July 2012 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 4th Annual General Meeting and 30th meeting on 11 July.

 

The Group re-elected the current office holders (Chairman, Jeremy Corbyn MP; Vice Chairs, Andrew Rosindell MP, Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Henry Smith MP; Secretary, Andrew George MP). David Snoxell was reappointed Coordinator and Richard Gifford Legal Adviser – they were thanked for their dedicated support and service to the Group.

 

The Group discussed developments in the 4 legal cases. There was no news from Strasbourg; final submissions had to be in by the end of July for the UNCLOS case brought by Mauritius; the appeal to the Information Tribunal was heard on 10/11 July and pre-trial applications were currently under way for the Judicial Review of the MPA. The BIOT Commissioner and another officer had been cross-examined at the Information Tribunal – the judge might give his decision by the end of July. In the pre-trial applications for the MPA Judicial Review it had been decided that wikileaks was admissible evidence.  The judge was considering whether the BIOT Commissioner and the Administrator, who were quoted by the US Embassy in their 2009 cable to Washington, would be required to give evidence under oath. This was being opposed by the FCO. It looked as if the MPA JR would therefore drag on until October.

 

Note was taken of Lord Avebury’s intervention in the debate on the Queen’s speech on 17 May, concerning a just and fair settlement, the MPA, the wikileaks and the mounting cost of continuing to fight legal cases. Lord Avebury was asked to draw his comments to the attention of Ministers.

 

17 May 2012 (6th day of this Debate)
Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)

Finally, on the Chagos Islands, the European court will soon declare on the admissibility of the islanders’ claim for the right of return to the outer islands. The Foreign Secretary was in favour of a “just and fair settlement” when he was in opposition, but now he says that the FCO’s policy is not to be changed until after the Strasbourg court gives its decision. Meanwhile, the judgment is expected imminently in the judicial review proceedings against the Foreign Office in regard to the marine protected area. Colin Roberts, then FCO director of overseas territories, told US embassy political counsellor Richard Mills on 12 May 2009 that,

“establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents”.

According to the Government’s thinking on the reserve, as Mr Roberts put it,

“there would be ‘no .. Man Fridays’ on the BIOT’s uninhabited islands”.

This was the real reason for creating the MPA. I ask my noble friend whether the FCO’s position can be reviewed now that its motive has been exposed and whether it will now reconsider settling out of court rather than persisting with expensive trials on which it has already spent over £3 million-not counting the cost of the Civil Service and Treasury solicitors-in which its chances of success must be reduced?

 

The media reports and the Answers to PQs on the outcome of the meeting between the Mauritian Prime Minister and Mr Cameron on 8 June were discussed. It was noted that both sides had different understandings of what was discussed. The Group was surprised at the apparent contradiction of the two accounts of the meeting between the Prime Minister and Dr Ramgoolam. Members felt that the meeting had raised expectations and offered a unique opportunity, during the Diamond Jubilee week, to begin to address an overall political settlement. They were disappointed that the British side seemed to prefer to prolong the legal battles. It was agreed that in view of the sensitivities of the situation members would talk personally to Ministers.

 

The Group discussed the chapter on BIOT in the White Paper on the Overseas Territories released on 28 June. They were unhappy about the way some aspects of BIOT had been described and decided to raise these points when the White Paper is debated.
A recent statement by Olivier Bancoult concerning the difficulties over passports, visas and benefits had been circulated to members. The Group was very sympathetic and would continue to raise these issues, most recently on 22 February when Mr Corbyn, Mr Rosindell and Lord Avebury had a meeting with the Immigration Minister.

 

The next meeting of the Group will be after the summer recess on 17 October.

David Snoxell
Coordinator of the APPG

 

There were four written Parliamentary questions all submitted by the Conservative Andrew Rosindell recently which were answered by Henry Bellingham and Gerald Howarth.

 

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much his Department has spent on the maintenance of the marine protected area around the British Indian Ocean Territory in the last 12 months for which figures are available.”

