January 2012 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 26th meeting on 15 December 2011 in Parliament.

The meeting was preceded by a 45 minute meeting with the Foreign Secretary in the FCO, attended by 8 members from all parties and both Houses, the Coordinator and two officials from Overseas Territories Department.

Members expressed their views on a wide range of issues including review of the 1966 UK/US agreement, defence and security, pre-election Coalition commitments to the Chagossians, the case at Strasbourg, the UK’s human rights obligations, feasibility of resettlement (sea-levels etc), availability of funding, the need for a new independent study, the legitimacy of the MPA, conservation and future sovereignty. Members urged the Foreign Secretary to discuss any US defence concerns with Hilary Clinton directly and to seize the opportunity of the 2014 review of the 1966 agreement in order to make provision for the return of the Chagossians to the Outer Islands. The Chairman of the APPG suggested that one way of making progress would be to establish in the FCO a cross cutting unit, independent of Overseas Territories Department, which would bring all issues from human rights to conservation together, dedicated to bringing about an overall settlement, and which would call on expertise from outside the FCO. With political will and compromise, solutions could be found. It was pointed out that a speech by the Foreign Secretary entitled ‘The best Diplomatic Service in the world: strengthening the FCO’ noted that “our diplomats excel at finding deft, realistic and workable solutions”. This offered cause for optimism.

Mr Hague acknowledged that participants represented a wide cross section of Parliament and that they possessed in-depth knowledge and considerable experience of the issues. He had listened carefully to their suggestions but whilst he was sympathetic to many of the views expressed he could not take matters forward until the court cases had been concluded when a different situation could prevail. He understood that a decision by Strasbourg might take until the early summer. Members urged him, in the meantime, to take forward discussions with the US and Mauritius. Mr Hague reiterated FCO positions on defence and feasibility, whilst recognising that the practical aspect of resettlement was secondary to the principle of the right to return. He mentioned the strengthening of links between the FCO and Chagossian groups through meetings and visits. Mr Hague agreed to a further meeting with the Group after the ECtHR had given its decision. The Chairman thanked the Foreign Secretary for a cordial meeting and said that the Group would write to him about the issues which members had raised. Mr Hague welcomed this.

The subsequent meeting of the APPG reviewed the meeting with the Foreign Secretary and felt that it had been useful and encouraging. It was agreed that the Chairman would table a request for a 90 minute Commons debate early next year. The APPG took note of the Chairman’s response, on behalf of the Group, to the FCO Consultation on the Overseas Territories. The Coordinator reported on the Linnean Society and CCT MPA conference on 24 November which he had attended on behalf of the Group, and also on his recent visit to Strasbourg.

The next meeting will be on 1 February.

David Snoxell

Coordinator.

 

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION.

House of Commons

Foreign and Commonwealth Office – written answer

10th January 2012

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the total legal costs have been incurred to date by his Department in defending actions brought by the Chagos Islanders; and what the cost to date to the public purse is of the case before the European Court of Human Rights.
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
Legal costs incurred by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in defending cases brought by Chagossians are £1,757,390.92, inc VAT, since 2001. We do not hold easily accessible figures for the Vencatassen case brought in 1975.
Additionally, the costs to the public purse related to the European Court of Human Rights case are £32,377 ex VAT. These figures do not include legal aid to the plaintiffs.

 

(UKChSA is a little surprised by this reply as the FCO said in 2007, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, that costs were then in excess of £2,171,000.)

 

UKChSA PROPOSED FUNDING GUIDELINES.

This Association is eager to give donations of up to £200 for any project aimed at supporting Chagossian groups or individuals but we need to assess and monitor these projects for our supporters and donors.

Those seeking funding should answer the following and send it to Peri, the Treasurer, for processing.

Please take time to answer these questions in a short statement of no more than 300 words:

  1. How much is needed in UK£s
  2. Exactly what is it for?
  3. For how long will the project last?
  4. Who is expected to benefit?
  5. If the UKChSA Committee requires any further information from you, we will request it before making a decision. The Treasurer will then act on that decision.

Please note that we will require all those who receive funding to send a short report to the Committee giving feedback on the completed project outcomes (photographs are welcome if appropriate.) This should not be more than 500 words.

 

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

The AGM of this organisation will be held on Sunday February 12th at 13.00. The venue is Pizza Express, 46, Moreton Street, Pimlico. All supporters are welcome but please let us know if you plan on being there so that we have some idea of numbers. If you wish to buy yourself lunch before the meeting, Pizza Express opens at 11.30.

