January 2014 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group will hold its 41st meeting on 26th February 2014.  Due to the Parliamentary recess we only have one written question, from the Crossbencher Lord Luce, to bring you up to date with this month:

 

“what steps they are taking, in respect of public documents for which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is responsible, to meet their commitment to reduce the period of retention from 30 to 20 years; and

 

when they expect to release to the National Archives documents relating to Mauritius and the British Indian Ocean Territory for years later than 1980.”

 

This was answered on the 15th January by the Conservatives’ Baroness Warsi:

 

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), like all Government departments, is required to achieve the release of its records at the 20-year mark by transferring two years’ of selected records to the National Archives (TNA) over every year of the transitional period (2013-2022).

Work on the release of colonial administration files over the 2011-2013 period has regrettably caused a backlog in the regular annual transfer of FCO departmental files to TNA. The colonial files project was completed in November 2013 and we have now deployed all of our file transfer resources onto annual release. We publish the order in which we will be transferring files to the TNA on our website at: www.gov.uk/archive-records.

FCO departmental files relating to Mauritius and the British Indian Ocean Territory form part of the FCO 31 class (Eastern Africa) at TNA. We expect 1981 and 1982 FCO 31 files to transfer to the TNA later this year following which the TNA will require a further period to prepare the files for public release. We are working closely with the TNA on the transfer of files in the FCO 31 class for later years.”

FCO DELAYS THREATEN TO DERAIL NEW HOPES

Back in November, Mark Simmonds made a written statement to Parliament confirming that a draft version of the terms of reference for the forthcoming feasibility study had been published.  At the time of writing we are still waiting for the Foreign Office (FCO) to formally publish a final version of this.  As has already been highlighted, the timetable for the study was precariously narrow.  The next General Election is now under 15 months away and there is a real danger that the process will be commenced only to be abandoned prior to competition.  This would be a disaster for all concerned and the Association calls on the FCO to urgently address this matter so that the feasibility study commences and completes on time.

 

COMMITTEE REPORT ON SUSTAINABILITY IN THE OVERSEAS TERRITORIES

Earlier this month, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee released its report into sustainability in the Overseas Territories.  This came in the form of its Tenth Report for the Parliamentary session of 2013-14.  Following on from the release of the Security, Success and Sustainability Government White Paper published in June 2012, this was specifically tasked with analysing the UK’s relationship with her Overseas Territories in terms of her environmental responsibilities and obligations.

 

The overall theme of the report appears to be holding up the Marine Protection Area (MPA) around the Chagos Islands as being a shining example of good management of marine resources.  However the report also highlights that over three years after the MPA was created, sufficient legislation to uphold its existence was still lacking:

 

“Although commercial fishing licences are no longer issued in BIOT, legislation to prohibit extractive activities such as commercial fishing or marine mining has still not been enacted.  Defra and the FCO must complete the legal protections for the marine

environment in BIOT by prohibiting all extractive activities.” 

 

Page 98 of Volume I scathingly denounced the MPA as:

 

“..in legal terms, little more than a name.”

 

One can only wonder what our legal team will make of that, ahead of further action in March at the High Court.

 

During its written evidence, the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF) emphatically declared its support for the MPA around the Islands, although did point out that it:

 

“…regrets some of the ways in which this was implemented, particularly the unwise and improper comments by the then FCO Director of Overseas Territories which indicated that the designation was a means of preventing re-settlement by Chagossians.”

 

 

 

As part of the same submission it also noted that it did not:

 

“…share the view that the whole of marine protected areas should necessarily be no-take zones, although it would be surprising if all such areas did not include large no-take zones.”

 

The Marine Reserves Coalition makes reference to the “highly protected Chagos Marine Reserve” during its written evidence, without intentionally intending to lighten the mood of a laborious task of wading through the report.  This is some feat given that a member of the coalition includes Greenpeace UK, whom one assumes would have been informed of the comments of Greenpeace International regarding the illegal fishing in the region which still continues unchecked.  Is this another coalition heading for condemnation?

 

The Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) cites its work in the Chagos Islands and highlights the participation of Chagossians in its projects.