 

Henry Bellingham replied:

 

“The direct costs of maintaining the world’s largest ‘No Take’ marine protected area (MPA) in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) were just over £2.1 million in the last year. This figure includes funding for the patrol vessel the Pacific Marlin, the
fuel for the vessel, and the Fisheries Protection Officer. The BIOT Administration received £700,000, in the same period, from the Bertarelli Foundation, to contribute to the costs of safeguarding the MPA. Additional work on maintaining the MPA is also
carried out by the BIOT Administration, regular operations by members of the armed forces in Diego Garcia and by visiting scientists. Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff and UK armed forces personnel do not keep detailed timesheets of work on different tasks and it is not possible to estimate these costs.”

 

Andrew asked:

 

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much his Department has spent on legal advice in respect of the Chagos Islands in the last year.”

 

Henry Bellingham provided the following answer:

 

“This year, up to 29 June 2012, £77,438.37 (inclusive of VAT) was spent in respect of the Chagos Islands. This covers fees to Treasury Solicitors and Counsel. It does not cover associated costs such as external copying costs, couriers etc.”

 

Andrew submitted a question to:

 

“Ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many officials from his Department are stationed in the British Indian Ocean Territory.”

 

This was answered by Gerald Howarth, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence:

 

“There are around 40 members of the armed forces based in British Indian Ocean Territory; there are no civilian officials.”

 

And finally Andrew asked:

 

“The Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with his US counterpart on the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory.”

 

This was answered by Gerald Howarth with:

 

“The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend Mr Hammond, has not had any recent discussions on the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory, but he and other Defence Ministers have regular discussions with their US counterparts about a
range of subjects which are of interest to both our mutual
defence and security interests.”

 

We suspect that in relation to the final question, the discussions with the US about “mutual defence and security interests” will almost certainly include the future plans for discussions on the future of the Chagos Islands beyond 2016.  There certainly appears to be a differing of opinion between London and Port Louis in relation to what those plans may entail, but we will return to that theme later.

 

OLIVIER BANCOULT STATEMENT REGARDING AN EVENT FUNDED BY THE FCO AND ORGANISED BY THE ZSL & CCT

Brothers and Sisters,

 

I would like to send this message to you all. As you are aware, our main struggle is to fight for our right to return and to ensure that our removal from our Homeland is condemned. Nobody can dispute the fact that our deportation was unlawful.  We have made various requests to the UK government to provide remedies to our plight and these have been curtly dismissed.

 

I believe it necessary to remind you all that on the 3rd November 2000, the High Court of Justice in London ruled in our favour, severely condemned our deportation and reinstated our right to return. The fact that our fundamental human rights are being consistently infringed is known to all. The United Kingdom has systematically created obstacles to hinder our right to return. Indeed on the 10th June 2004, the BIOT Ordinance (Constitution) Order and the BIOT (Immigration) Order made the right of abode illegal. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal ruled in our favour. The judge specially emphasized that the right to govern does not include the right to remove a population from their homeland. Although the House of Lords overruled the previous rulings, it is important to bear in mind that two judges including the Presiding law lord (ruled in our favour).

 

We have lodged a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights and present await a ruling. Additionally, in 2010, they unilaterally declared the Chagos Archipelago as a Marine Protected Area. While the officials are stating that the main aim is to protect the environment, revelations by Wiki-leaks clearly attest to the fact that the main aim is to ensure that our right to return is forestalled. It is important to highlight that we are for the protection of the Environment as long as our fundamental human rights are duly catered for. I have stated as part of my oral evidence that the Chagossians are the true and real guardians of the environment.

 

Recently a lot of canvassing has been carried out to secure the support all Chagossians insofar as the MPA is concerned. Yet, they still ignore our human rights.

 

A family day will be organized for all Chagossians residing in the UK to visit the London Zoo on the 7th of July 2012. Huge amount of money is being spent on to maintain and support the MPA.

 

Brothers and Sisters, we cannot afford to support the MPA when clearly our fundamental human rights are not being taken into consideration. The UK refused to address our predicament and has acted unlawfully throughout. We still live in abject poverty; every day we try to make the two ends meet and today the UK are spending so much on the MPA without the slightest regard to our rights.

 

In Mauritius, Seychelles and the UK, decisions from the FCO are not being taken in favour of Chagossians. Indeed in order to apply for or to renew a British passport or even a settlement of visa, a huge amount (non refundable) must be paid. Unfortunately, the payment can only be conducted by either Master Card or Visa credit card. This is unacceptable as the majority of our brothers and sisters are not holder of such cards.

