February 2013 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 34th meeting on 13 February 2013. The Chairman welcomed two new members, Lord Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister, and Lord Ashcroft.

 

Members discussed the letter of 15 January from the Chairman to the Foreign Secretary, in which the Group’s views on the way forward had been set out and a request made for a meeting to follow up the last one with him in December 2011. As no reply had yet been received the Group asked the Chairman to send a reminder. Members felt that Parliament should be closely involved in consideration of the policy options being put by officials to the Foreign Secretary, before decisions were taken. These could best be discussed in a meeting with him.

 

The Group discussed the decision on 15 January of the Arbitral Tribunal (of the Permanent Court of Arbitration) on the Mauritian case, lodged with ITLOS in December 2010, challenging the legality of the MPA. The Tribunal had decided against the FCO and that it would consider both jurisdiction and merits together, but this would probably not be until the middle of 2014. The Group felt that this provided ample time for the FCO and Mauritius to come to an accommodation and settle out of court. Members did not think it was appropriate to describe the Mauritius case as being hostile and aggressive litigation. Cases came to court to enable judges to decide whether or not there had been a breach of the law. This was a legal, not a hostile process. Also in a case between states, especially as they were both members of the Commonwealth, there was plenty of opportunity to come to a diplomatic solution. The Group noted that the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting would be held in Mauritius. It was therefore crucial that the FCO and Mauritius settled their differences in a friendly manner before then. Mauritian support for Chagossian resettlement was noted.

 

The Group considered the 19 Parliamentary Questions on Chagos issues which had been tabled and answered since their last meeting. Members detected, for the most part, a more positive and open-minded approach to the issues. Lord Prescott, whose article in the Sunday Mirror of 19 January, was considered, suggested that he should raise the issues with the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe and in one of the Council’s Monitoring Bodies. Members agreed to continue to press for debates in both Houses of Parliament. They also asked the Chairman to invite David Miliband, who had just been appointed a Co-Chair by the Pew funded Global Marine Conservation, to attend an APPG meeting.

 

 

 

The next meeting will be held on 20 March. A further meeting on 17 April was pencilled in so that the Group could meet Olivier Bancoult since he would be in London at that time for the Chagos Islanders Judicial Review of the MPA.

 

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Chagos Islands APPG

 

Following the deluge of Parliamentary Questions coming immediately after December’s Strasbourg ruling, this month was a far quieter affair.  On the 28th January the Chagos APPG Chairman Jeremy Corbyn asked:

 

“if he plans to contest the ruling of the Information Commissioner on the application of Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations 2004 to information held by his Department relating to the British Indian Ocean Territory; and when this information will be released.”

 

Mark Simmonds, FCO Minister for the OT’s:

 

“Further to my answer of 20 December 2012, Hansard, column 886W. We will not be appealing the Decision Notice of 6 November 2012. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 do not apply to Overseas Territories. The Information Commissioner has accepted that the Governments of the British Indian Ocean Territory and the UK are constitutionally separate. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have accepted that information related to the British Indian Ocean Territory stored on FCO systems is subject to requests made to the FCO under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.”

 

Jeremy Corbyn also asked:

 

“what the ceiling on the costs to his Department of litigation concerning the desire of the Chagos Islanders to return to the Islands is including the Marine Protected Area.”

 

Mark Simmonds:

 

“There is no ceiling. While it has not instigated these cases, the Government will continue to defend them where we consider that to be the right course of action.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day Jeremy Corbyn also asked:

 

“pursuant to the answer of 17 January 2013, Official Report, column 909W, on British Indian Ocean Territory, if he will commission an independent study to re-evaluate the science and practicalities of resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory.”

 

Mark Simmonds:

 

“Following the end of the European Convention on Human Rights litigation in December, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), said the Government will now take stock of our policy towards the resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), as we have always said we would. There are fundamental difficulties with resettlement in BIOT, but we will be as positive as possible in our engagement with Chagossian groups and all interested parties. No decision has yet been taken on whether to commission a further study of the issues raised by resettlement. While climate change and sea levels are of concern because the islands are low-lying, it is important to note that science is only one of a very large number of factors influencing the practicalities and costs of different forms of resettlement.”

