February 2012 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 27th meeting on 1 Feb. 2012.

The Group took stock of the meeting with the Foreign Secretary on 15 December (reported in the last summary) and the replies of FCO Ministers to subsequent Parliamentary Questions and letters from the Group. It was clear that the FCO was unable to provide Ministers with drafts that addressed the substance of those letters. Answers to questions concerning the legal costs of fighting the litigation brought by the Chagos Islanders had elicited only partial information. What the Group would like to know was the full cost to the tax payer since 1999, including indirect and staff costs, of defending the cases. The Group noted the Chairman’s intervention in the Westminster Hall human rights debate on 26 January, chaired by Mr Rosindell, in which Mr Corbyn expressed the hope that the Government would abide by the decision of the ECHR in Strasbourg in the Chagos case. It was agreed that a parliamentary debate on Chagos, which the Chairman had asked for, was the next opportunity at which these issues could be raised.

The Group considered the prospects for progress in 2012, a year in which the eyes of the world are on the UK for the Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This was a fitting year in which to restore the human rights and dignity of the Chagossian people, many of whom are British and for whom the UK is responsible. As 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the creation of BIOT and also the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Mauritius, 2015 was an obvious deadline for an overall settlement to aim for. This would follow discussions in 2014 on the renewal of the 2016 agreement with the US on the use of BIOT for defence purposes.

The Group discussed the events marking the 40th anniversary this year of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage and considered the possibility of having the Chagos Archipelago designated a ‘natural area of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty’ (Article 2). It was noted that both the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands had been designated as World Heritage sites, and that last year the UK had nominated the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Group thought that this would be an excellent development for Chagos but that, unlike the designation of the MPA, it had to be done in conjunction with Mauritius and the Chagossian people. The Chairman was asked to write to the Foreign Secretary to suggest this.

It was reported that the Chairman (Jeremy Corbyn) and Vice Chairman (Andrew Rosindell) would meet the Home Office Minister, Damian Green, on 22 February to discuss immigration matters concerning Chagossians who do not meet the criteria for settlement in the UK.

Current legal actions at Strasbourg and the Judicial Review challenging the MPA were discussed. Leave to take the JR forward would be decided on 9 March. Other actions concerning a request to the FAC to extend the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to BIOT and an appeal against the Information Commissioner were also discussed.

The group was informed about ‘A Few Man Fridays’, a play about the deportation of the Chagos Islanders, to be performed at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith from 10 February to 10 March. The press night is 15 February to be attended by many involved with Chagos.

The dates for the next meetings are 14 March and 2 May.

 

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the APPG

 

 

 

Letter from Jeremy Corbyn MP to the Foreign Secretary on behalf of the APPG:

Fortieth anniversary of UNESCO World Heritage Convention – the Chagos Islands.

At the meeting on 1 February the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group asked me to write to you about their idea for designating the Chagos Islands a World Heritage site. The Chagos Archipelago is an eligible area of cultural and natural heritage as defined in Articles 1 and 2 of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

The Group felt that to start the process during the current 40th anniversary of the Convention would be a fitting way of celebrating this anniversary and a magnanimous gesture by the FCO. The FCO has always taken the position that it will treat the Chagos Islands as if it were a World Heritage site. So FCO clearly agree that the rich biodiversity of this unique natural environment of coral reefs and marine life, superb terrestrial sites with an abundance of rare birdlife (some listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance), and an historical and architectural heritage left by two centuries of coconut plantations and the indigenous Chagos Islanders, meet the criteria for nomination. Mauritius and the Chagossians would probably also agree. Since 1996 the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society has called for designation of the Chagos Islands.