Brothers and Sisters, if we truly value our dignity and human rights, we must not participate in any activities organised with the sole aim to secure our support. Why should we give our support when the UK has clearly bypassed our fundamental human rights?

 

Well known people who previously were quite optimistic about endeavours of the FCO, are now treading carefully and have now expressed their concerns.

Brothers and Sisters, let us remain united in our fight. Let us show that we will fight until we win and nothing will detract us from our struggle!

 

Many Thanks

 

Olivier Bancoult, OSK

 

Chairman CRG

 

We agree Olivier, despite the best attempts by the leader of a small Chagossian group to argue otherwise.  Taxpayer’s money would be better spent on helping the Chagossians to return to their homeland, than ‘fun days’ which are designed to distract attention from the real issues such as restoration of the right to return and social needs. Chagossians won’t be having any ‘fun’ until they are allowed to see their precious islands which the fortunate ZSL  and CCT members are allowed to visit at will for ‘scientific’ purposes.

 

OLIVIER BANCOULT STATEMENT REGARDING PASSPORTS AND VISA APPLICATIONS

As Leader of the Chagos Refugees Group, I thought it absolutely necessary to bring into light key issues regarding passports and visa applications for Chagossians.

 

Following the ruling of the UK High Court on the 3rd of November 2000, many Chagossians have been authorised to have British passports since 2002. Therefore presently, many have to renew their passports while others will have to apply for one as they do not have a British passport. Essentially the main predicament lies in the fact that payments must be effected through a credit card. In light of the fact that many Chagossians suffer from dire financial difficulties, they are not eligible to apply for credit cards. Consequently, the requirement for due credit card authorisation cannot be fulfilled and therefore acts as a major hindrance. Additionally, we deprecate the fact that although there currently is a British High Commission in Mauritius, we are required to send our applications via DHL to the British Embassy in Pretoria, in South Africa. Again, this is costly and thus we believe it will be easier if we could have made the necessary application in Mauritius at the British High Commission.  The setting up of a special desk for the Chagossians at the British High Commission both in Mauritius and the Seychelles in order to assist them would be most welcomed.

 

Also, the settlement of visa, involves a long excruciating procedure and can be only be filled in online. As you are most probably aware, Chagossians suffer from dire financial difficulties and they do not have internet access. We therefore find it both inconceivable and irrational that Chagossians are expected to fill in the form online. Consequently, we believe it necessary that a solution is provided to the above issue. Many of the spouses of current British Passport holders are not adequately educated and therefore find it difficult to pass the required test (English Language Test Settlement Visa/General) to obtain the visa settlement. This, you would appreciate could have a tremendous impact on the family if the application is rejected.

 

Lastly, presently the Chagossians residing in the UK are losing many benefits that were previously available to them. We do not understand why suddenly, there is a lot of animosity against the Chagossians. It would be helpful if the necessary support could be provided to those Chagossians in the UK so that they do not have to face many obstacles on a daily basis on various matters.

 

In light of the above, we request that you attend to the issues urgently and provide immediate solutions.

 

Kind Regards

 

Olivier Bancoult O.S.K

 

Chairman of the CRG

 

FCO WHITE PAPER ON OVERSEAS TERRITORIES

June saw the publication of the government’s Foreign Office White Paper On Overseas Territories.  The lengthy document was designed to set out the government’s approach toOverseasTerritories.  The association was bemused by reference to:

 

“The Territories benefit from the relationship with the UK through:

 

  • International Support: the UK is responsible for the external relations of the Territories and uses its diplomatic resources and influence to promote their interests”

 

“The UK Government is responsible in international law for ensuring that the Territories comply with international human rights conventions that have been extended to them.”

 

Perhaps this was the whitewash paper, as opposed to a white paper.

 

FALLOUT FROM RAMGOOLAM-CAMERON TALKS CONTINUES

Now that the buntings have been put away until 2022, we have had an opportunity to measure the mood both in London and Port Louis following the historic talks last month during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee festivities.  It seems that Britain is desperate to play down the significance of the discussions while Mauritius is doing everything they can to talk up the impact of the meeting.

 

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, our very own tireless Chagossian campaigner, submitted the following written question on the 20th June:

 

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the talks which were agreed during the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Prime Minister of Mauritius on 8 June 2012, will begin; and whether they will include the questions of
sovereignty, the return of the Chagossians and the Marine Protected Area.”

