February 2014 update

CHAGOS NEWSLETTER FEBRUARY 2014

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 41st meeting on 26 February 2014. A new member, Chris Kelly MP, was welcomed.

 

The Group considered the final terms of reference (ToRs) of the new feasibility study, issued by the FCO on 30 January. Members felt that the ToRs adequately covered the requirements. They were disappointed that Chagossians would not be included in the visit of the consultants to the Islands, which would have given an opportunity for the consultants to interact with Chagossians in their homeland. They looked forward to hearing which Consultants had been selected. Given that their first task would be to produce an ‘inception report’ within 4 weeks, the Group assumed that this period was included within the envisaged 12 months for completion of the study. APPG members remained concerned that the study might not be ready in time for decisions to be taken before the next election. They recalled the enactment, without any consultation with Parliament, of the MPA on 1 April 2010, five weeks before the last election. They felt that this time there should be sufficient time for parliamentary debate before decisions were taken. They called on the Foreign Secretary to ensure that the study was completed by 31 December 2014. Members felt that political oversight was as important as the scientific and environmental research, much of which was already available in previous reports. They looked forward to an ongoing dialogue with Mark Simmonds, the FCO Minster responsible for the OTs.

 

Members were pleased to note that the US was being kept closely informed and that they had not objected to Diego Garcia being considered for resettlement. They urged that Mauritius should also be closely involved. They took the view that discussions with Mauritius about the future of the Islands should continue in parallel so that when the study was completed there would be an understanding between both countries on the way forward, while acknowledging that the Mauritian case against the MPA, which is due to be heard by an Arbitral Tribunal in Istanbul on 22 April, would need to be determined first. The Group expressed the hope that all issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and of the Islands should be resolved before next year’s election. They noted that 2015 would be the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of BIOT.

 

The Group considered legal developments concerning the Judicial Review of the the MPA which would be heard by the Court of Appeal, 31 March-1 April, and also the case before the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) on the applicability of EIRs and FOI to BIOT, on 1 May. They noted that the MPA would be four years old on 1 April and that until the litigation was concluded it remained in legal limbo. The Group believed that the MPA could only be effective with the cooperation of the Chagossians and Mauritius, particularly over the development of a Conservation Plan for the MPA, but was pleased to note that the ToRs of the Feasibility Study made provision for amendment of the Ordinances governing the nature of the MPA.

 

The Group was informed that the Foreign Secretary had declined to set aside the judgment of the House of Lords of October 2008 and that an application would therefore be made to the Supreme Court to re-open the case on the grounds of an alleged miscarriage of justice, arising from the 2002 flawed feasibility study.

 

The next meeting of the Group is on 30 April.

 

David Snoxell

Coordinator.

 

FEASIBILITY STUDY TERMS OF REFERENCE: FINAL VERSION PUBLISHED

On the 19th November Mark Simmonds made a written statement to Parliament announcing that a draft version of the terms of reference for the forthcoming feasibility study had been published.  Last month in this newsletter, we raised concerns that delays threatened to derail our new found optimism.  A few hours after our January edition was published, the Foreign Office formally published the final version of the terms of reference.  A full copy is attached to this month’s edition of the newsletter.

 

DAVID SNOXELL RESPONSE TO CCT STATEMENT

The Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) statement of 21st February is clearly designed to influence the consultants, who will be announced shortly, and needs to be treated with caution. It begins by welcoming the new feasibility study and proceeds via tendentious claims, non sequiturs and bias to refute “erroneous science”. Clearly the underlying theme is to suggest that resettlement is not feasible. A few examples though there are probably others:

 

1. 3rd para of introduction states that the “nearly intact reef system is due largely to the lack of exploitation during the last 45 years”, thus linking this phenomenon to the removal of the population 45 years ago. But the fact that for nearly two centuries before their removal the reefs remained intact is not mentioned.

 

2. Para 1 informs us that twenty years ago the estimate of the number who would want to live in Chagos was 15 but it does not say where this estimate comes from.

 

3. I have not been able to penetrate the meaning of CCT’s recommendation in para 3.

 

4. Para 4 states that “Attempts to do too much would be damaging for the natural environment, and for the survival and stability of a returning population”. What does this imply?