Whilst in London for the AGM, you might like to visit the theatre……

‘A Few Man Fridays’, written and directed by Adrian Jackson, is at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, from 10 Feb 2012 – 10 Mar 2012. Designed by Fred Meller, music and soundtrack by David Baird, produced by Cardboard Citizens.                                                                                                                    Gareth Forman writes: ‘A Few Man Fridays’ is a tale on the large scale; of global expediency for which the entire population of a chain of tropical islands, the Chagos Archipelago, was made homeless as part of the game of nations; of the power of fear and of the price of conservation. A Few Man Fridays is also a tale on the small scale; of Prosper, a man without family who needs to know his own story; of the blindness of best intentions and of the individuals who had to leave. It is a story of convenient fictions, seen through the eyes of those with a personal interest; Prosper in Crawley, Stu in the US State Department, Conservationist Teddy, and Chagossian Madame Lisette Talate. The play reveals the shocking chronicle of who lied, who believed them, who colluded and who suffered in the expulsion from their homes of a people described by the Foreign Office in 1966 as ‘a few Tarzans and Man Fridays’.  Set against documented history, Adrian Jackson re-imagines the shocking events which began in the age of Cold War secrets and will end in the era of global warming.

Sadly, the real Madame Lisette Talate has recently died after a long struggle for justice for herself and all Chagossian people. Sylvia Edouard-Gundowry, who interviewed Lisette for Mauritian radio a few years ago, wrote in Le Mauricien:

“She was very petite, almost fragile in nature and second, there was not even a flicker of a smile on her face throughout the whole interview. It is only now that I have learned something of the history of Chagossians that I understand why she did not smile. She was carrying the heavy weight of ‘sagrin’ – a ‘sagrin’ from which she never recovered.”

NEWS FROM MAURITIUS :

Olivier Bancoult  paid a moving tribute to Mrs. Talate at her funeral and included the suggestion that a monument should be raised to her. The Council of Port-Louis, Mauritius, have agreed and will commemorate Mrs. Talate and all the women who participated in the demonstrations and hunger strike. The monument will be in Jardin la Companies, Port Louis where the domonstrations took place. It will be a tribute to all who have been involved in the Chagossian struggle and Olivier welcomes suggestions as to what form the monument should take.

Sadly, Elodi Jaffar also passed away in January. She is the mother of Adline Jaffar, a committee member of CRG and Comite Chagos in the UK.

UKChSA extends deep sympathy to all grieving relatives and friends.

 

As leader of the CRG, Olivier sent a message at the end of last year summarising some of their activities.

1.He had attended the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa.

2. He restated the CRG’s commitment to better education – two students have been admitted to Mauritius University and two, with the help of the Prime Minister, to a private university.

3. The CRG, together with the British Council have started a number of classes.

4. Computer Club started with 55 students and 12 adult members who were given a three month course.

5. Adult literacy course was given to 17 adults by volunteers from the Proect Trust and Dr. Laura Jeffery.

6. Another Computer Club was started in Baie du Tombeau Chagossians Community Centre with nine computers and free internet access.

7. Chagos Welfare Fund is a success.

8. Elderly Chagossians are also a priority  and 115 gathered for a residential seminar at the beginning of September. Residents in homes are regularly visited.

9. Seminars were run for 137 young Chagossians in Pointe aux sables and Pointe Jerome to explore different issues.

10 Over Christmas, young Chagossian volunteers were involved in cleaning and painting homes of the elderly.

11. Many outings were organised for primary age children.

12. Close ties are being built with the people of Agalega who have Chagossian roots.

13. Olivier visited the UK in October where he had meetings with CRG UK, Henry Smith MP for Crawley, and the Chagossian legal team to discuss the Strasbourg case and the challenge to the Marine Protection Area.

He ended his message by saying he hoped the coming year would bring justice and that Chagossians would be able celebrate Christmas in their homeland soon.

 

NEWS FROM CRAWLEY

Dear all, 

I would like to invite you to a Book Launch on the 24th of January at 7 p.m. in  Crawley Library. The title of the book is ‘Chagos Islanders in Mauritius and the UK Forced Displacement and Onward Migration’. The author is Dr. Laura Jeffery.

Sabrina Jean.

Chair of CRG, UK branch.

 

The Chagos Football Team is still looking for sponsors and donations to help with expenses. They have made a very good start and are most enthusiastic. Please contact UKChSA for account details if you can help them.

 

FEEDBACK

Thank you to those of you who made your views known to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (two of which are quoted below) during their consultation period on Overseas Territories. The remit of the consultation was :

To strengthen the engagement and interaction between the UK and the Territories.

To work with Territories to strengthen good governance arrangements, public financial management and economic planning where this is necessary ; and

To improve the quality and range of support available to the Territories.

