July 2010 update

First, the many parliamentary questions:

8 June 2010, House of Commons.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour):
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has made a recent assessment of threats to biodiversity in (a) the Falkland Islands, (b) Ascension Island, (c) the British Indian Ocean Territory and (d) British Antarctic.
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative):
Responsibility for environmental issues in the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island has been devolved to their respective territory governments, who assess and evaluate their own biodiversity priorities.
In the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), the BIOT Commissioner’s scientific/environmental adviser travels to the territory annually and reports on environmental issues there, including threats to biodiversity if appropriate. In February 2010, a scientific expedition team travelled with him to undertake environmental monitoring for improved conservation management. This was funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme.
The threats to biodiversity in the Antarctic were addressed in the comprehensive Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research report on “Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment” published in November 2009. Several of the lead authors and editors were from the British Antarctic Survey.

Note that the Parliamentary Under Secretary did not mention the proposed Marine Protection Area.

14 June 2010, House of Lords.
Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat):
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will invite representatives of the Chagos islanders to attend their discussions with the Prime Minister of Mauritius for any agenda items covering the future of the islanders.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative):
There were no representatives of the Chagos islanders at the meeting on 3 June between my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister of Mauritius.
Bilateral discussions about the British Indian Ocean Territory are between the sovereign states concerned, i.e. the United Kingdom and Mauritius. While we welcome the views of other interested parties on issues on the agenda, it is not the practice for outside representatives to attend such discussions.

17 June 2010, House of Lords.
Baroness Whitaker (Labour)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in light of European Union funds for which the United Kingdom is eligible to apply to help with their resettlement, they will allow the Chagossians to return to the Chagos Islands.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative):

As an unpopulated territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory is not included in the list of recipients of European development fund territorial allocations. Such finance is designed to support economic and social development in populated territories.


One supporter has already commented on the above exchange in the House of Lords, saying:
I suggest that the Minister exhibits a lack of good faith in his response. Yes, of course, since there are no settlers in any of the Chagos Islands at present, there is no one there immediately eligible for aid to assist in their resettlement.
If, however, resettlement were decriminalised, either by action of the European Court of Human Rights or by Parliament, the BIOT Commissioner could apply for resettlement aid, conditional upon resettlement actually occurring, and the EU could approve such aid, also conditioned upon actual resettlement taking place. This would at least facilitate rational planning.
Why is the new Government approaching this matter with the same evasive and negative attitude as Labour had for so many years? I thought there was now a commitment to review the entire shameful saga, with an eye not only to the same tired legal technicalities but to human rights, justice and a sense of British fairness and equity.

22 June 2010, House of Lords.
Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat):
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they grant citizenship to second-generation descendants of former residents of the Chagos Islands, one of whose parents acquired British citizenship by descent but who are themselves stateless.
Baroness Neville-Jones (Minister of State (Security), Home Office; Conservative):
There are no automatic routes by which second-generation descendants of former residents of the Chagos Islands who are stateless can acquire British citizenship. They can apply for citizenship through registration or naturalisation if over the age of 18, based on a period of residence in the United Kingdom.
However, a person born stateless outside of the United Kingdom and overseas territories to a British Overseas Territories citizen may apply for registration as a British Overseas Territories citizen under Schedule 2 of the British Nationality Act 1981 following a period of residence in the UK or an overseas territory immediately before the application.
After acquiring British Overseas Territories citizenship in this way they may subsequently apply for full British citizenship.

28 June 2010, House of Lords.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Labour):
To ask Her Majesty’s Government , in light of the article in the Times on 22 April, what assessment they have made of the independence of the 2002 Phase 2B Feasibility Study on resettlement of the Chagos Islanders; and whether they intend to commission a new study.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative):
There was an open tender process for the feasibility study and it was conducted by outside experts who won the bid. The report was drafted by the project team, checked by the project manager and approved by the project director, all of whom were independent of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We, therefore, consider that the report was independent. There are no plans to commission a new study.