 

On the 30th January the Liberal Democrats Lord Avebury asked:

 

“how they will inform Parliament once dates are agreed for the United Kingdom-United States talks on renewing the agreement over the defence facilities on Diego Garcia.”

 

And Baroness Warsi replied:

 

“Discussions with the US over their use of Diego Garcia after 2016 have not yet begun. But I will ensure that Parliament is appropriately informed of developments.”

 

On the 5th February Lord Avebury also asked:

 

“what assessment they have made of the decision on 15 January of the
Court of Arbitration at The Hague challenging their 2009 declaration of a marine protected area around the Chagos Islands; and what steps they will take to pursue a resolution of the matter with the government of Mauritius.”

 

Baroness Warsi:

 

“The decision made on 15 January by the Court of Arbitration at The Hague is only a procedural decision and does not address the substance of the issues at hand-neither the Arbitral Tribunal’s jurisdiction nor the Mauritian claim. This decision seems to be out of line with other, similar cases and may slow the process down. We have no doubt about our sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory and are confident that Mauritius’ claims are without merit. The substantive hearing will likely take place in 2014.”

 

ANJA POPP

One of our supporters, Anja Popp contacted us back in November through the social networking site Twitter to propose putting together a short documentary on our cause.  The piece was to form part of a University project which meant that a very tight deadline needed to be met.  Thanks to Anja and the relentless efforts of UK CRG Chair Sabrina Jean, the deadline was met and the video has subsequently been uploaded to YouTube.

 

John Pilger’s groundbreaking documentary is now sadly over 8 years out of date in terms of the developments of recent years.  This wonderful video fills that void and is the most up to date synopsis of this tragedy, from the shameful depopulation of the 1960s to the reaction to the events in Strasbourg last December.  The association wishes to place on record its appreciation under such difficult circumstances and a huge “well done” to everyone who participated to make this project possible.

 

 

SIMMONDS BEGINS TO TAKE STOCK

Two months after the Foreign Secretary pledged to engage positively with Chagossian groups and all interested parties, the only person to have met a FCO Minister is Allen Vincatassin, who represents one group in Crawley.

 

We wonder when the Foreign Secretary will meet Olivier Bancoult and also when the stock taking exercise towards the policy of resettlement, which Mr Hague also promised, will be concluded.  All Chagossian groups expect this time to be consulted about the various options that officials have put to the Foreign Secretary

 

DAVID SNOXELL

Writing in the Left-wing magazine Tribune, the Chagos Islands APPG coordinator David Snoxell summed up the new found mood of optimism which has been building since the turn of the year.

 

“After 13 years of litigation, the Foreign Secretary’s reaction to the court’s ruling suggests a new mood in the FCO. William Hague said he would take stock of the policy of resettlement and engage positively with the Chagossians and other interested parties.”

 

Looking beyond Strasbourg and the mire of potential further legal disputes with Mauritius following last months United Nations tribunal decision, Mr. Snoxell offers the British government a way out with a solution which would satisfy all parties:

 

“The Mauritian case will not be heard until 2014. So there is plenty of scope for the FCO to say that nothing can move until these cases are resolved but, in reality, there is nothing to stop out of court settlements. The MPA could be amended to meet the legitimate interests of the Chagossians and Mauritius.”

 

 

 

 

OLIVIER BANCOULT

Dear Friends & Supporters

 

First of all, Happy New Year 2013 and best wishes to you and your family. It’s with great pleasure and determination that I want to start this year on a positive note as it is a very special year because it is our 30th anniversaries of the existence of our group CRG from 1983 to 2013.

 

We have marked our presence on behalf of our Chagossian Community and as we have always said our struggle is our pride and we believe in what we do.

 

We cannot rest on our laurels; we will pave ahead and shall definitely achieve our goal irrespective of the setbacks from the ECHR and the White House petition.

 

Our focus is on the future, we will never give up!

 

This is why we have been fully engaged in defining and consolidating our aims. Our team is increasing and more people shall be involved both natives and younger generation; responsibilities will be shared and committees will be created to look into each issue.

