January 2003 update

HIGH COURT CASE : we are eagerly waiting the judgement of the High Court case in which the Chagossians are suing for compensation and return of their property. Many Islanders, including Olivier, came to London last Autumn as witnesses. There was a little coverage of the case on Radio 4 news and an article, with photograph, in the Guardian.

Sylvia, our treasurer, was able to visit the Chagossians in London and several of the Swiss group also came over. A London member, John Houghton, did sterling work arranging all the transport to and from the airports. We are most grateful.

KATE (the Oxford student who is writing her thesis on the Chagossians and visited Mauritius in the Summer) was also able to spend time renewing friendships in London and took the Chagossians on a sight-seeing tour. Well done, Kate.

LAURA, the Cambridge graduate who is doing her Ph.D. on the Chagossians, is now settled in Mauritius where she is working in the CRG office. She has set up an access database and doing some data-inputting of relevant information about Chagos Refugees. She is also learning Creola and thinking of starting English classes. Well done, Laura.

As well as travelling to the U.K., our President, OLIVIER, has been to Rome where he was graciously granted an audience with His Holiness, the Pope.

We have now received a review of the Feasibility Study (2B) by Jonathan Jenness M.A.(Harvard). He is NOT happy with the study for many reasons and concludes “The present feasibility process is not of good standard, and not uniformly objective. It ignores the historical record of the benign environment of the Chagos and comes to conclusion on the basis of imagined disasters. Importantly, it shows no concern for the opinions and aspirations of the Ilois, a population largely overlooked for 30 years, but whose views should have been incorporated in any feasibility study dealing with resettlement.” He is annoyed by the way the study continually cites worse case scenarios as if they are to be expected, especially with regard to climate. Surely, had it been such an environmental disaster area, weather-wise, the U.S. would never have wanted to site a huge base there?

FRIENDS OF THE CHAGOS: this purely environmental group should not be confused with our organisation! Our Chairman, Paul, attended a Symposium organised by this group last October which he found most interesting and informative. Also present was the environmental scientist, David Stoddert, who expresses shock at the shortcomings of the Feasibility Study. A Chagos Conservation Plan was discussed – hopefully, provision will be made for a degree of resettlement.

Whilst at the above meeting, Paul met Spencer David Vincatassin of the Diego Garcia Island Council. Olivier, too, talked with M.Vincatassin last year. Hopefully, the D.G.I.C. and the C.R.G. will move closer together in the near future and perhaps form a united front and, maybe, an administration in waiting.

EU MONEY: Several of us are still trying to find out (via the Foreign Office and our M.P.s) why the U.K. Government has not tried to access the large amount of money set aside by the EU to “support humanitarian, emergency and refugee aid” to benefit the Chagossians. This money is specifically allocated for the use of Overseas Territories.

ISLANDS QUIZ: This was won by Mrs. Jean Williams of Leyland. If you would like a copy of the answers then please send me a s.a.e. (Celia Whittaker, Secretary). Thank you to everyone who sold sheets and took the time to answer them – hope you enjoyed it.

MARGARET BROWN gave a talk to a Friends (Quaker) Group and they donated the collection that day to our funds. A grand total of £159. Well done, Margaret and thank you to everyone who has helped us by raising or donating money. By far our greatest expense last year was helping with transport for Chagossians coming to the Court Case.

PRESIDENT BUSH: we have heard a rumour that President Bush plans a visit to Mauritius soon – will he find time to see what his base meant to innocent islanders? We also notice that the U.S. is planning to increase the number of planes based on Diego Garcia and to include B2 Stealth Bombers.

SUGGESTION: Can members please keep the plight of the Chagossians in their MPs’ minds and may I suggest that letters to the U.S. Ambassador (Grosvenor Square, London) asking why they will not allow the Chagossians even a brief visit to their ancestors graves on Diego Garcia could be useful? If you get a reply, please share it with us!

CONFERENCE IN BERMUDA! 22-27th. March 2003 – The U.K. Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. This international environment conference will discuss, amongst other things, climate change and its implications for small islands such as the Chagos Archipelago. A delegate may be attending who can give the Chagossian point of view regarding climate change. Should anyone wish to learn more about the “Friends of the U.K. Overseas Territories”, which links interested people to the aforementioned Forum, their website is: www.ukotcf.org/friends

Next meeting has been arranged for 23rd March 2003 at the Friends Meeting in Keighley.

All the committee wish you health and happiness for 2003.

Paul, Sylvia, Margaret and Celia