(The Times article, however, was most convincing – supporters may like to read it again. As UKCSA Update commented some years ago – the feasibility study may have been conducted by outside experts but he who pays the piper tends to call the tune.)
29 June 2010, House of Lords debates.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (Crossbench)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they propose to increase awareness of the environmental and scientific importance of the Chagos archipelago.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
My Lords, high levels of conservation have already been achieved with a legislative framework protecting sites and species of particular importance. The territory’s quarter of a million square miles is Britain’s greatest area of marine biodiversity. The territory’s Administration will work with interested organisations and regional Governments to increase awareness of the environmental and scientific importance of the territory.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (Crossbench)
My Lords, that sounds very encouraging, but can the noble Lord confirm that sufficient funding is in place to ensure that illegal fishing in that vast marine archipelago will not take place in forthcoming years?
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
My Lords, the declaration of the marine protected area did not cost anything, but by implementing a no-take fishing zone, the British Indian Ocean Territory’s Administration loses between £800,000 and £1 million of revenue which they would have got from the sale of fishing licences. That revenue used to go towards the cost of maintaining a British Indian Ocean Territory patrol vessel for surveillance duties, and so on. The annual cost of running that vessel is about £1.7 million, including fuel costs, so the costs not offset by the fishing licence loss were met by subsidy from the overseas territories programme fund. The short answer to the noble Lord is that we need to find an additional £800,000 to £1 million, and the overseas territories division is in discussion with a number of foundations and charities which have offered to meet that requirement for a five-year period.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Labour)
My Lords, I acknowledge the merits of marine conservation, but does the Minister agree that the MPA has caused considerable tensions, not least with our close allies, the Government of Mauritius? Will he respond positively to the expressed desire of the Mauritius Government for the dialogue initiated by their Prime Minister and Gordon Brown to be continued as soon as possible by the current Government? Would he be prepared to meet representatives of the Chagossian community in the UK?
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
My Lords, under the previous Government, of which the noble Baroness was a distinguished member, there were some difficulties about the consultation continuing. It began, but then problems arose on the Mauritian side. We remain happy to talk to the Mauritian Government at any time about the marine protected area, but if it takes us into the broader issue, on which the noble Baroness touched in the second part of her question, of the Chagossians’ right of return, all I can tell her at this stage is that the new Government are looking at the whole pattern of issues raised by the British Indian Ocean Territory’s situation. I will certainly communicate with her and your Lordships as soon as possible on that issue, but I cannot say more today.
Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, bearing in mind that a total ban on fishing under the MPA would end the careers of Mauritian and Chagossian fishermen, and the amount of money that the Minister mentioned, which would contribute to the use of the BIOT fisheries range protection vessel, will the Government refrain from taking any decision on the MPA until Parliament has had the opportunity to debate the situation after the European Court’s decision on Chagossian rights of return, expected before the Summer Recess? Secondly, can
we invite the US to undertake a joint review of the pollution created by the US nuclear base on Diego Garcia, including the deployment of the nuclear submarine tender USS “Emory S Land”, which is alleged to have contaminated the sea around its former base in Sardinia?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
Parliament is free to debate the MPA, which is a very important proposal, development and plan, at any time it wishes. The intention to go ahead with the MPA is in place. However, on the broader issues of the hearing in the European Court of Human Rights and the nature of operations in the Diego Garcia base, the Government are, as I said, looking at all aspects raised by the British Indian Ocean Territory’s problems, and I will communicate with the House when views have been reached. I cannot go further than that today.
Lord Luce (Crossbench)
My Lords, I accept the concept of a marine protected zone, but does the Minister agree that it would be wholly wrong to implement this zone without doing justice to the Chagossian islanders who were gratuitously expelled from Diego Garcia and the surrounding area after 1965, whose rights of abode and access need to be restored first?

Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
The noble Lord is raising two separate issues. The proposal for a marine protected area is widely supported by many people and there are very few objections to the general concept from the Mauritians or anyone else. The Chagossians’ right of abode is a broader issue. I would like to say that certain views have been reached which may or may not be different from those of the previous Government, but today I cannot because the matter is under review. I will communicate with the noble Lord and other noble Lords when we have a view on this situation, with which many Members opposite are very familiar.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Conservative)
Is there any threat of rising sea levels endangering the possibility of people living on these islands, as there is in some Pacific islands where it may be disastrously affected?
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
I know of no specific threat in relation to resettlement. All sorts of other problems were studied in a feasibility study some years ago and the whole prospect of resettlement was found to be precarious. However, the particular issue of rising sea level is not one on which we have any detailed evidence.
Baroness Whitaker (Labour)
The Minister mentioned the general concept of an MPA. Does he acknowledge that in the general run of MPAs, the people who normally live there actually live there, by which I mean the Galapagos and the most recent MPA, made by President Bush, around western Hawaii? Would it not be quite normal for the Chagossians to be living in the MPA?
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
As I have explained, the Chagossians are not living there because they have not resettled. That is a separate issue which needs to be looked at and we are studying. The issue of the MPA, which is a vast area, immediately affects only the licensed fishermen whose problems have been very carefully addressed. That is the position, and these are two separate issues. I am sorry that I cannot help the noble Baroness in bringing them together today.