Several supporters have pointed out how unlikely that is with regard to the Chagossians, given the FCO’s track record so far.

 

 

Anthony Cheke wrote under ‘Additional Comments’:

In the first post  in this series Brian Riches (UK) asked “How many other countries have fourteen overseas territories that remain connected because of the wishes of their peoples?” and, oddly, includes the British Indian Ocean Territory, also known as the Chagos islands, in his list. Perhaps it has slipped his mind that the peoples of the Chagos were unceremoniously exiled from there 40 years ago by the British government and have since led a scattered and often impoverished existence in Mauritius, Seychelles and UK. Since the excuse for this ‘cleansing’, the US base on Diego Garcia, is a hundred miles from the rest of the islands, surely it is long overdue for the current government, long removed in time and context from the original events, to right this long standing wrong, and allow the Chagossians to return. The Queen’s 60th jubilee year in 2012 would be an ideal time to announce a reversal of this injustice, one that would be welcomed not only by the Chagossians themselves, but also by the numerous Britons who have been embarrassed so long by this cynical, outdated and undemocratic exercise of realpolitik.

 

On the FCO site, Dr. George Beckmann wrote:

I am deeply concerned about the plight of the Chagos islanders, who were cruelly expelled from their homeland by the British Government between 1967 and 1973, to make way for a United States military base on Diego Garcia.

Apparently, the US would have no objection to their returning to the outer islands, and perhaps even to Diego Garcia. It is therefore difficult to understand why the present Government is not proceeding with repatriation, particularly because both the Conservative and Liberals supported this objective whilst they were in opposition.

I believe that the removal of the Islanders was in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The 60th anniversary of its adoption by the UN was celebrated in an Open Day in your offices on 1st December 2008, but, puzzlingly, there was no mention of the British Government’s own breach of it.

Thus I believe that correction of the injustice which has been done to the Islanders would restore the moral integrity of our country, both here and abroad.

The Prime Minister has recently stated that he guarantees to protect, defend, and cherish the loyal subjects of the Overseas Territories.

I therefore call upon you, with great respect, to repatriate the Islanders.

 

All the UK papers reported just before Christmas on mounting tension between Argentina and The Falklands. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, as George noted above, made extremely positive statements in support of the Falkland Islanders, saying ‘Let me be absolutely clear, we will always maintain our commitment to you on any question of sovereignty. Your right to self-determination is the cornerstone of our policy. We will never negotiate on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless you so wish. No democracy could ever do otherwise.’

What a shame the Chagos Islanders, who were cruelly exiled by the UK government, do not get this kind of support.

 

Update is pleased to report that one of our longest and more senior supporters, John Loader, is still working hard for the cause:

John Loader and his son-in-law, Alan Donaldson recently gave a talk to a Hexham Women’s Institute. It was entitled: “Diego Garcia, A Few Wartime Memories”. The first half of the talk deals with John’s service on Diego Garcia in 1945 and uses his DVD that many of us have seen to show life on the island in those times. The second half deals with the plight of the Chagossians and their efforts to return. The talk finishes with John Pilger’s introduction to his documentary “Stealing A Nation”. The group were then presented with copies of both DVDs. The audience were clearly very moved and shocked by the way the Chagossians have been treated. A local secretary then booked John and Alan to give talks to nine other local groups! They also made a donation of £20 to the Support Group. John and Alan believe that the W.I.s can be a powerful force and hope to enlighten many more groups of the Chagossian plight.

 

 

John also wrote to the Daily Mail recently:

            I read with interest your article dated; 12th January, “Europe’s War on British Justice”, criticising the European Court of Human Rights for altering British court judgements.

            I should like to point out one example where a population was inhumanly treated by the British Government and that their only hope is for this Court to overturn a British court judgement.

            In The Second World War I served with the RAF on Diego Garcia, an island in the Chagos Archipelago and owned by Britain. It was an island paradise, occupied by Chagossians, who enjoyed their peaceful way of life on this group of islands. In the 1960s, under the Government of the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, they were evicted from their homeland to make way for the building of an American airbase on Diego Garcia. Their livestock and pets were killed and due to totally inadequate compensation, they were destined to live in squalor on the Island of Mauritius, where many have since died. For years they have fought to return, if not to the island with the airbase, to other islands in the archipelago and in due course the British courts judged that they had been wronged and should be allowed to return. The British Government then through the devious method of “Orders in Council” reversed this decision and they have once again been prevented from returning.  Their only hope is that the European Court of Human Rights will overturn this appalling action and allow them to return to where they belong.

            Although some of the actions of the European Court seem unusual, it is the final place for justice for many and surely this is one case where a reversal of a decision is essential and right!