January 2009 update

  • Our most exciting and important news this month is that the inaugural meeting of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) was held on 16 December. There are 39 members so far. It was agreed that, following the split verdict by the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, it is now up to Parliament to see that a just solution is found. The APPG will have its first substantive meeting on 29 January and it is to be hoped that the new group and the Government will work closely together to bring about a just settlement for the Chagossians.

    Lib Dem MP Vince Cable commented: “the Foreign Secretary should make himself aware of the history of this issue and see what can be done for the islanders even at this late stage. Injustices can very easily fester in overseas territories because it’s been all too easy for Britain to shuffle off its responsibilities. The Chagos issue is an embarrassment that won’t go away. It would be much better if the government decided to deal with it.”

    The members of the group so far are:

    LABOUR MPs:
    John Austin
    David Borrow
    Karen Buck
    Jeremy Corbyn (Chair)
    David Drew
    Neil Gerard
    Kate Hoey
    Kelvin Hopkins
    Mark Lazarowicz
    Tony Lloyd
    Bob Marshall-Andrews
    John McDonnell
    Austin Mitchell
    Laura Moffatt
    Chris Mullin

    LABOUR PEERS:
    David Lea
    Janet Whitaker

    CONSERVATIVE MPs:
    John Bercow
    Crispin Blunt
    Peter Bottomley
    Geoffrey Cox
    Andrew Rosindell (Vice-Chair)
    Andrew Tyrie

    CONSERVATIVE PEER:
    Michael Naseby

    CROSS BENCH PEERS:
    Richard Luce
    David Ramsbotham (Vice Chair)
    Vivien Stern

    LIBERAL DEMOCRAT MPs:
    John Barrett
    Vince Cable
    Alistair Carmichael
    Andrew George (Secretary/Treasurer)
    David Heath
    Paul Keetch
    Dan Rogerson

    LIBERAL DEMOCRAT PEERS:
    Eric Avebury (Vice Chair)
    Nigel Jones
    Sarah Ludford
    David Steel
    Paul Tyler

    David Snoxell (High Commissioner to Mauritius 2000-2004) was appointed coordinator. Could supporters please continue to work on their MPs? UKCSA will be very pleased to pass the names of new recruits on to David. At least three members of Parliament have had meetings with Gillian Merron (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State) at the FCO recently to discuss their concern regarding Chagossian issues.

  • On the legal front, Richard Gifford tells us that the petition to the European Court of Human Rights, which was lodged in April 2005, has now been reactivated. Detailed submissions on jurisdiction were sent to Strasbourg and have now been “transmitted” to the UK Government. The next step will be for the Strasbourg Court to decide whether to “communicate” to the UK Government the Petition which was lodged in April 2005 but delayed while the Government exhausted all avenues of appeal in the UK. Then will follow a decision on Admissibility.

  • Towards the end of last year, Olivier Bancoult and the CRG Committee in Mauritius had a meeting with Janet Douglas of the FCO and the British High Commissioner, Dr. John Murton. Olivier said in his introduction that the Islanders still very much desired to live in their birthplace but, in the meantime, help was needed. Olivier made some representations, details of which are in the CRG Highlights 2008. If you did not receive this by e-mail, please contact us at UKCSA.

    The CRG is deeply conscious of the cruel fact that the elder generation of native-born Chagossians is fast disappearing. With this in mind, Olivier wondered if the British government could consider helping the CRG in setting up a Chagos Cultural Heritage and Resource Centre in order to preserve and promote their culture and heritage so that the history, culture, traditions and other intangible aspects of the Chagos people’s heritage and resources might not be lost.

    Janet Douglas thanked Olivier and said that she has now a better picture of the Chagossian situation. Though she is not in a position to act personally, she promised she would raise the matter and follow-up with those concerned. Other committee members then spoke in turn.

    Mimose Furcy said that she has appreciated this open dialogue between the British citizens and the British High Commission, something that did not exist before.
    Rosemond Saminaden thanked Janet Douglas and Dr. Murton and stated that as British citizens being in the same boat they should all work together hand in hand to improve the Chagossian situation.

    Dr Murton said that he has taken note of all that had been said and that he would follow up with the Chagossian community. He said that he is sensitive to their situation and he reminded them that as soon as he came into office he opened a line of communication with the Chagossians. He stated that before being British citizens he considers them as human beings.

    Olivier then gave a word of thanks and conveyed the appreciation of everyone for this open discussion.

    The High Commissioner was also a guest at Anjalay Stadium for sports day and a football tournament. Five Chagossian teams played – Cassis, Tombeau Bay, La Cure, Pointe aux Sables and Roche Bois. Roche Bois were the winners.

    Thanks to your contributions, more work has been carried out on Chagossian homes. In 2008, sixteen properties were made weatherproof and our most recent donation is being used for work on the homes of Illine Talate, Jaques Doger, Herse Bertrand, Manuel Aglae and Marie-Lourdes Jean Francois and they are most grateful. Pictures of the work done are available on application by e-mail.

  • A group of six from the Diego Garcian Society in Crawley, led by Dr Allen Vincatassin was able to visit Diego Garcia in November last. Eddy Ramdass was interviewed about this trip by “5 Plus Dimanche” (A Mauritian publication). He was thrilled and deeply moved to visit the island of his forebears. “It was a beautiful adventure. Just before landing at Diego Garcia, I cried on the plane as this trip was so important to me…..The beaches are indescribably beautiful with very fine sand and a magnificent lagoon. The climate is very pleasant and it is a paradise on earth….we were able to move freely around the islands and we were fascinated by the lush foliage, the coconut palms, fruit trees, the colourful birds and the abundance of fish.” He visited the cemetery and left a wreath there after praying. He was deeply upset by the ruinous state of former Chagossian homes and hoped with all his heart that the problems regarding resettlement would soon be solved.

  • Watch out for next month’s update, when we should be able to give you some extracts from newly declassified US State Department material concerning Diego Garcia.