February 2011 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group held its 18th meeting on 26 January 2011.

The Group discussed current developments – the human rights case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which seemed likely to be reviewed in the first half of this year, the application for judicial review of the Marine Protection Area which would be decided immediately following Strasbourg, the Mauritian Statement of Claim for arbitration by ITLOS (International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea) on the MPA, a CRG (Chagos Refugees Group) proposal (‘Roadmap’) to Mr Bellingham  for a study on resettlement to be undertaken by the  Commonwealth Business Council and possibly supported by Department for International Development and the EU Commission, and a public relations strategy for promoting the Chagossian cause to the general public, being drawn up by Weber Shandwick for the Patrons (Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory) and Chairman of  the UK Chagos Support Association.

In a longer perspective the Group discussed the need for HMG to engage well before the 2014 deadline with the US in a review of the 1966 UK/US Exchange of Letters, due for renewal in 2016. This was an obvious deadline for the resolution of the questions of resettlement and sovereignty. The Group noted that the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting would be held in Mauritius in 2015 and that many Commonwealth countries supported the Chagossian right to return and Mauritian sovereignty.

The APPG discussed the prospects for a resolution of the issues in 2011 in the aftermath of the Wikileaks revelations in December. The Chairman had written to the Foreign Secretary on 21 December concerning the leaks which had revealed that in 2009 officials had seen the proposed MPA as a way of obstructing resettlement, though no substantive reply had yet been received. It was noted that Mr Hague had told Dr Philippa Gregory on 7 January that he was pursuing solutions to the complex and difficult problem of the exile of the Chagos people and that his office was in the process of drawing up alternatives for him to consider. Members welcomed what seemed to be positive developments at the ministerial level and felt that with the expected public relations campaign and resettlement study, and resolution of the legal issues, substantial progress towards a fair and just settlement, as promised by the Coalition last year, and also a legitimate MPA recognised by UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and Mauritius, could be achieved in 2011. The Group expressed a wish for a meeting with the Foreign Secretary to discuss all these issues. It was understood that the Foreign Secretary would welcome an early opportunity to meet and discuss the future of BIOT. A date would be fixed.

The next meeting of the APPG will take place on 2 March.

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Chagos Islands APPG

House of Lords
Written answers and statements, 21 January 2011

Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will place in the Library of the House a copy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office records procedures, specifying the conditions for the destruction of documents, referred to in the letter of 9 November 2006 from the British Indian Ocean Territory’s Administrator to the United Kingdom Chagos Support Association, and the name of the official who ordered the destruction of the draft Phase 2B study Feasibility Study for the Resettlement of the Chagos Archipelago.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Conservative)
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) no longer holds a copy of its records management policy as it would have applied in 2002-03. I will place in the Library of the House an internal FCO guide to records management issued in 2004. Page 15 of the document deals with the retention of drafts as records. This policy is still current.
With regard to the destruction of the draft of the Phase 2B Feasibility Study, as an unclassified document and as the draft had not been registered as a record, its destruction did not require a formal audit trail or formal authorisation.

(This is a disingenuous reply – one is tempted to ask “How convenient is that?”  There were about 20 copies of the draft in circulation and none was entered on the file.)

WIKILEAKS AGAIN.

The Telegraph has released some more cables which flew between the US embassy in London and Washington. With regard to the proposed Marine Protection Area, Joanne Yeadon (Administrator of BIOT, desk officer at the FCO), told the US embassy: “HMG had not approached the Government of Mauritius yet to discuss the proposal although HMG considers Mauritian assent an essential  prerequisite to creating a (marine) reserve.”*
The US Embassy comment on the discussion: “The establishment of a marine reserve in BIOT would present an easy ‘good news story’ for PM Brown’s beleaguered government as the creation of a marine reserve would almost certainly enjoy the support of most Britons”……”it appears UK policy makers and planners are at the beginning of their analysis of the various practical and legal consequences of establishing a marine reserve”.
Ms Yeadon also commented on the case before Strasbourg: “HMG will respond to the substance of the Chagossians’ allegations by asserting to the ECtHR that the Chagossians have already received sufficient compensation and further that they do have a right of abode in the UK”. “Yeadon confirmed that HMG would honour the ECtHR’s ruling if the ECtHR decided in favour of the Chagossians ‘right of resettlement’ but she also said HMG would appeal the claim further in the ECtHR system if the Chagossians prevailed in the first instance”.**

Ms Yeadon also told the US embassy staff that all five Law Lords had agreed that the European Convention does not apply to BIOT***. This was not factually accurate since Lord Bingham, presiding, did not give a view on this point.