The reason the UK has not nominated Chagos in the past may have been political. But Article 11(3) of the Convention makes it clear that the inclusion of a site “in a territory, sovereignty or jurisdiction over which is claimed by more than one state shall in no way prejudice the rights of the parties to the dispute,” There are a number of precedents for joint nomination by two states, eg, the French-Italian marine protected areas of Bonifacio/La Maddalena in Corsica/Sardinia. The Group believes that with Chagossian and Mauritian agreement, Chagos stands a high chance of being designated. Their agreement would be essential to avoid the impasse that the MPA, designated nearly two years ago, is now in. World Heritage designation would provide a focus of unity which transcends both the arguments about the MPA and any political differences, and it would show that the Government was taking forward with the stake holders a project to secure the long term preservation of this cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal beauty.

In launching the 40th anniversary celebrations last November the Director-General of UNESCO said:

“Heritage stands at the crossroads of climate change, social transformations and processes of reconciliation between peoples. Heritage carries high stakes – for the identity and belonging of peoples, for the sustainable economic and social development of communities”.

The Chagos situation answers to that statement. The Group would ask you to consider their proposal and to explore with Mauritius and the Chagossians a way of taking it forward so that a nomination can be made before the close of this anniversary year on 16th November 2012. The Group stands ready to help in any way it can.

 

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION

House of Commons
Culture Media and Sport, Diamond Jubilee 2012

Written Answer on 23 Jan 2012
Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport
(1) what provision will be made for British Overseas Territories in the official Queen’s diamond jubilee celebration;
(2) what assistance his Department is giving to British Overseas Territories to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee.
Hugh Robertson (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport; Faversham and Mid Kent, Conservative)
A series of key events will take place over the extended bank holiday weekend in June to mark Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee.
This Department is working closely with Foreign and Commonwealth Office colleagues and Buckingham Palace to establish how the Overseas Territories can take part in these events, and to ensure they are given every opportunity to engage with the celebrations. For example, Overseas Territories’ Governments are being supported in their plans to hold diamond jubilee celebrations, which for many will include lighting a beacon to mark the occasion. Citizens of the Overseas Territories will be eligible for the diamond jubilee medal in line with the agreed eligibility criteria. And, as announced in December by Buckingham Palace, members of the royal family will be visiting Overseas Territories throughout the diamond jubilee year on behalf of the Queen.

(UKChSA wonders which royal will be visiting the Chagossians and where: their homeland, Mauritius, Seychelles or Crawley?)

 

House of Commons
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Written Answer on 23 Jan 2012
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 10 January 2012, Official Report, column 85W, on Ilois (Chagos): resettlement, what the costs to the public purse have been of defending actions brought by the Chagos Islanders since 1999 (a) in total and (b) in relation to (i) the 1999-2000 case, (ii) legal aid to the plaintiffs, (iii) staff costs of officials and legal advisers in his Department, (iv) relevant research carried out by the British diplomatic posts in (A) Mauritius and (B) Seychelles and (v) other relevant staff costs.
Alistair Burt (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North East Bedfordshire, Conservative)
The cost of legal fees for (i), the 1999-2000 case, was £455,268.44.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff and staff in British diplomatic posts do not keep detailed timesheets of work on different tasks and it is not possible to estimate costs with respect to (iii), (iv) and (v).
I will write to the hon. Member and place a copy in the Library of the House on part (ii) costs of legal aid, when further research has been done.

(As was noted in January Update, if it was possible for the FCO to state the total costs last year, why is it not possible this year?)

 

Westminster Hall debate on Human Rights

Chaired byAndrew Rosindell
26 Jan 2012
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

………The narrative that has been developed by the popular press of constant attack on the European Court of Human Rights and its processes and potential judgments, is very unfortunate and misplaced, and it is damaging and dangerous to our own human rights. I regret the way in which the Prime Minister decided to go to the Court, and how it has been presented as an inefficient, incompetent organisation. Yes, there are a very large number of outstanding cases. Most of them are inadmissible. The issue, however, is one of resources for the court rather than of criticism of it. The Chagos islanders have a case before the Court’s grand jury, and I look forward to the result. I hope that the Government accept and abide by whatever decision the court takes, and I am sure that the Minister will confirm that they will.
We attack the institutions of human rights at our peril, and I hope that the Minister will say that the British Government intends to continue its participation in the European Court of Human Rights, and to continue with its acceptance of the European convention on human rights and its place in British law. The convention is an instrument of defence. Roma people in Hungary, and Travellers in other countries, have nowhere else to go, and victims of racist attacks across Europe are in part protected by the

judgements made. We do well to state our strong view that we believe in human rights, and in the UN and European conventions. We should be proud of that, not afraid of it, frightened by it or intimidated by it.