 

Foreign Office Under Secretary, the Conservative’s Henry Bellingham, provided the following answer:

 

“During Dr Ramgoolam’s meetings with the Prime Minister and myself on 8 June there was no agreement to formal talks, although we retain a warm bilateral relationship. During the meetings we expressed interest in a more constructive relationship on British
Indian Ocean Territory issues, though we made it clear that this was difficult while court cases continue. I also refer my right hon. Friend to the answer to question HL 633 from Lord Avebury.”

 

The Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury had asked:

 

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether any talks agreed by the United Kingdom Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Mauritius at their meeting on 8 June will cover the return of the Chagossian people, the restoration of Mauritian sovereignty
over the Chagos Islands, and the ability of Mauritius to participate in the 2014 negotiations concerning the 1966 agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States, which expires in 2016.”

 

To which the Conservative Lord Howell had replied:

 

“The meeting held on 8 June was to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Piracy. The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was raised but there was no detailed discussion of the return of the Chagossians, though the Mauritian Prime Minister stated that he thought that the islanders’ way of life was sustainable on the islands. There was no commitment to talks with Mauritius on the sovereignty of BIOT, over which the UK has no doubts: the islands have been British since 1814. Nor was there a commitment to involve Mauritius in any extension of the 1966 Exchange of Notes.”

 

So according to London, this was a discussion about Pirates, Somali Pirates and not the issues surrounding British Piratical practices of almost 50 years ago, resulting in the Chagossian community being expelled so shamefully.

 

Confused?  It gets even better when we monitor the reaction from Mauritius…

 

The Mauritian newspaper Independent Daily quoted Navin Ramgoolam as stating:

 

“The main purpose of my mission to the UK last week was to have a bilateral meeting with Cameron. We discussed the sovereignty of Mauritius on the Chagos issue at 10 Downing Street and let me inform the House that Cameron said that he is in favour of high-level talks on this issue. When we met, I asked Cameron to redress the injustice caused by the excision of the Chagos Archipelago from the territory of Mauritius with the expiry of the UK-US arrangements on the use of the archipelago in 2016.”

 

Ramgoolam went on to confirm that he had been invited to Washington for talks with Cameron and Obama on the matter and that it would not include the presence of any Chagossian representatives since the discussions were taking place at ministerial level.

 

Foreign Affairs Minister Arvin Boolell was forced to defend his government’s record over the Chagos Islands, pointing out how closely they had worked with Olivier Bancoult since 2007.  He was also required to bat away suggestions made by President Sir Anerood Jugnauth (SAJ) that Mauritius should leave the Commonwealth.

 

“This is an irrational idea put forward by SAJ. We have been able to build a strong case on the Chagos sovereignty at the commonwealth.  We can ask for a study on the economic and political situation since independence, taking into account that we were not able to fully exploit the potential of Chagos.”

 

 

 

 

PHILIPPA GREGORY LETTER

The Sunday Times newspaper published an article by Charles Glover which described his role in setting up the MPA.  Our patron Philippa Gregory submitted the following letter:

 

“Charles Glover is to be congratulated for trying to find agreement among fishermen excluded from conservation seas. He writes ‘we believe that if fishermen are displaced from a protected area there must be ways the community can express its gratitude for the sacrifice they have made.’

Glad of that – perhaps we can now look at compensating the fishermen and residents of the Marine Protected Area created around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean – the largest marine reserve in the world – which Charles Glover’s Blue Marine Foundation brought about by finding the finance to support the British Government proposal?

1500 Chagossian people were evacuated against their will so that the British government could lease the Chagos Islands to the US for a massive military base – the largest American base in the world outside the US. Forty years later the seas around Diego Garcia were made into a strict conservation area so that the Chagos inhabitants could not return.  Wikileaks tapes from the Foreign Office discussions make clear why the Foreign Office supported Blue Marine Foundation: Wikileaks: Summary. “HMG would like to establish a “marine park” or “reserve” providing comprehensive environmental protection to the reefs and waters of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official informed Polcouns on May 12. The official insisted that the establishment of a marine park — the worlds largest — would in no way impinge on USG use of the BIOT, including Diego Garcia, for military purposes. He agreed that the UK and U.S. should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that U.S. interests were safeguarded and the strategic value of BIOT was upheld. He said that the BIOT’s former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve. End Summary.

