July 2002 update

It’s only two months since our first report but so much seems to have happened since then that it’s time for another one! This will be in chronological order and not necessarily in order of importance.

President Mandela visited London earlier in the Summer and, presumably, discussed the Chagossian plight with Tony Blair.

Olivier paid an unexpected visit to London in June, accompanied by an Australian film crew. He had a meeting with Charles Hamilton (BIOT Administrator) at the Foreign and Commonwealth. A London member, J. Houghton, was kind enough to represent us at the meeting. We would like to thank him for his help.

In June we were contacted by an Oxford undergraduate, Kate, who intends writing her dissertation (for her geography BA Hons) on the plight of the Chagossians. She is particularly interested in human geography and minority rights. She attended our last meeting at the end of June and has subsequently spent a couple of weeks as a guest of Olivier and his family in Mauritius. We wish her luck with her studies.

The results of the feasibility study were published recently and deposited in the House of Commons library. This is a very heavy tome but there is an Executive Summary which makes very interesting reading. If you would like a copy of this, contact your M.P. (constituency office will be in your phone book), express an interest and ask for a copy of the Executive Summary. There is no charge for this and, although, Parliament is in Summer recess, they still have workers! Whilst reading it, remember that a lot of the points apply to the islands where the Chagossians (and others) are living at the moment.

We had a meeting in Keighley at the end of June where Paul Heaton gave us an interesting slide show of his, and Trish’s, trip to visit the Chagossians on Mauritius.

Tuesday, July 2nd, several of us met up at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Open Day “Pearls of the Seven Seas”. This was most interesting and gave us the chance to put faces to the names we have spoken or written to over the past two years. It was also interesting to meet representatives of the other British Overseas Territories, (these being the aforementioned ‘Pearls’). The Falkland Islanders are particularly sympathetic to our cause since they could have ended in exile themselves.

It came to our attention this month that millions of euros have been set aside by the EU in aid for overseas territories (2 million for Pitcairn with a population of about four dozen, for example) but it would appear that our government didn’t ask for anything to re-settle the Chagossians. Could our members ask their M.P’s why not?

On the 16th July, Sylvia and I met up with Olivier who was spending a few days in London on his way to Geneva. We learnt that the Chagossians had decided not to accept the trip to visit the outer islands which the UK government had offered. They wish to visit their ancestors graves and most of these are on Diego Garcia. (The majority of the Chagossians are from Diego Garcia and not the outer islands and they are united in wanting DG to be included in the trip.) With literally thousands of service people based on one half of DG we are at a loss to understand why the United States (whose base is there) will not allow a hundred ageing islanders to visit the other half. The islanders have said they will abide by any restrictions – no cameras, reporters, military escort etc. What are the Americans afraid of? Can I suggest you write to His Excellency, the Ambassador , United States Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London or even George Bush and try to find out! We would be interested in any replies.
Sylvia attended the 20th. Session of the United Nations Working Group for Indigenous Populations in Geneva from 20th. to the 26th. July. Her address to that Session is reproduced below.

Olivier Bancoult and members of the Swiss Support Association also attended. Sadly, no representative of the U.K. or U.S. governments seems to have attended.

She had a most interesting time and was well looked after by the hospitable Georges Wuethrich and the Swiss Support Group.

This U.N. Working Group is the only forum in which indigenous people themselves can air their concerns. These are then presented to a Permanent Forum and there is a Special Rapporteur to investigate cases. Reports are then presented to the Commission on Human Rights and so into the main stream of UN processes. The Chagossians were case 14 in the official UN Economic and Social Council report from the Social Rapporteur who was deeply critical of the UK and called for them to return the islanders and compensate them adequately. (CCPR/CO/73/UKOT, para 38)

During his time in Geneva, Olivier was interviewed by journalists and met with the Un representative from the Vatican.
There is a court case currently under way in London (re compensation for unlawful exile) and the former president of Mauritius, Mr.Cassam Uttem, is going to be a witness for the Chagossians. Some members may have seen reports in newspapers of how the islanders’ pets were destroyed.

Some of us, wearing Chagos Archipelago T shirts were able to attend the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. We weren’t allowed to hand out leaflets but were interviewed by BBC radio – wonder if it got on air?

We have been contacted by a Cambridge graduate, Laura. Her PhD topic is currently entitled “The Politics of Displacement and Citizenship Among Chagossians in Mauritius.” She is planning to spend some time over there and, hopefully, Basseer Hulkhory of the Ilois Support Trust Fund will be able to find a use for her talents, working with the Chagossians on Mauritius.

We continue to fund raise: all suggestions are welcome. If you would like to but a (large) Chagos T shirt then please contact Paul Heaton. Anti-stress kits (jokey) available from Celia at a pound each but would prefer to send out in dozens (for re-sale) because of the cost of postage. Margaret from York has recruited our first international members – New Zealanders. Well done!

Date for your diary:
Meeting of the UK Chagos Support Association
29th September 2002
at the Friends Meeting House (Quakers)

Skipton Road, Keighley, W Yorkshire. You are all very welcome.

We are always pleased to hear from members – not only with financial contributions that are, of course, much needed – but also with thoughts and ideas, items from the press etc. Thank you to you all.
We would like to acknowledge the sterling work done by Tam Dalyell, Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Gifford and others who have laid the trail for us to follow.
Kind regards from all the committee,
Paul, Celia, Sylvia and Margaret