January 2011 update

The turn of the year is a good time to look both backwards and forwards so Update is pleased to print this reflection from David Snoxell:

1971 and 2004 apart, 2010 was the worst year I can remember for deception and disillusionment. It started with the rushed PR consultation exercise leading to the sudden designation of a Marine Protection Area, just before the Easter recess (despite the 253,000 Avaaz  and 1,600 MET petitioners who called for the Foreign Secretary to work with the Chagossians and Mauritius); the emergency debates which the designation triggered in both Houses on 6 April; the revelations in The Times of 22 April (‘Paradise dossier was doctored to keep deported families from their homes’); the Coalition promises in opposition to restore the right to return and work for a fair and just settlement; the Foreign Secretary’s meeting with Dr Philippa Gregory on 9 July in which he said that whilst he had taken no decision concerning the future of the Islanders it appeared  that the best solution would be for the Chagos people to return to the Outer Islands; the undermining of Coalition commitments by the FCO during the August recess; the brief elation when on 9 September Vince Cable announced that  the  Government was dropping the case at Strasbourg and that steps were being taken to ensure the return of the Chagossians, quickly overturned by the FCO; and finally the revelations on 2 December in the US Embassy cable, demonstrating that the British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos Archipelago) Commissioner and Administrator from the Overseas Territories Department of the Foreign Office saw the MPA as a means of preventing resettlement.  Then on 21 December Mauritius announced that it had taken a case against the UK to ITLOS (International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea) on the grounds that the MPA was not compatible with the UN Convention for a number of reasons, including that the leak of the US cable showed that a motive for the MPA was to make resettlement impossible. There is also an application from Olivier Bancoult to the English Courts for a Judicial Review of the MPA which a judge in November postponed until after the case in Strasbourg has been decided.As for 2011 it is to be hoped that the Coalition Government will honour its commitment to the Chagossians of a fair and just settlement.  Clearly the ball needs to be rescued from the legal long grass and the only sensible way forward is a pragmatic resolution of the issues with all the parties, through patient diplomacy and negotiation.

The first meeting this year of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Chagos will be on January 26th.

House of Commons, 20th December, 2010
Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour) To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he expects the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands to settle permanently in the British Indian Overseas Territory.

Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative.)

The Government are continuing to defend the claims for resettlement and further compensation which the Chagos Islanders have brought to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This is because we believe the arguments against allowing resettlement on the grounds of feasibility and defence security are clear and compelling. Nor do we see the case for compensation as this has already been paid in full and final settlement of all claims. Both of these issues have already been decided by the UK courts. (Mr. Bryant was Mr. Bellingham’s predecessor at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Is the point of the question to find out whether the FCO expects to lose the case in Strasbourg?)

House of Commons, 10th January 2011.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the Government of Mauritius on their claim to the Chagos archipelago.

Henry Bellingham
The UK values its bilateral relationship with Mauritius and remains keen to engage with Mauritius on a wide range of issues. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I met Prime Minister Ramgoolam on 3 June 2010 and I met Foreign Minister Boolell on 22 July 2010.The offer of a third round of bilateral talks on the British Indian Ocean Territory has been on the table since July 2009 but has not, so far, been taken up by the Mauritian Government.The UK has no doubt about its sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory which was ceded to Britain in 1814 and has been a British dependency ever since

.(This reply is rather disingenuous given that Mauritius declined to resume the talks until the proposed Marine Protection Area, which blocked the Chagossians’ right to return, was put on hold, a commitment which Gordon Brown had made to PM Ramgoolam at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October 2009.)

Dr. Philippa Gregory met William Hague, Foreign Secretary:At a meeting on January 7th 2011 at the constituency of the Secretary of State for the Foreign Office, Mr William Hague, Philippa Gregory was able to talk with Mr William Hague as she is one of his Yorkshire constituents. Mr Hague said that he was pursuing solutions to the complex and difficult problem of the exile of the Chagos people, and that his office is in the process of drawing up alternatives for him to consider. In an earlier meeting he had expressed his concern for the Chagos people and his hopes that something could be done by his government now it is in office. Philippa Gregory (patron of the UK Chagos Supporters Association) asked him to consider as a matter of urgency a new feasibility study for the return of the Chagos people to the outer islands, and gave him a copy of the ‘roadmap’ suggesting a way ahead for a study.