 

5. Para 4 (2nd para) states “Fishing accounts for just 40kg of biomass per day” but does this refer to the pelagic or reef fishery or both? Based upon the data that MRAG have collected for DG recreational fishery, the true value is nearer 100 kg per day over the last 6 years, and when shore fishing is taken into account could be double this (Dunne et al 2014 in prep). There is also evidence that reef fish at Diego Garcia have been significantly depleted (Graham et al 2013).

 

6. Para 4 also refers to the cost of engineering on Diego Garcia “to combat the effects of sea level rise and erosion”. Much of the engineering is a consequence of the US development of the island and is not solely attributable to these natural processes. And since there is no evidence of sea level rise in Chagos, the costs can only relate to other activities such as combating erosion. The basis for all this can be found in consultant reports to the US Navy.

 

7. The absence of reference to the coral blasting of DG and the possible need to examine its effects on the coral environment is a significant omission. To assert that the base is irrelevant ignores the lessons to be learned from e.g. coral regeneration.

 

8. Para 5 on “erroneous science” refers to “recent papers by opponents of the MPA” but there are no papers by ‘opponents’. All agree with the value of an MPA but some would like it to take account of Chagossian and Mauritian interests. Also the para appears to claim that the only expert analysis of sea-level rise (Dunne, Barbosa and Woodworth 2012) contains “quite incorrect statements”. Woodworth has recently provided a short brief for the BIOT SAG which CCT have put on their website. But he has not revised any of his and his co-authors’ original conclusions see Dunne’s commentary at – https://sites.google.com/site/thechagosarchipelago2/chagos-science/sea-level/update-2014

 

9. Final para: “the MPA began more than 40 years after the Chagossian communities had left the Islands” – the implication is that Chagossians left of their own volition. Note that “CCT has well established plans to expand” their outreach and caring for Chagossians in Mauritius. It does not say whether this generous assistance would be acceptable to Chagossians in Mauritius or who will pay for it.

 

David Snoxell, 24 Feb 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAGOS ISLANDERS “WILL NOT GIVE UP” FIGHT TO RETURN HOME

The MPA came under further attack in the form of a piece from the Inter Press Service news agency with an article by Nasseem Ackbarally.  Published last week, Ackbarally looks ahead to the next stage of the legal battle which commences at the end of next month at the High Court in London and includes contributions from Olivier Bancoult, Richard Dunne and Richard Gifford.

 

“Following a feasibility study in 2002, the FCO concluded that resettlement on the Chagos archipelago was unfeasible due to the islands’ low elevation and “the islands are already subject to regular overtopping events, flooding and erosion of the outer beaches.” It also said that “as global warming develops, these events are likely to increase in severity and regularity.”

However, scientists Richard Dunne and Barbara Brown, who have been working on coral reefs in the Indian Ocean for several decades, do not agree.  Dunne tells IPS that the British government has been presenting these findings to Parliament, court and the public for the last 10 years as an argument against the resettlement of the Chagossians back in their homeland.

“We now know that the feasibility study was scientifically flawed and that little reliance can be placed upon its conclusions,” Dunne says, adding that this may be partly the reason why the FCO is undertaking a new feasibility study this year.

“The Chagos are low-lying coral islands with a mean elevation above sea-level of only about two metres. As a consequence, they are like the Maldives to the north — very susceptible to changes in mean sea-level, storms, erosion and flooding,” Dunne affirms.

MATCH OF THE DAY

Our Chagos Islands football team were finally back in action last weekend, once again taking on Sealand in another international friendly.  Having seen off the Sealanders 3-1 two years ago, it would appear that they have been smarting from their defeat and inflicted a bit of history on us.  The 4-2 defeat was the first time our side had ever lost a game.  As a supporter observed at the time, we had to let the other teams win sooner or later, otherwise nobody would agree to play us anymore (!)

 

We were contacted ahead of the match by a photographer called Rachel Megawhat who has kindly uploaded the pictures from the day.  We would also like to thank everyone who made the day possible, including a special thank you to Kits 4 Causes who made the very generous gesture of providing our team with a kit to play the match.

 

A brilliant day was had by all and the match took place just a few days after the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) accepted our very own side as part of its umbrella organisation of non-FIFA affiliated nations.

 

 

 

UK CHAGOS SUPPORT ASSOCIATION ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

As announced last month, the 2014 AGM of the UKChSA will be taking place on Sunday 6th April 2014.  We can now confirm that the meeting will be taking place once again in the basement function room of Pizza Express in Pimlico and will commence at 12pm.  We hope as many of our wonderful supporters as possible will be available to join us this year.