 

People will be given responsibilities and be in charge of an event during which they can bring their contribution for our 30th birthday.

 

(1)   Exhibition to make our existence since 1983.

(2)   Launching of a book “Blessure d’exile”

(3)   Launching of a CD all songs of base on Chagossians with

the permission of the authors.

(4)   International conference on Chagos, the way forward.

(5)   Foot ball Tournament.

(6)   A fund raising activities.

 

Brothers & Sisters, we need to be more involved as our fundamental  rights are important, day by day, people who believe in justice and who condemn violation of human rights worldwide are joining us to bring their supports to correct the wrongs done to us, we need to be more focus on awareness raising.

 

We shall definitely succeed with your support and the blessings of our ancestors. Indeed, how can we forget that in 2012 we also lost Charlesia Alexis and Lisette Talate, who dedicated their whole lives to our struggle? I am confident that we shall make them proud.

 

We are more than ever stronger today and justice shall ultimately prevail.

 

Olivier Bancoult, OSK

Chairman Chagos Refugee Group (CRG)

 

CELTIC LEAGUE

The Celtic League recently wrote to the Foreign Secretary to reiterate their support for our cause which was first pledged in July 2000.

 

“Dear Minister Hague,

 

We wrote to the FCO in 2000, following a resolution of the Celtic League annual general meeting, calling for the inhabitants of the BIOT to be allowed to return to their homeland (see copy of resolution below).

 

The initial response of the United Kingdom government was positive. However successive UK administrations have prevaricated on the matter and despite condemnation from a broad range of NGOs and the United Nations about the forced
expulsion and dispossession of the inhabitants of Diego Garcia the matter remains unresolved.

 

As recently as September 2011 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said:

 

“The Committee is deeply concerned at the State party’s position that the Convention does not apply to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The Committee further regrets that the BIOT (Immigration) Order 2004 not only bans Chagossians (Ilois) from entering Diego Garcia but also bans them from entering the outlying islands located over 100 miles away, on the grounds of national security (arts. 2 and 5(d)(i)).

 

The Committee reminds the State party that it has an obligation to ensure that the Convention is applicable in all territories under its control. In this regard, the Committee urges the State party to include information on the implementation of the Convention in the British Indian Ocean Territory in its next periodic report.

 

The Committee recommends that all discriminatory restrictions on Chagossians (Ilois) from entering Diego Garcia or other Islands on the BIOT be withdrawn.”

The United Kingdom’s failure to resolve the plight of those people, for whom she has a responsibility, who were forcibly displaced from their homes is one of the most shameful episodes in British history.

 

We urge the United Kingdom to respond to the plight of the displaced people and the calls by the United Nations for a resolution of this matter.

A copy of the original resolution sent to you over a decade ago is set out below – there have also been periodic exchanges of correspondence with the FCO which you should hold on file.

 

“This AGM

Condemns the forced removal, between 1966 and 1969 of the population of the Island of Diego Garcia from their home by the British and American governments as one of the most shameful examples of colonial exploitation.

 

Supports the campaign of the Islanders to both return to their Island home and receive compensation from the British government for their forced removal and exploitation. – July 2000.”

 

Yours sincerely,

 

J B Moffatt (Mr)

 

Director of Information
Celtic League”

 

APPEAL

Following a number of tropical cyclones which have wreaked destruction in the Indian Ocean so far in 2013, we are appealing to our supporters for funding to help Chagossians based in the region.  A number of Chagossian families have already been adversely affected by the floods which have followed.  Sabrina Jean happened to be visiting Mauritius (and was still on the island at the time of writing) at the time when some of the worst flooding occurred and will be able to provide first hand accounts of the devastation next month.

 

CHAGOS ISLANDS FOOTBALL TEAM BACK IN ACTION

The Chagos Islands Football Association have announced that they will once again be taking on Sealand.  The match will be taking place at The Old Spotted Dog Ground, 212 Upton Lane in Forest Gate, East London on Wednesday 13th March at 7.30pm. Tickets are just £3 and programmes will be available.  The team is currently busy preparing for the contest and everyone at the association wishes them well in the forthcoming fixture.

 

PETITION

We are of course still seeking more signatures which as always can be found here.