowed near the US Air Base. Ten years later I found myself as the Legal Adviser to the Commander in Chief Fleet during the first Gulf War. We were the de-facto commander of Diego Garcia with a small UK contingent alongside the US Air Base. I was aware of the huge military importance of the base to the US even at that time.

    What happened to the Chagos islanders?
    In 1971 the UK Government used an immigration ordinance to remove the islanders so that Diego Garcia could be used as a US base. In 1998 the islanders began legal proceedings and the Divisional Court ruled their eviction illegal. The Foreign Secretary then agreed that they should be allowed to return to all islands except Diego Garcia. After 9/11 that position was swiftly reversed following the US and UK stance that the base had become a vital facility in the war against terror in the Middle East. As a result the UK issued an Order in Council preventing the islanders return. Orders in Council are not debated in the UK Parliament – they are laws passed directly by the Government. In 2006 the High Court ruled again in favour of the Chagossians. The UK Government appealed the decision and lost in the Court of Appeal. Finally, the highest UK court – the House of Lords ruled that the UK Government 2004 Order in Council was legal in a 3-2 majority judgement (2 judges strongly dissenting). That judgment was clearly based on security interests of the UK and the US. After the case, the Foreign Secretary
    declared “We do not seek to excuse the conduct of an earlier generation. Our appeal to the House of Lords was not about what happened in the 1960s and 1970s. It was about decisions taken in the international context of 2004. This required us to take into account issues of defence [and] security of the archipelago and the fact that an independent study had come down heavily against the feasibility of lasting resettlement of the outer islands of BIOT.”

    The case has now been taken to the European Court of Human Rights. If the UK Government loses, the Chagos islanders should be entitled to return to at least some of their islands.

    Nothwithstanding this position, the UK Government maintains that the Chagos islanders have no right of abode and ignores their right to be consulted on the MPA proposals.

    In the light of this I ask ‘What is the haste to proceed with the designation of an MPA?’ From a conservation point of view the region is remote and the reefs have remained in remarkable health for the last 40 years. The area is also already extensively protected by conservation legislation. What extra immediate protection will this designation
    achieve – particularly given the lack of real resources to enforce it? Are we fearful of imminent development on any of the BIOT islands – hardly, when the security of the Diego Garcia base is uppermost in both US and UK Government minds, and this is the prime reason for preventing even the islanders from returning to the area. Are there concerns of pollution or desecration of the marine resources?

    Declaring a MPA would make the UK Government look good on the international stage. It could also be used by them as a further nail in the coffin of the Chagos islanders case. Having removed the islanders from Diego Garcia where they had been for generations, the UK Government now declares that the area cannot support re-population. It would be convenient if it was also a marine no take reserve so that the islanders could not even fish for their own food.

    Morally what should we do? The answer is very simple we should await the outcome of the Chagos islanders ECHR court case. The UK Government should not be encouraged to declare an MPA in these circumstances – it should bide its time.

    I have signed the Marine Education Trust petition and I encourage you to do the same or to write to the UK Government stating that there should be no MPA in the British Indian Ocean Territory pending the outcome of
    the Chagos islanders case in the ECHR.

    Richard P Dunne
    Lt Cdr (RN) rtd
    Barrister at Law

  • News from Marie France of the Chagos Island Community in Crawley:
    I am responsible for a group of Chagossian elderly in Crawley and we meet twice a month. We meet for socialis , tea party, play bingo, dancing and whenever weather permits we go out. It has been cold but still the elderly try to cope and we had a little Christmas party where we had a lovely time. We are looking forward to summer now so can organise some outings. Hope one day the UKCSA can come and visit, may be in summer, we are based in Broadfield, Crawley.
    Kind regards
    Marie France

  • News of the Diego Garcian Society, Crawley:
    The leader of the Diego Garcian People, Allen Vincatassin, will lead six of his compatriots to Diego Garcia on the 20th of January. The visit is funded by the British Indian Ocean Territory Government in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
    The Bon Voyage Ceremony will be held at the Hawth Theatre in Crawley on Sunday the 17th of January at 6.00pm, with Laura Moffatt MP as guest of honour.

  • Finally, please encourage everyone you know to sign the Marine Education Trust’s petition.
    Some supporters have been asked to sign the Chagos Environment Plan petition by Care 2 – this is an American company which organises, and emails petitions to their mailing list of 200,000 on all manner of subjects. CEN pay for this service whereas the MET petition has been done without cost. It already has some 670 signatures including the names of about 40 leading conservationists, environmentalists and scientists.