Translated from foreign office speak this cable shows the British civil service promising to bring about a conservation area which would exclude the inhabitants – British citizens – but would ensure the continued use of the area by military allies. Nuclear submarines massive aircraft carriers and all of the US fleet can plough through the waters of this conservation area, the 4000 US servicemen, women, and their support workers can fish off the island of Diego Garcia – but the indigenous peoples were shipped out against their will in 1968 and are banned from returning.

Conservation groups now emphasise that they would welcome a return of the Chagossian people to their islands, and are willing to work with them to create non-polluting conservation communities. But the current government – which promised a “just settlement” for Chagossians before the election, has made no progress now in office. Indeed, last week the Foreign Office Science Advisory Group could not support an application for research into how many Chagossians would want to return, and what would be the protocols of a conservation village. In this instance, the fishermen are not just excluded from fishing, but are excluded from living in their homes, and not compensated.

It is as if the residents of Lyme Regis were moved to Lewisham – where a Chagossian this weekend said that he would rather die than live in exile any longer. Charles Glover is to be praised for his efforts to protect the oceans – but what about the people?

Philippa Gregory”

 

MEDIA

The story of a Chagossian family encountering financial hardship was picked up firstly by This Is Local London and later by the national Daily Express.  A heartbreaking story of how the current recession is hitting those who were already increasingly marginalised.  Yvan Ramsamy describes his desperate situation:

 

“I came to England to get a better life – now here; we have a poor life, a lot of stress.  We don’t have a culture – our culture is destroyed.  It isn’t a real life. Even in Mauritius I could catch some fish, but here I don’t have anything.  If you call me next year I might have passed away from sadness.”

 

New Yorkjournalist Jacey Fortin published an article in the International Business Times, exposing our cause to aUS audience.  It provides a comprehensive recap of the story from the initial expulsions of the 1960s to the sad news that veterans from the movement who actually lived on the Chagos Islands are dying in exile.

 

“This has fostered a rare alliance between environmentalists and the U.S. military. Ecologists have reason to ardently preserve the reserve; the Great Chagos Bank is home to the biggest living coral reef in the world, according to the BBC. It is of great importance to the hundreds of species that live both in water and on land, and it offers a remarkable research opportunity for marine biologists.”

 

Richard Norton-Taylor and Nick Hopkins writing in The Guardian’s Defence & Security Blog, called for theChagosIslands and other overseas territories to have their ties to theUK ended.

 

“There is another island where the Union Jack flies. That is Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago, seized from Mauritius and turned into the British Indian Ocean Territory, and a large US military base. The inhabitants there were given no choice — they were deported to Mauritius and Seychelles. Recently released archives show that Britain deliberately hoodwinked the UN suggesting that the people living there were merely contract labourers and not indigenous. Unlike the inhabitants of the Falklands or the Rock of Gibraltar, the Chagos islanders are not white.”

 

Sabrina Jean and Bernadette Dugasse were interviewed by Tessa Grauman for France TV as part of the Jubilee Festivities, a programme analysing reactions to the events from around the overseas British territories.  Unfortunately it is not available in English, but can be found in French here.

 

UK Photographer Al Mackinnion captures the image of a Chagossian mother and daughter as part of a collection of photographs.  Another wonderful selection of images can be found as part of Eric Gray’s travels, including several on theChagosIslands.

 

IFIELD COLLEGE COMMUNITY CHOIR CD NOW ON SALE

The Ifield College Community Choir CD went into production earlier this month and orders are now being accepted via their website.  Young Chagossians sing on every track and 5 of the 12 feature Chagossian drummers.  The CD includes the track “Calling My Children Home”, which was dedicated to the cause.

 

PETITIONS

Two petitions are in circulation this month, including this brand new Avaaz one which has set an objective of attaining 100 signatures.

 

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Give_the_Chagos_islanders_the_right_to_return_home/?launch

 

We are of course still promoting the official UKChSA petition which is on E-Petitions and recently passed 100 signatories.  The link can be found here.  Originally we advised that the petition can only be signed by residents of the UK, however we now understand that Australian addresses also work.

http://bit.ly/LLvt4P