 

“CCT with its CEN partners has encouraged various initiatives…to increase dramatically the number of science expeditions to BIOT for environmental monitoring and research, and to involve and train people of Chagossian descent in conservation work. A successful pilot project on the latter has already been completed by ZSL and its partners for Chagossians living in the UK (Crawley and Manchester), which we hope will be continued into future years…”

 

Regretfully their evidence makes no reference to the fact that an overwhelming majority of Chagossians continues to reject the prospect of attending Zoological Society (ZSL) workshops.  This is largely because the CCT, CEN & ZSL have all repeatedly maintained that the MPA must exist as a no-take fishing zone.

 

It was a mighty document, spanning some 258 pages across two volumes, with The Guardian’s Damian Carrington being the first to digest its contents successfully.  The conclusion was that the UK Government was not doing enough to safeguard the rare wildlife which existed in the Overseas Territories and that legislation was the only way to remedy the situation.

 

DIEGO GARCIA EXPANSION UNDERWAY?

Some very interesting news was brought to our attention thanks to our ever increasing reach on the Twitter platform, the significance of which seems to have slipped largely under the radar in the wider media.  Defi Media Group report that 40,000 tonnes of rocks are being exported from Mauritius to Diego Garcia with the intention of filling in sea area to enable expansion of the military base.  Furthermore Mauritian Foreign Affairs Minister Arvin Boolell seemed entirely relaxed about the news and stressed that the common arrangement did not jeopardise their own claims for sovereignty over the islands.

 

That may be the case, but the British Government has continued to pledge publicly that no decision has been taken over the future of the base beyond 2016 and that once the issue is on the table, Parliament will be consulted and kept informed.  For a decision which is not yet taken, this would appear to be a very pre-emptive decision by the US Government to expand the base if it did not already know what the future of the Islands would hold beyond the existing lease.

 

Pertinent questions do remain over this rather unusual cargo which is being exported to the Chagos Islands in such vast volumes.

 

THE PLIGHT OF THE CHAGOSSIANS

The independent journalist Jennifer Kennedy marked the beginning of the year with an interview with Bernadette Dugassee as part of a wider piece in Intercontinental Cry (IC) describing the tragedy of the Chagossians.

 

“Chagossians who resettled in Seychelles have never been compensated, including Dugasse, who says she has ‘not received a penny’ from the British Government. The ECHR argued that those who had not claimed compensation should have done so in the British courts. But, when a group of 4,500 islanders tried to claim compensation from the government in 2002, the case was struck out in 2003 on the grounds that the case was ‘unmeritorious’.

 

Speaking to IC about the ECHR’s ruling, she said: ‘My expectation was very high, I feel so depressed, so sad. It was not the answer I was hoping for… As a Chagossian born on the island [of Diego Garcia] I never renounced my right [to return] and I never received any compensation.’

 

In 2011, Bernadette visited Diego Garcia for the first and only time in 52 years. Describing the experience of seeing her homeland she said: ‘When I wake up in the morning I can feel the fresh air, I can feel the warm sunshine on me, I can feel free. I am not free here, I was not free in Seychelles but I am free on Diego Garcia.’

 

Bernadette’s visit was brief but the islanders’ struggle for justice has continued. After the disappointing result in the ECHR, the British Government, which has always argued that resettlement would cost the taxpayer, and compromise the environment of the BIOT, has agreed to conduct a feasibility study.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PETER HARRIS

Long time supporter and researcher Peter Harris picked up from where he left off in his piece in Green Futures Magazine in September.  Writing on the shared research forum Academia, he questioned the authenticity of such conservation studies.

 

Once again Peter’s engaging views on the future of the base on the islands do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association:

 

“There are also conservationist grounds for opposing the resettlement of BIOT, however. Several scientists (including some of those most intimately acquainted with the Chagos Archipelago) suggest that resettlement of BIOT is too costly to countenance when viewed from the perspective of environmental science—their chief argument being that human habitation of Chagos would deprive scientists of a unique benchmark against which to measure the health of coral reefs elsewhere. Such scientists have over recent years become unlikely allies in the FCO’s bid to oppose the Chagossians’ right of return. This axis was tightest with Labour’s David Miliband as Foreign Secretary, a politician reputed to have valued the Chagos Islands as a way to obtain a “green” legacy for himself. A coalition of respected environmental and conservation groups known as the Chagos Environment Network (CEN) campaigned for the no-take MPA in Chagos that was ultimately created in April 2010, over the opposition of most Chagossian groups and their supporters and in the face of concerns that this MPA represents a neo-colonial return to ‘fortress conservation’.