*The UK certainly did not get Mauritian approval for the MPA even though it was “an essential prerequisite”.

**Is this the policy of officials or the elected Government?

*** The Lords were not called upon to rule on whether BIOT was excluded from the European Convention.

Ms Yeadon also says the Chagossians have a right of abode in UK but a Chagossian with a Mauritian wife has to pay very exorbitant fees for her to join him and now there is a new condition – the applicant must take an English test in Mauritius at a further cost of 5,000 Rupees.

Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugee Group in Mauritius, attended the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.

This report is from Newsnow, 3rd February:
Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam has again strongly attacked the British motive behind the decision to transform the territorial waters of the Chagos Archipelago into a huge marine park.
He was speaking at the 16th summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier this week. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Dr Arvin Boolell, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group.
He said that the archipelago was of great importance to the government and entire people of Mauritius, in particular to those who were displaced from the Chagos.
Dr Ramgoolam mentioned the presence of Olivier Bancoult in his official delegation and explained to delegates in Ethiopia how he (Bancoult) was himself expelled from the islands.
“This is a most shameful thing that happened and we cannot condone this behaviour,” said the Prime Minister….
“At the 15th meeting of the AU last July in Kampala, all member states had reaffirmed that Chagos archipelago, including Diego Garcia, is part of the Mauritian territory and requested Britain “to expeditiously put an end to its continued unlawful occupation of the Chagos archipelago and allow Mauritius to exercise its sovereignty over the archipelago,” the Prime Minister added.
However, the request was ignored. While the 50th anniversary of the Convention 15 (40) of United Nations is being celebrated, the Chagos archipelago is still under the control of the former British colonial power.
Despite the stand of the Republic of Mauritius and the AU members, the UK went ahead with its project and declared unilaterally the Marine Park as a protected area although it goes against international law and the sovereignty of Mauritius.
On December 20 last year Mauritius initiated legal action against the British government based on a UN Convention on the rights of the sea. The aim is to challenge the legality of the Marine Park.
“We thus hope to have the support of members of the AU in our struggle. As bilateral discussions between Mauritius and the UK have proved of no avail, Mauritius intends to claim justice at UN General Assembly,” he added.
A draft copy of the proposed motion to be presented to the UN Assembly for approval by the AU was also presented in Addis Ababa….
The leader of the Chagos Refugees Group, Mr Olivier Bancoult, told NEWSNOW yesterday that their participation at the African Union summit went very well. “Everything was fine and I appreciated the efforts of the Prime Minister, Dr Navin Ramgoolam ,” he said.
Mr Bancoult said before he left Mauritius last Saturday that this new initiative of Prime Minister Ramgoolam is the latest, most significant move by Mauritius to assert its sovereignty on the Chagos.
He explained that up to now the Mauritian state’s sovereignty claims and the Chagossians’ rights of return and resettlement were fought separately.
However, he said that his presence on the official Mauritian delegation to Addis Ababa marks a turning point.
Mr Bancoult underlined the importance of Africa’s support to the Chagossian human rights case being fought at the international level: “It will be a unique opportunity for me to talk to the African leaders and tell them about the struggle and suffering of our people. Our brothers and sisters on the continent must be made aware of the Chagossians’ human tragedy.”

“It makes my blood boil” said Tom Mallow when he interviewed Jeremy Corbyn, Chair of the Chagos APPG, on his show for OnFMRadio. This was a lengthy and in-depth conversation which included the history of the Chagossian exile, special rendition (when Diego Garcia was used as a staging post to Guantanamo Bay) and the setting up of the Marine Protection Area without proper consultation. Tom does not intend to drop this issue which he finds grossly unjust and inhuman.

MORE NEWS FROM CRG IN MAURITIUS:

1.Education/training

This year CRG is putting much emphasis on the promotion of education and training of the Chagossians. Consequently, it has sought the help and sponsorship of NGOs, institutions, etc. for training courses, school grants, school materials and furniture as follows:

English course:

a) 60 students from the primary school will follow English courses during the year 2011 as from 12 February from Monday to Saturday.

b) 30 adults will be attending an oral course.

These are joint ventures between the British High Commission (Port Louis), British Council, Mo Pense Toi and CRG.

Computer course: A three-month IT course will be conducted for 120 Chagossians.