5 July 2010, House of Lords.
Baroness Whitaker (Labour)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Howell of Guildford on 17 June (WA 128), whether they will apply for funds to support the economic and social development of the Chagossian people once they are permitted to return.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
Given that the legal situation at present is that the Chagossians do not have the right of return, the British Indian Ocean Territory is not entitled to such funding. Even if any funds were to come from the European Commission, the contingent liability for resettling the Chagossians in the territory would remain with the UK taxpayer.

5 July 2010, House of Lords.
Lord Luce (Crossbench)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have asked the Government of the United States whether they envisage any security problems with Chagossians resettling on the outer isles of the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
The US authorities have made clear their concerns about the possible restoration of a settled civilian population in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) which, they have said “would severely compromise Diego Garcia’s unparalleled security and have a deleterious impact on our military operations”. The US welcomed the judgment of the Law Lords in October 2008, which found the
BIOT constitution order lawful, and it has stressed the importance that it attaches, as we do, to our treaty obligations.

6 July 2010, House of Lords.

Lord Ramsbotham (Crossbench)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will consult Chagossians and the Government of Mauritius about implementing the British Indian Ocean Territory marine protected area, designated on 1 April.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
The Chagossian communities were consulted during the public consultation into whether to establish a marine protected area in British Indian Ocean Territory; and we also spoke to the Government of Mauritius about the proposal in advance.
We remain happy to talk to both the Chagossians and to the Mauritian Government about the implementation of the marine protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Note: Lord Howell may have been seriously misinformed here as the major Chagossian groups , along with other stakeholders such as Mauritius and Seychelles, should have been consulted before the public consultation and not simply permitted to comment as an afterthought.

STILL WITH POLITICIANS.

The next meeting of the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group will be on 21st July when they will no doubt consider the Government’s responses so far to the Questions tabled and the brief discussion in the House of Lords (above). The Chagossians, and this Association, wait with intense anticipation to hear the results of the Government’s review of the previous Government’s Chagos policies. Dr. Caroline Lucas has recently joined the APPG.

On Friday July 9th Philippa Gregory and her son Adam Carter met William Hague as his constituents, at one of his regular surgeries at Bedale, Yorkshire. They had asked to see him with regard to the plight of the Chagos Islanders, exiled by force from their homeland, a British territory since the 1960s. Mr Hague opened the brief meeting by reviewing the past history of the Chagos Islanders, and though he joked that he had been ‘pretty busy’ since coming into office, he had a sound grasp of the history of the exile. Philippa Gregory queried two aspects of his account. She remarked that the Foreign Office report which indicated that the outer islands were not viable for the islanders’ return, was “widely discredited” and she urged that many scientists believe that the Chagos people will be able to live their traditional life within the Marine Protection Area without damaging the conservation aims.

Mr. Hague made it clear that he had taken no decision on the future of the islanders but he said that he was very sympathetic to their position and that he would look at the situation over the next few months. He said it appeared that the best solution would be for the Chagos people to return to the outer islands. Dr Gregory said that this would be a good outcome, and they agreed that they would meet again within a few months.

The hustings for the Labour leadership are now underway. Those supporters who are members of the Labour Party can question candidates on why the Labour leadership deserted the Chagossians and what they are going to do to bring them justice.