Report by Reuters on December 21st:Mauritius plans to contest the legality of a new marine park around the disputed Chagos islands before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the Indian Ocean islands’ prime minister said on Tuesday.Britain leased the archipelago’s biggest island, Diego Garcia, to the United States in 1966, paving the way for the construction of a huge airbase which required the forced removal in the 1960s and 1970s of some 2,000 Chagossians.The displaced islanders have waged a long legal battle for the right to return. In early December, Mauritius said it planned to summon Britain’s top diplomat in the country after a leaked U.S. cable suggested the park was a ploy to stop uprooted islanders returning home.”The marine protected area was created in violation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and is not compatible with the rights of Chagossians,” Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam told a news conference.He said a statement of claim had been sent to British Foreign Secretary William Hague.”Mauritius requests the arbitral tribunal to declare … that, in respect of the Chagos Archipelago, the Marine Protected Area is not compatible with the 1982 Convention, and is without legal effect,” he said.

(The statement of claim has been filed with the Hamburg-based tribunal and a copy handed to William Hague, UK Foreign Minister.)

Articles, both in the UK and abroad, have been about the WikiLeaks and Chagossian and Mauritian reaction to these. Several have covered the same ground as Reuters, above.

Mauritius Now carried an article by Nitesh Boodhoo and here is an extract:
The Leader of the Chagos Refugees Group, Mr Olivier Bancoult, had a lengthy meeting with Dr Navin Ramgolam yesterday at the Prime Minister’s Office in Port Louis. Mr Bancoult told NEWSNOW the main subject of the discussions was to devise a strategy to use the recent WikiLeaks revelations in the Chagossians’ case at the European High Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.“We are both looking at ways to validate these leaked documents so that they can be used in court,” Mr Bancoult said. He added that the prime minister said he pledged his support to the Chagossians and considers “very seriously” the restoration of the so called British Indian Ocean Territory… Mr Bancoult intends to send a letter to the Commissioner of Human Rights.Also on the agenda yesterday were other ways to fight the UK and US administrations over the Chagos issue. Asked whether the government would file proceedings with the UN International Court of Justice, Mr Bancoult said that it is too early to comment on that.

“We are currently concentrating on the case which is ongoing at the European High Court of Justice,” said Mr Bancoult. Prime Minister Ramgoolam recently openly expressed his views for the first time regarding the revelations by WikiLeaks about the Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos Archipelago.WikiLeaks had unravelled the “Machiavellic agenda behind the project of setting up the MPA only to keep the Chagossians away from their islands”. He maintained that the government would not let go of the issue.
From MPA News (published bimonthly by Marine Affairs Research and Education in association with the School of Marine Affairs, University of Washington), two letters:In response to your coverage of the Chagos MPA in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), we would like to highlight recent intelligence that has come to light in the wake of the cables released by the WikiLeaks website. On 1 December 2010, the Guardian newspaper published confidential cables (www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/207149) that highlighted several “diplomatic” conversations regarding this closure, including aspects discussed in an article we recently published in the journal Marine Policy entitled “Fortress conservation at sea: a commentary on the Chagos MPA” (available at http://dal.academia.edu/ElizabethDeSanto/Papers). Contrary to the UK government’s public statements, these cables show clearly that the MPA’s designation was deliberately pushed through whilst the native Chagossian case for a right to return to the islands was (and still is) pending judgment in the European Court of Human Rights. In fact the designation was described as “the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendents from resettling in the BIOT.” The Chagos MPA is not only a “fortress” park in the model of so many terrestrial parks before it that have excluded people, but quite literally a military one as well, as this correspondence clearly states that the UK and US view the entire BIOT as “reserved for military uses” – thus lending a new meaning to the term “fortress” conservation. While we recognize the tremendous ecological value of this near pristine area and support its conservation, shutting people out of decision-making on protected area designations and aligning marine conservation initiatives with officials who refer to local people as “Man Fridays” is clearly not a constructive way to build support for MPAs globally and meet international conservation targets. This arguably represents a cautionary tale for marine conservationists, in that they should beware of becoming aligned with exclusionary MPAs that have ulterior motives. Whilst the imperative of conserving such pristine marine areas is an urgent one, it is debatable whether this imperative shouldover-ride equity and human rights concerns. Maybe this is a debate we now need to have?Elizabeth De SantoAssistant Professor, Marine Affairs Program, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Peter JonesSenior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University College London, UK. .