School grants:

a)      14 students aged 16 to 18 years old having received a two-year grant from the Scott Smile Foundation are attending the St Monfort and St Gabriel Technical Colleges.

b)      The Ilois Welfare Fund Board granted scholarships to10 best students – 5 girls and 5 boys – in reward for having successfully completed their Certificate of Primary Education exams.

Pre-primary school: School materials will be offered by the Ilois Welfare Fund Board to 50 pre-primary children.

Training & Resource Centre: The British High Commission (Port Louis) has equipped the Training & Resource Centre with 9 computer tables and chairs.

SC and HSC Exams Fees: Like each year CRG will provide financial assistance to needy families for the exams fees of their children.

2. House renovation

A three-week census will be carried out among the Chagossian community to draw up a list of those who need house renovations.

3. Trips

a)  Reunion island: Olivier Bancoult was in Le Port, Reunion Island on 25 January to meet with the supporters of the “Association Réunionnaise de Soutien aux Chagossiens” to update them on new developments in the Chagossian struggle.

b)  Ethiopia: Olivier Bancoult attended the African Union Summit in Ethiopia from 29 to 31 January as part of the Mauritius delegation headed by the Prime Minister. The Head of States were alerted to the Chagos issue. Their response was very positive and they gave assurance of their support.

(Many thanks to Lily-Claire Rene who keeps UKChSA up to date on Chagossian activities in Mauritius.)

NEWS FROM CRAWLEY

Sabrina Jean, leader of the Chagos Refugee Group in UK, attended a meeting with her MP, Henry Smith and Henry Bellingham (Under Sec of State at the FCO) where, amongst other things, they discussed the new English test for spouses. Naturally, the Chagossian spouses will learn English when families are re-united here but this new rule is not only expensive but divisive as it will keep couples and families apart.

Allen Vincatassin has renamed his Diego Garcian Society again and he now wishes it to be called Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands Council.  A ballot was organised for this group by Electoral Reform Services. From Mr. Vincatassin’s website:

At about 3.30pm yesterday the 26th of January, Allen Vincatassin was sworn in as the President of the first provisional Government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands in exile, in a special ceremony in the presence of the Mayor of Crawley….. Mr Selmour Cherry has been conducted to Vice President.

(The legitimate government of the Chagos Archipelago is still the BIOT Administration in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. One suspects that another Order in Council might be needed to recognise a government in exile and that election would probably have to be where the great majority of Chagossians live – Mauritius and then Seychelles.

UKChSA

As readers of the Update know, the UK Chagos Support Association has sometimes shortened itself to UKCSA. However, the United Kingdom Cast Stone Association has existed twice as long as this Association and claims exclusive rights to the acronym. Henceforth, the Association will be shortened to UKChSA. As our webmaster pointed out, anyone confusing this Association with cast stone should pay more attention.

Supporters are all valued and appreciated and here is a little about a gentleman who has been working hard for the Chagossian cause for many years now:

John Loader

Readers may know John Loader who was stationed at East Point on DG in 1945. With the  help of his son-in-law, Alan Donaldson produced a DVD in support of the Chagossian cause that included archive film of his time there. He does not charge for the DVD but asks for donations to the cause and these have now passed £200. He is pleased that some people are using it to give lectures to spread word of the Chagossian plight.
He and Alan also use the DVD as a basis of a talk, have now got on the Women’s Institute lecture circuit, and are booked for three lectures already this year. They also use extracts from John Pilger’s “Stealing a Nation”. John Pilger has given John his personal permission to do this. Those groups that have already heard the talk were very moved and have agreed to pass on the information about the talk to other branches, so John and Alan may be very busy spreading the word to a very potent group of people.
John also wrote to William Hague suggesting that the Chagossians should be allowed to settle the non-strategic islands. The reply he got was very depressing suggesting that there was no chance of this being even considered.

Thank you, John,  and all supporters for continuing the struggle for justice.

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING.

The Annual General Meeting of the UK Chagos Support Association will be held at Pizza Express, 46 Moreton Street, Pimlico at 1.00 on 20th February. All supporters are welcome to attend.

Please let us know if you plan to attend.

AGENDA.

  1. Apologies
  2. Minutes of last AGM have been circulated, no objections
  3. Matters arising
  4. Chairman’s report
  5. Secretary’s report
  6. Treasurer’s report
  7. Election of officers:

a)        Chair

b)       Vice-Chair

c)       Secretary

d)       Treasurer

e)       Press Officer

f)        Webmaster

g)       Assistant webmaster

h)       Update compiler

i)         One other.

  1. Any other business