 

PARLIAMENT/PRESS

The Independent (UK) 29th January 2012
Remote islands may get seat in the Commons
David Connett, Matt Chorley
Voters in Britain’s “forgotten” remnants of empire should be allowed to directly elect their own MPs to the House of Commons. Under a new proposal to be considered by Parliament, the member for Antigua might sit alongside the member for Aldershot, while the representative for the Turks & Caicos might find themselves waving their order papers at MPs from Tooting and Chichester. Territories ranging from Anguilla in the Caribbean, via the Channel Islands, Gibraltar and the Falklands to St Helena and South Georgia in the South Atlantic could be given a louder voice in determining how they are governed from London.
Andrew Rosindell MP, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, who is pressing for a parliamentary debate on the issue, says action is needed to plug the “democratic hole” that hundreds of thousands of British citizens find themselves in. “Our parliament ultimately governs 21 territories around the world, but those territories have no voice in this parliament, they elect no representatives and have no representation, unlike former colonies and territories of other countries. We give them nothing. All they have is an informal all-party group. We have a democratic hole with hundreds of thousands of people for whom we make laws, whom we ultimately govern and on whose behalf we can declare war, make foreign policy and sign international treaties.”

 

ConservativeHome website.

David Snoxell was invited by the editor , Paul Goodman, to write a piece on Chagos. This provides an excellent summary of the story so far and can be read at http://tinyurl.com/8xaqaq4  Here is a short extract: In a major speech last year, the Foreign Secretary said: “My ambition is a Foreign Office in which ideas thrive and the status quo can be challenged fearlessly…our diplomats excel at finding deft, realistic and workable solutions”. There is not much evidence that Ministers are succeeding in challenging the status quo on Chagos and applying political will and compromise to finding workable solutions – though, unlike the previous government, it is pretty clear that they would like to do so. They give the impression of being unwilling passengers bound and gagged in the backseat of a car driven doggedly by their officials.

 

The Mauritius Times, 27th January carried an article by RV – ‘Stop the Hypocrisy’.

She quoted William Hague in The Times (UK) of the previous Saturday:

“The future of the Falkland islands is about people: their freedom to develop their own future and to determine their own community and economy; their right to self-determination remains and will always remain the cornerstone of our policy. This is in tune with the beliefs in human and political rights of the 21st century, but it is also rooted in history… The islanders of today live in a diverse and democratic society. Many have lived there for generations — there are children on the islands whose Falkland ancestry can be traced back nine generations…
“Only the islanders can be masters of their future. We will never impose a different kind of political association, or agree to changes in sovereignty unless and until the islanders themselves wish it. This has been the policy of successive British governments.
“… We will always ensure that the wishes of the Falkland Islanders and their right to self-determination are never in doubt.”                                                                                                                                          RV goes on to detail the huge differences in treatment between the Falklands and Chagos. Her conclusion is that this is because the Chagossians are of African descent and refers to ‘Apartheid diplomacy’.              The Mauritius Times, on 3rd February, carried an article by David Snoxell  – Falkland Islanders must be masters of their own fate but what about the Chagos Islanders? – listing some of the historical differences between the two archipelagos and their situation. However, he agrees with RV in one respect:

The Foreign Secretary’s article was entitled ‘Islanders must be masters of their own fate’. Indeed but why is such a sentiment not also applied to the Chagos Islanders? It was the right of self-determination that was invoked by Mrs Thatcher to bolster British sovereignty which led to her decision to send a task force to recapture the Falklands, only a few years after most British colonies had become independent. However, self- determination was ignored when it came to the deportation of the Chagossians in the sixties. I doubt that a British Government, in the post colonial times of the eighties, could have got away
with creating a new colony and deporting the population. In 1965 Britain still had some thirty colonies and the creation of a new one was hardly noticed.
The principles of self-determination and territorial integrity are firmly grounded in UN resolutions. Britain’s excision of Chagos at a time when Mauritius was not independent, although the Council of Ministers had agreed to it, is of questionable legality in international law. The exile of the Chagos Islanders was, however, a violation of the UN Charter and other international legal instruments. The British Government needs to put this right first and restore the Chagossians’ right to return to their homeland. Clearly Britain continues to spend vast riches on the protection of the Falkland Islanders and
virtually nothing on the Chagos Islanders.

 

Many letters have been written both to the Press and to UKChSA re the Falklands and Chagos. Here are a few: Trevor Walshaw to The Independent ‘Mr. Cameron thinks that the Falkland Islanders should have the right to decide their own future. Is he prepared to extend the same courtesy to the Chagos Islands?

Gerald Morgan to The Times: Sir, I welcome William Hague’s forthright defence of the principle of self-determination in respect of the recent challenge to the status of the Falkland Islands by Argentina. But surely this principle applies with no less force and justice to the Chagos Islands. May we hope to see a similar statement by William Hague in respect of the Chagos Islanders in the near future? This would remove a stain on the British record from the time of Harold Wilson’s illegal expulsion of the Chagossians from their homeland in 1967. Fine deeds must begin to match fine words.

 

This Association entirely agrees with Mr Hague and Mr. Cameron’s statements about the Falkland Islands but would love to see the words ‘Falkland Islands AND Chagos Islands’ when they talk about democratic rights, self-determination, etc.

 

Recently, Dr. Sean Carey was invited to contribute an article to Anthropology Works entitled ‘Mauritius joins the premier league of global democracies’ which concludes:

 But free-marketeers are not the only members of the economic tribe to endorse Mauritius. Last year, for example, Joseph Stiglitz, after a brief visit, wrote an article for The Guardian, heaping praise on the country for the provision of free education, transport for schoolchildren and free healthcare, including heart surgery. The former chief economist at the World Bank, and a leading light in the neo-Keynesian “third way” movement, reckoned that North America and Europe could learn lessons from Mauritius in terms of how the country managed “social cohesion, welfare and economic growth.”

Despite the brevity of his stay, the Nobel prize-winning economist was observant enough to point to some of the island’s problems, especially the colonial legacy in inequality in ownership of land and other forms of capital which differentially affects the life chances of various segments of the polyethnic population.

Then there is the vexatious issue of the US base on Diego Garcia. The island, along with 54 other atolls that make up the Chagos Archipelago, was detached in breach of international law before Mauritius’s independence from the UK in 1968 to form the British Indian Ocean Territory. “The US should now do right by this peaceful and democratic country: recognise Mauritius’s rightful ownership of Diego Garcia, renegotiate the lease and redeem past sins by paying a fair amount for land that it has illegally occupied for decades,” argued Stiglitz. He should have added that those 1500 or so islanders, who were forcibly removed from the Chagos Archipelago in the late 60s and early 70s by the British authorities to make way for the military base and dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles, should be allowed to return to their homeland if they so wish.

 

From the Chagos Environment Network:

New scientific review paper on Chagos
31.01.2012 by chagosadmin
A new review paper, highlighting what is known about the state of the marine and terrestrial environment of the Chagos archipelago, has just been published by Wiley. The review, entitled “Reefs and islands of the Chagos Archipelago, Indian Ocean: why it is the world’s largest no-take marine protected area”, is authored by over 40 scientists who have conducted research at Chagos over the last few years, and lead authored by Prof Charles Cheppard (sic) member of CEN and scientific advisor to the Chagos administration.