Kieran Roberts, Director of Labour Friends of Chagos Islanders, has sent the following letter to the candidates for leadership of the Labour Party, Diane Abbott, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, David Miliband and Ed Miliband:

‘Renewal’ is a term that has been used a lot in this leadership contest and rightly so. At a time when our party is in opposition and deciding on a new leader, this is a rare opportunity to renew some of the policies we adopted whilst in government. One in urgent need of renewal is our policy on the Chagos Islands.
Our party under Harold Wilson’s leadership exiled the Chagossians from their islands and as recently as 2008 we reinforced the exile from their homes. Whilst the Labour government showed a commitment to the conservation of the Chagos Islands, we missed a golden opportunity to restore the right to return in April this year when proposing the designation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA). Conservation and human rights must go hand in hand and whilst we ignore the Chagossians’ right to return, we violate a fundamental human right, enshrined in Magna Carta, UN human rights instruments and international law.
We need to seize this opportunity to renew and remove this stain on our record on human rights. The question we put to you as candidates for the leadership of our party is:
Will you, if elected as Leader of the Labour Party, renew our current policy on the Chagos Islands and make provisions in the current MPA proposals and allow the Chagossians the right to return?
Any supporter reading this who happens to be represented by one of the MPs in the leadership contest might also like to write to them in a similar vein.

The journal, SCIENCE, 18th June, carried an article entitled “Sea-Level Rise and Its Impact on Coastal Zones” by Robert J.Nicolls and Anny Cazaneve.

The supporter who sent this to UKCSA added the comment:

The take home message seems to be
> Global sea levels have risen through the 20th century. These rises will almost certainly accelerate through the 21st century and beyond because of global warming, but their magnitude remains uncertain.
> The extent of future sea level rises remains highly uncertain—more so than in 2007, when the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was published.
Every time I look at the ‘latest’ evidence I find the satellite altimetry maps changing. It seems that the latest ‘predictions’ are anywhere between 30-180cm by 2100 and there are large regional variations.
The message must be in these circumstances that re-settlement of the Chagos should not be held up on a precautionary principle that the islands might be uninhabitable by 2100.

THE PROPOSED MARINE PROTECTED AREA.

Roch Evenor, Chair of UKCSA, received an invitation to attend a two day “British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Marine Protected Areas Workshop” being held in July under the auspices of the Zoological Society of London. An extract:

The objective of the workshop is to develop a strategic research programme to deliver answers to key questions for strengthening management and conservation benefits for the open ocean (pelagic) area and migratory species within the British Indian Ocean Territory no-take MPA, in the context of the Indian Ocean . This two day participatory workshop will engage scientists, marine managers & conservationists, and resource users to determine how to address the most important research and management questions for the BIOT Marine Protected Area. Workshop outputs will also be important for informing the development of pelagic MPAs globally.

Although this will be a technical scientific workshop, we appreciate all discussions relating to Chagos are of interest to you and felt it was important that you were part of this process. However, as a scientific workshop this meeting focusing on open ocean science and management, we will not cover any discussions of the right of the Chagossians to return to Chagos. The workshop is funded through the Darwin Initiative and thus is also focussed on questions related to biodiversity and highly migratory species. Social and economic questions are thus outside the scope of the workshop and will not be discussed………..

We would also be particularly interested to learn of any Chagossians who might have the scientific expertise to contribute to the workshop and would, therefore, be relevant to invite. These would be people who have published in scientific journals on open ocean science or relevant species (tuna, sharks etc), or have experience in open ocean marine resource management or use (e.g. fishing)….

Many things are irritating about this letter –

1. The writer and the Zoological Society are acting as if the proposed MPA is a fait accompli.

2. They still wish to discuss conservation of all species except the humans!

3.”key questions for strengthening management and conservation benefits for the open ocean” should involve ALL stakeholders (including Mauritius and Seychelles as well as Chagossians.)

4. They are inviting the Chagossian Chair of the UK Chagos Support Association but what he and UKCSA are fighting for (justice and a return for the Chagossians) is not up for discussion.  They are like people who apply for planning permission on land they don’t own – whilst the owners are not allowed to say anything.

5. They “would be particularly interested to learn of any Chagossian who might have scientific expertise etc. etc. etc.” Had the Chagossians been properly treated and given the benefits of further education instead of exile and poverty, there could have been plenty who may “have published in scientific journals”. It is difficult to decide whether the writer is being patronising, subtly rude or appallingly ignorant of the history of the islands and islanders.

NEWS FROM THE GROUPS.

Chagos Refugee Group, Mauritius.