 

The Chagossians have been unsuccessful in securing a right to resettle their homeland through the courts. In 2008, the Law Lords upheld the Government’s right to exile the islanders from BIOT. In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights declined to hear the islanders’ case on jurisdictional grounds. In 2013, the High Court dismissed the Chagossians’ Judicial Review claim, in which they had argued that the Chagos MPA was unlawful because it was intended as a barrier to resettlement. Nevertheless, the announcement of a new feasibility study means that a political equilibrium in favour of the Chagossians’ claims may yet emerge. Numerous MPs and peers are already organized in support of the Chagossians, dozens as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands headed by Jeremy Corbyn MP and coordinated by David Snoxell, a former High Commissioner to Mauritius and BIOT Commissioner. Indeed, critics abound of the way that the UK and the USA currently run BIOT on account of the Chagossians’ ongoing exile, and of allegations that Diego Garcia has been used as a CIA black site, and because the base is a significant polluter (thus undermining the point of an MPA in Chagos). Mauritius’s longstanding claims to sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago (which was integral to the Colony of Mauritius until its 1965 excision to form BIOT) will be heard in 2014 by a tribunal organized by the Permanent Court of Arbitration and according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. If the upcoming feasibility study finds that resettlement of BIOT is practically possible, even if politically sensitive, this could catalyse political support for an overhaul of what is currently a troubled Overseas Territory.”

 

 

REUNIONAISE CHAGOSSIAN CONFERENCE

Professor Andre Oraison was one of the attenders of the CRG 30th anniversary international conference in October.  During the event he met many supporters associated with the cause including our Chair Sabrina Jean.  Professor Oraison, along with le Comite Solidarite Chagos La Reunion, then decided to stage a conference on the neighbouring island of Reunion, which was held earlier this month.

 

The one day event was covered quite extensively by the Reunionaise based newspaper Temoignages, including promotional coverage ahead of the conference itself.  They also included extensive coverage in the proceeding days, paying particular attention to the address to the conference by Professor Oraison.

 

It was a presentation which drew attention to the fact that the two year period of consultation for the extension of the lease on Diego Garcia would open on the 30th December 2014.  The address was a rallying call for Chagossians and their supporters to take up the challenge and ensure that as much pressure as possible is applied ahead of this landmark milestone later in the year.

 

It was a refreshing change to see that the coverage from Temoignages was staggered and ensured that the news of the conference remained in the public domain for longer.  It was certainly nothing that would be typical of anywhere in the British media handling such a story and they should be roundly applauded for the initiative shown.

 

NEW CHAGOS VIDEO NOW ONLINE

Supporter David Evans contacted us earlier this month to tell us about a new video he had put together and uploaded to YouTube.  The video is a musical montage over a slideshow of images from the Chagos Islands, from the native settlers to the current incumbents.  The video is entitled Chagos Island in the Sun and can be found here.

 

MPA JUDICIAL REVIEW APPEAL: DATE ANNOUNCED

Following on from our news in November regarding the leave to appeal, we are pleased to confirm that the hearing will commence at the High Court in London on 31st March 2014.  In the light of this announcement, the Chagos Refugees Group has announced that it will be staging a modest demonstration outside the entrance on the Strand.  We are inviting other supporters who oppose the existence of the MPA to come and join us.

 

CHAGOS ISLANDS FC IN ACTION

Our very own Chagos Islands football team will once again take on Sealand.  The match will be taking place on Sunday 23rd February with the game kicking off at 2.30pm. Unfortunately we are still awaiting venue information at the time of publishing but this will as always be confirmed via our Twitter page as soon as this finalised. Hopefully we can pull off another famous victory!

 

 

 

DR LAURA JEFFERY

Edinburgh University Researcher and Lecturer Dr Laura Jeffery contacted us earlier this month regarding a project she has been working on alongside Professor Vinesh Hookoomsing and Dr Rebecca Potter.  An opportunity to introduce the proposal will take place Crawley Library on Saturday 8th February from 1-3:30pm.  This will be especially relevant for natives (first generation Chagossians).  The purpose of the meeting will be to introduce the project and the project partners.  It will also be a forum to listen to suggestions for improving the project and to ensure the participation of the Chagossian community.

 

UK CHAGOS SUPPORT ASSOCIATION ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

The 2014 AGM of the UKChSA will be taking place on Sunday 6th April 2014.  More details will be announced nearer to the time but we wanted to provide as much notice as possible so that our supporters can make necessary arrangements to come along and join us.