You will find this on the CEN website and here is part of the ‘Conclusions’:
The MPA therefore is needed for multiple reasons. It has met with opposition from various sources, including the oceanic fishing industry, the government of Mauritius that claims the territory, and from Chagossians who were removed approximately 40  years ago, and some of their representatives. While the decision to remove the inhabitants at that time was based on politics and defence rather than for any reasons of conservation, the present good condition of such a large area has been a fortuitous if unplanned consequence of the subsequent lack of exploitation of the area. The MPA was created ‘without prejudice’ to any future resettlement, and if resettlement does occur then management must be adequate to avoid the problems which almost all past global experience has demonstrated could too easily happen.

The misspelling of Dr.Sheppard’s name is not their only mistake!

UKChSA has learnt that there will be a response from scientists not so intimately connected with Dr. Sheppard and CEN as the ‘40 scientists’ the paper quotes. More in future Updates.

 

Crawley News, 2nd February carried an article by Jenni Nuttall in which she interviewed Dr. Laura Jeffery. Laura has asked UKChSA to say that she believes it to be very important to raise the profile of the Chagossian community and that is why she is prepared to give interviews. However, this interview was not recorded and there were some errors, the main one being the title “Town lives up to hopes of displaced islanders.” She says: The important point I wish to stress is that I did not claim that Crawley has lived up to Chagossians’ expectations (as implied by the article title). I did say that people report much more mixed – i.e. both positive and negative – experiences in Crawley, in comparison to their reports of almost uniformly negative experiences in Mauritius. This line of argument will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my work, nor indeed to anyone who attended my book event in Crawley Library.
I regret any ill-feeling that this article may have caused, and wanted to set the record straight.

 

NEWS FROM MAURITIUS

Four young Chagossian students receive their Cambridge ESOL exams certificate

January 29th, 2012

The Chagos Refugees Group is proud and pleased to announce that four young Chagossians received their University of Cambridge ESOL (English for Speakers of other Languages) in November 2011. The ESOL course was run at the Chagos Resources and Training Centre by trainers from the British Council, Mauritius. Laetitia Besage (Level: Starters), Melissa Aglae and Hilary Agathe (Level: Movers), and Milena Aglae (Level: Flyers) received their certificates from the Director of the British Council, Ms Dawn Long, in the presence of CRG leader, Olivier Bancoult. “We take pride in their achievement”, says Olivier, “which I’m confident will inspire the young generation to work harder and aim higher in their studies in order to get ready to take up the challenges ahead.” He thanked the Director of the British Council and the team of trainers for their help and support.

Congratulations to Hilary and Milena for their high performance with a total of 12 and 11 stars respectively out of the maximum of 15!

 

BOOK REVIEW

Jim Agustin’s latest collection of poetry, “Alien to Any Skin” (University of Santo Tomas Press)

Poet and social critic John Berger believes that desiring justice is as multitudinous as the stars in an expanding universe with the suffering caused by genocide, war and natural catastrophes which happen unnoticed every day. In his opinion, Jim Augustin acknowledges the depth of these sufferings and meditates on the cruel use of power as our moral compass has gone awry.

“Rounding Up the Dogs of the Children Who Died of Sadness” tackles militarization and the violence committed by armies as they rounded up and evicted people out of Chagos Islands, part of Mauritius, then a British territory campaigning for independence.

In the1960s the Chagos Islands were separated by an Order in Council and renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT, displacing thousands. Agustin dramatizes the horror of these children as they see armies as monsters, rendered in lines. Monsters came one day, dressed/ in stiff uniforms. They were fed/ largely on red meat and so had grown/ like giants compared to the islanders/. The poem effectively ends with that terror: They were taken amid screams and cries/ hearts cracking like husked coconuts/ flung against jagged rocks.