I have read your item on the proposed MPA around the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean and I have also read Allen Vincatassin’s letter (MPA News 12:3)I am a founding member of the UK Chagos Support Association which was set up to support all Chagossians in their struggle for justice after a long exile from their homeland. Several very important points need to be made:1. I have yet to talk to any Chagossians who are against preserving their homeland, which they were achieving before a massive US military base was planted on Diego Garcia. What they wish is to be re-settled and to help with conservation and preservation. No sane person wants to destroy their own environment. The leaders of the larger Chagossian groups in Mauritius, Seychelles, and the UK have never denied the need for conservation; they object to the fact that they have been ignored and marginalised.2. Although the UK Government proclaimed that its sole aim in establishing an MPA was entirely altruistic, we now know — thanks to WikiLeaks — that it was proposed primarily as a means of keeping the Islanders in exile.3. The human animal needs preservation too, especially when its rights have been denied for decades.4. Conservation and settlement can go hand in hand as has been shown by many schemes around the world. A massive military base — and all of the people, construction, planes, and boats involved — can be accommodated in Chagos but not the rightful inhabitants? That is neither logical nor fair.Celia Whittaker.

Also in MPA News:The last remaining commercial fishing licences in the Chagos Islands expired at midnight on 31st October, following the April 2010 decision by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to designate an MPA around the Indian Ocean archipelago….This effectively makes it the world’s largest no-take marine reserve, as long as no licences are reissued. The UK’s new Coalition Government has not committed to permanent closure of the MPA, although it says it has “no plans to issue any more fishing licenses.”

The Chagos Conservation Trust held an event to celebrate the founding of the MPA, the mood of which was described as self-congratulatory. (As an association, the rights of the exiled islanders feature not at all with the CCT, although several individual members think the human species as important as non-human.) One speaker, Carl Gustaf Lundin (Head of the IUCN Marine and Polar Programme) saw enforcement of the no-take zone as a priority and he stressed that even the smallest fishing vessels should be stopped. (No fishing to eat for resettled islanders, then?)There are what the FCO refer to as “sea gypsies” in the Chagos area and here is a report from Cruise Log:Just received a radio message from a cruiser regarding visiting the BIOT Chagos archipelago. He was granted a 6 months permit to visit and anchor in Salomon and Peros Banos Atolls. In addition he was told that from the 1st January 2011, permits would only be issued for 1 monthNB. The website providing information re application to obtain permits does not mention the new limitation, which effectively puts an end to the many cruisers that spend a full sailing season in Chagos.This is the official policy of BIOT as from January 2011:”The rules governing mooring permits are due to change on 01 January 2011. The fee structure will move to a weekly fee of £50 and the maximum stay permitted will be 28 days. Applications for visits in 2011 that are received in 2010 still attract the old fee of £100 per month but the Commissioner will NOT authorise any permits of more than 3 months.”The supporter who sent UKCSA this information says:Long distance cruisers are not wealthy yacht club people, and the great majority are very conscious of the environment.  Most pride themselves on their self-sufficiency and could be of great practical help to a newly-settled community.  They are of considerable help in informing the BIOT fisheries patrol ship of illegal activity by foreign fishing boats.

The Guardian carried an article by Nicholas Watt, which was also covered by other papers, headlined: Quango chief’s dilemma: how to spend a spare £1m?Officials at UK Trade and Investment, the Whitehall body that flies the flag for British business abroad ….have been instructed to burn through a spare £1m.Sir Andrew Cahn, the quango’s chief executive, sent an email to staff saying that the Foreign Office had failed to spend all of its budget this financial year and was keen to go on a splurge.In the email, leaked to the Daily Mail, Cahn said: “The FCO is heading for an underspend and wants to get money out of the door. If we spend money in this financial year on a one-off basis then we can have at least £1m.” If UKCSA Update ran a monthly competition, then this month’s would have to be “How would YOU spend the money?”

From Glyn Ford (former labour MEP for South West England):I was invited to participate in the Third UN Minorities Forum in Geneva on December 14th/ 15th. There was a discussion on Minorities and sustainability where I took the opportunity to raise the case of the Chagossians and the new Marine Protection Area where the recent Wikileaks revelations show that the whole operation was a cynical move by the British Government to undermine the prospects of a return to the islands even if they won the ongoing case in the European Court of Justice. I was subsequently backed up by the representative of the Government of Mauritius under instruction from his Government back home adding their claim of sovereignty over the territory.

The Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) seeks to promote the educative, social, economic and cultural development of the Chagossian community and ultimately contribute to the reduction of poverty among the community through training and other micro-projects. Training sessions have been ongoing to equip and empower them and just recently a Training and Resource Centre for the Chagossian community has been built with the help of some sponsors and was inaugurated in March 2010. The following are being held:
i) Remedial courses for the pupils who attend secondary schools
ii) Training courses for women
iii) Activities to preserve and promote the heritage and cultural resources of the Chagossians through exhibitions, workshops, music, songs, drama, art, drawing and traditional meals
iv) Literacy courses in English and Creole
v) Computer courses
vi) Leadership Development courses for the CRG leadership team

The immediate need was a leadership training seminar for the young people. So a Training of Trainers was held at a retreat centre in the east of the island during the weekend of 26 to 28 November 2010.


The purpose was
:1) To develop leadership/management skills 
2) To develop capacity building
3) To develop better communication

Themes that were covered among others are:
1) What is leadership?
2) Characters of a leader
3) Empowering leadership
4) Capacity building
5) Communication skills
6) Rights of the child

1) Archbishop Ian Ernest (from the Anglican Diocese)
2) Ms. Sandrina Thondoo (from the Ombudsperson for Children’s office)
3) Mr. Thierry Leung (from Mo Pense Toi)


Friday 26 – After the words of welcome by Mr. Olivier Bancoult, CRG Leader and Rev. Mario Li Hing, Chaplain and Adviser of the CRG, Archbishop Ian Ernest led his session. Saturday 27 – Mr. Thierry Leung and Ms Sandrina Thondoo held their sessions in the morning.In the afternoon, Mr. Olivier Bancoult gave a brief history of the Chagossian struggle.  Time was also allocated for interaction and sharing. Sunday 28- An evaluation was carried out in the morning.  ActionThey all approved the setting up of a youth committee next year to look after and ensure the future of the Chagossian youth and prepare them to become agents of change in their home and community.ConclusionAll the participants were unanimous in saying that this training was very useful and that they gained a lot from it. They have acquired new skills and are better equipped to successfully rise to future challenges. They also enjoyed their time together and relationships were deepened.A big thank you to Lush Charity Pot for making this Training of Trainers possible through the funds granted and to the UK Chagos Support Association for their usual support.

Distribution by Ilois Welfare Fund BoardOn 18 December, the Ilois Welfare Fund Board distributed school materials to 650 Chagossian primary school children and foodstuffs to 225 native elderly and handicapped Chagossians.Children’s Christmas party50 Chagossian children gathered at the CRG Resource and Training Centre on 19 December for a Christmas party organised by the Lion’s Club.Distribution by Mo Pense Toi (I Think and Care about You)Mo Pense Toi distributed school materials to 166 Chagossian children from the primary and secondary schools on 22 December during its annual Christmas children’s party which was, this year, sponsored by the British High Commission in Port Louis.

During the last week of December, Mo Pense Toi made its annual distribution of bags of basic food supplies to 150 Chagossian households located in Roches Bois, Cité la Cure, Cassis, Pointe aux Sables and Tombeau Bay.

Ifield Community College Choir – In December we learnt about their day working on a project for the BBC which should have been broadcast this month but, as Patrick Allen reports:The BBC had arranged for a sound team with full rig to attend on the 4th December, but none of them arrived due to being snowed in with their outside broadcast van in Kent. The recording was left to a production assistant with one microphone on a handheld recording device, brought for interviews. The resulting recording had poor balance and didn’t do the music justice. So there is a delay….However there is an upside which is as follows:The BBC are entering the choir(and drummers) as their choice as semi-finalists for the European Broadcasting Union “Let the People Sing” competition this year; they are aiming to make the music part of a longer broadcast about the choir and drummers in the Spring; we will be sharing a concert with the BBC singers in Crawley (on June 17th) and at BBC Maida Vale Studios on June 18th. The Chagossian musicians will be a very important part of both concerts. So mixed news… but mainly good!