Celebration of the 85th birthday of Olivier Bancoult’s mother, Rita Elysé, oldest member of the CRG committee took place on 30 June.                                                                                                              Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Participation of CRG in the “Espace Rencontre CSR” (CSR Meeting Space) on 28-29 June organised by the National Empowerment Foundation for approved NGOs and some companies having a CSR fund. We had an exhibition stand and were able to meet with those companies.

Mass: Celebration of a Mass on 20 June in memory of all deceased Chagossians, specially Simon Vincatassin,  Elphezia Veronique,  Noël Pauline,  Loretta Paletemps,  Felicie Mandarin (103 yrs old, the oldest Chagossian) at St Sacrément Church, Cassis.

Meeting in the Seychelles: Participation in the ACP-EU Joint Parliament Assembly for the 15th Regional Meeting in Mahé, Seychelles from 14 to 15 July 2010. Olivier Bancoult has been invited as special guest to deliver a speech on the Chagossian Issue.

Diego Garcian Society.

Crawley News carried this article on June 16th:

A champion of an exiled island community died just one hour before the first showing of a film about his people’s plight.
Simon Vincatassin spent much of his life fighting to return to Diego Garcia, a tiny British-owned island in the Indian Ocean the population of which was evicted in the 1960s to make way for a military base.
Mr Vincatassin was a committee member in the Diego Garcian Society. His nephew Allen Vincatassin, the society’s chairman, paid tribute saying: “Simon has been my main adviser for a decade and he has been like a rock for me in times when I had to take great decisions for our community.
“He was loyal and has never failed me or his community. Today I have not only lost an uncle but a rock and a general. My heart and deepest sympathy go to my aunt and cousins who mourn at this time.”
Simon Vincatassin passed away aged 65 at his home in Broadfield following a long illness.
He was born on Diego Garcia and supported his late father Michel Vincatassin, who sued the British government in 1975 for evicting islanders illegally.
Unlike many Diego Garcians, Simon Vincatassin refused compensation offered by Britain on condition that islanders renounce their claim to return home.
He died just an hour before the film Exiled showed for the first time at the Hawth Theatre last Tuesday.
His death added to the emotional atmosphere during the film, which tells the story of the islanders’ journey from their homeland, through decades of poverty in Mauritius, to new lives in Crawley.
Dan Musty, who produced and directed the film, told the News: “It was very much our intention to tell this story in the islanders’ own words. There are some very good documentaries out there about this but we approached it in a slightly different way. In this documentary you won’t see our presence and you won’t feel our presence; it is all from the islanders.”
The film was made by Compulsive Productions and funded by the Road to Crawley project, which is gathering information on the town’s origins to create films and other exhibitions.

A UKCSA supporter was able to attend the showing of the film (not a launch but a pre-final cut preview of the film) and sent Update the following comments:

The producer, who introduced the film, Paul Gonella, explained that his approach was an oral history one of allowing the story to emerge from the voices, with no overall narrator. So, most of the 90 minutes showed in close-up the faces of those who had been exiled (and some of their children), speaking in Chagossian Creole to an unseen interviewer/ prompter, with an English translation (sometimes a summary) at the foot of the screen……….. the contributions of the Creole speakers had the unmistakeable authority of direct experience…..The film is a moving human document. It is not a documentary and should not be judged as either a history of the Chagos Archipelago or as making the case for specific ways in which some measure of justice can at last be provided. However, it was encouraging that in all the contributions there was agreement on the importance of the right of return, even if for those originally from Diego Garcia that was not seen as a realistic personal short-term objective. It was striking that Henry Smith MP was not convinced by the arguments (briefly mentioned in a clip from David Miliband when still Foreign Secretary) that no form of resettlement on the outer islands was possible…….
I found the whole film riveting. I imagine the next cut will be a bit shorter, especially if there is to be a version that might attract a TV audience. It will be a valuable addition to the documentation of how the UK/US special relationship can trample over the rights and interests of people with powerless voices speaking of freedom, but in a language that does not chime with how politicians and officials like to protect their own freedom of action.

Finally, the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that it will consider the Chagossian case in the last week of July.

As usual, thank you for your interest and support. Please can you continue to keep your MP and MEP’s up to date on the Chagos situation and encourage him/her to join the All Party Parliamentary Group?