BOOK REVIEW from Richard Crawford (Green Party 2010 Parliamentary Candidate 2010).DAVID VINE – ISLAND OF SHAME : the secret history of the U.S. military base on Diego Garcia. Princeton University Press, 2009, 259pp., ISBN: 978-0691138695 and THE BASES OF EMPIRE : the global struggle against U.S. military posts ed. CATHERINE LUTZ, Pluto Press, 2009, 356pp., 978-0745328324David Vine gives chapter & verse on the story of the U.S. military base on Diego Garcia, the brutal expulsion of the Chagossian people from their islands to make way for it, and their struggle to return.The Chagossians are not alone in suffering in exile because of U.S. bases. ‘Strategic island bases’ were envisioned as a way of minimizing political opposition by removing islands from the sovereignty of ‘3rd World’ governments, leaving them in the hands of USA or its closest western allies, and forcibly displacing any local peoples who might protest or eventually demand the removal of a base. Vine reveals that there have been at least 16 cases of such displacement (‘strategic population cleansing’). “Almost always, these removals have led to the impoverishment of those affected”, he writes. For example, in the Marshall Islands’ Kwajalein Atoll, the U.S. moved hundreds to create a missile-testing base. Most were deported to the small island of Ebeye, where the population had numbered only 20. By 1969, with a population of 4,500, Ebeye had become the ‘ghetto of the Pacific.’ Writing in 1984, a U.S. representative compared Kwajalein to “one of our Miami resort areas, with palm-lined beaches, swimming pools, a golf-course … Ebeye, on the other hand, is an island slum, over-populated, treeless filthy lagoon, littered beaches, a dilapidated hospital, contaminated water supply, and so forth.”Much attention is being paid at present by supporters of the Chagossians on their possible return to some of the outer islands in the archipelago. A few other important questions are highlighted in these 2 books. 1) What about the right to return to the main island, Diego Garcia? Will the U.S. government accommodate demands from some Chagossians to work on the base? 2) In contravention to a U.N. prohibition on dismembering non-self-governing territories, the Chagos Islands were detached from the Territory of Mauritius prior to the U.K. granting Mauritian independence. Mauritius now claims sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. To whom should Diego Garcia really belong? Will the Chagossians ever have any say? 3) Should the U.S. be allowed to keep the base on Diego Garcia? Many thousands of troops are massed in hundreds of U.S. military bases in numerous countries across the globe. ‘The Bases of Empire’ elaborates the impacts of some of these facilities on the communities where they were established, in Latin America, Europe & Asia. Opponents of the bases have had some success:  between 1947 & 1990 the United States was asked to leave France, Yugoslavia, Iran, Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Vietnam, Indonesia, Peru, Mexico & Venezuela; since 1990, US bases have been forced to close in the Philippines, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Vieques (Puerto Rico) & Uzbekistan.However, while many Mauritians and Chagossians are opposed to the base, others do not demand the base’s closure, having an interest in claiming rent from the United States, or gaining employment & other benefits from the base.

Practically all the feedback this month has been to Rita Bancoult’s moving open letter to the British High Commissioner to Mauritius which was linked to the emailed December Update.One supporter wrote: ….. those most insulting comments revealed by WikiLeaks, merely confirm the downright prejudices certain FO staff have towards other members of the human race whom they feel can quite legitimately be cruelly treated and exploited to further the narrow aims of so-called “security” purposes. The setting up of the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group and its continuing activities is surely proof that there is growing resentment against the persistent refusal to allow “Justice” to take its course and allow the Islanders to return to the Archipelago. The same writer addressed an open letter to Mrs. Bancoult, beginning: “In response to your heart-breaking letter to a member of the British Government I would like to reassure you, if I can, that there are some people in Britain who are not unsympathetic to your wish to return to the Chagos Archipelago
from where you were so forcibly evicted by a system that still claims to be democratic.

The Annual General Meeting of the UK Chagos Support Association will be at Pizza Express 46 Moreton Street, Pimlico at 1.00 pm on 20th of February. All are welcome – please let us know if you are planning to attend so that we have an idea of numbers.

Message from the Chair of UKCSA, Roch Evenor:

As the AGM is coming up, 20th February 2011, I am hoping many Chagossians living in England and supporters will attend. This year the European Court of Human Right will be deliberating on the case in front of them. Chagossians have to come together and formulate a consensus strategy on the way forward on the two scenarios that will come out. Firstly, if we win how are we going to take our struggle forward with the Government and among ourselves? Secondly, if the verdict is against us how do we set up a campaign strategy to give more coverage to our plight? Those are the issues that we have to focus on. Philippa Gregory & Ben Fogle, UKCSA Patrons, have come together to set up a meeting with Joe Phelan, a PR & Lobbyist guru, to assist us to draft our strategies.The ‘Comite’ Chagos which comprise members from CRG, CICA, Seychelles Chagossians and UKCSA group have been meeting on a monthly basis with the aim of co-ordinating and representing Chagossians interest for those living in the UK.”