June 2010 update

  • It is six years this month since the Queen nodded her assent to the Orders in Council that banned the Chagos islanders from their homeland for ever in 2004. This was done without the knowledge or consent of parliament – a sad day for democracy, justice, human rights and, most of all, the Chagossians.
  • The Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group had its first meeting of this parliament on 9 June. Here is a summary of the meeting from coordinator David Snoxell.

    The Chagos Islands APPG held its inaugural meeting of this Parliament on 9 June. The following officers were re-elected:
    Chairman: Jeremy Corbyn MP
    Vice Chairmen: Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Andrew Rosindell MP
    Secretary: Andrew George MP

    The Group appointed David Snoxell as Coordinator and Richard Gifford as Legal Adviser, both in a voluntary capacity.

    The Group agreed that its purpose was “To help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and the Chagossian people”.

    The Chairman thanked members that had left the Group and welcomed four new members. The Group recorded their thanks to the Coordinator, Legal Adviser and administrative support officer, provided by Clifford Chance, for their work in the last Parliament.

    Lord Luce reported to the Group on helpful meetings he had on 9 April with the State Dep’t in Washington and on 3 June with the Prime Minister of Mauritius , Dr Ramgoolam, who was visiting London. The Group discussed the positive reports on the subsequent meeting which Dr Ramgoolam had with the Foreign Secretary and the FCO Minister, Henry Bellingham, who is responsible for both BIOT and Mauritius. It was agreed that the Chairman would write to Mr Hague on behalf of the Group and seek a meeting between the Group and Mr Bellingham.

    Following correspondence between Baroness Whitaker and Baroness Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, the Group took note of a recent letter from EU Commissioner Piebalgs, indicating that if the Chagossians returned and the British Government made a request, the European Commission would closely examine all the possibilites that European funding instruments could offer.

    The Group discussed the designation of an MPA on 1 April which had been the subject of emergency debates in both Houses on 6 April. They understood that whilst the MPA had been designated its implementation was for the new Government to consider and decide. The Group considered that the MPA should only go ahead in consultation with Mauritius and the Chagossians.

    The Group were given an update on legal developments, the possibility of a judicial review of the MPA, and the emergence of new evidence (as reported in The Times on 22 April) putting in doubt the ‘independence’ of the 2002 Feasibility Study on which the Government case in Strasbourg is partly based. The Group continued to be of the view that the best outcome would be for the FCO to withdraw from the case and settle out of court, as suggested by the ECtHR. Lord Avebury had put down a Question on this point.

    The Group concluded that it would like to have a debate in Parliament before the Foreign Secretary reached conclusions on the current review of Chagos policy.

    The next meeting will be on 21 July.

  • The new Conservative MP for Crawley, Henry Smith, has pledged to support the islanders in their struggle for justice, and has joined the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Chagos. Mr.Smith used his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 27th May to highlight the Chagossians’ plight and pledge his support:

    I want to mention one special community that has come to live in Crawley. I mentioned that many people have chosen to settle there from around the country and around the world. Citizens of the Chagos Islands, particularly of Diego Garcia, were exiled from their home islands in the late 1960s. A decision was made by Order in Council—it did not come to this place, which I think was quite wrong—to make way for an airbase on Diego Garcia, which meant that those people were deported from their home island against their will, and they had to live in relative poverty in Mauritius and the Seychelles. Seven years ago, they started to arrive at Gatwick airport and they have been very successful in making Crawley their home. There is now a population of nearly 2,000 Chagossian people and their descendants in Crawley. I look forward to arguing on behalf of those people, during my time as Member of Parliament for Crawley, that they have a human right to return to their islands should they so wish, either to visit or to live there permanently. I believe that, having been removed in quite a shameful way, they should be allowed to claim that human right. It is an honour to be given the opportunity to speak on their behalf in my maiden speech.

    For his full speech, go to Hansard website.

    Many of Mr. Smith’s colleagues in the coalition government, including Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, and William Hague, Foreign Secretary, have also spoken out previously in support of the islanders. Now is the time to put their words into action!

  • Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugee Group in Mauritius wrote to the new Prime Minister (as have other Chagossian leaders):


    Dear Prime Minister,

    Settlement of Chagos Islanders Case – Resettlement of BIOT by Exiled Population
    I am writing to congratulate you and your Liberal Democrat colleagues on the formation of a Coalition Government. On behalf of the exiled people of the Chagos Islands I send you our sincere best wishes for a successful Administration which will boldly address the enormous difficulties that the UK is facing including those of the Chagos Islanders who are also British.

    May I ask you urgently to review the harsh and short sighted decisions of the previous government which have perpetuated our unlawful exile, and even weeks before the election purported to ban our traditional fishing rights by its announcement, during the Easter parliamentary recess, to turn our homeland into a “Marine Protected Area”. Fortunately both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties strenuously defended our rights in emergency debates held in both Houses on 6 April 2010.

    The reasons why I believe this review is urgent and necessary are the following:
    1. The European Court of Human Rights will decide this case within the next three months, following the direction of the President of the Court that the case should be examined before the summer vacation. The previous Government refused the invitation of the Court to offer a friendly settlement, without giving any reason. An adverse decision could seriously damage the international standing of the UK, and have implications for the sovereignty issue between Mauritius and the UK. The cost of the claims for damages could be very large, whereas the cost of resettlement could be funded by private enterprise, the European Development Fund as well as by the UK.

    2. I understand that the Development Commissioner of the European Union, Andris Piebalgs has recently written to Baroness Whitaker confirming that the EDF could be available for funding resettlement once the Government has decided in favour of a return of the Chagos Islanders.

    3. Research by The Times newspaper has shown that the Feasibility Study, which was deployed by the FCO in the Courts as a major reason for abolishing our Right of Abode in BIOT was “doctored” to meet the FCO’s expectations. The FCO maintained editorial control of the Study and made substantial amendments to the text. I enclose a copy of The Times report dated 22 April 2010.

    4. In several parliamentary debates statements supportive of restoring the right to return and resettlement have been made by both Conservative and Liberal Democrat spokespersons. Clearly the Houses of Parliament have been overwhelmingly supportive of our heartfelt desire to return to our homeland. I enclose a note of these statements, and would refer you also to the debates in the House of Commons on 10 March 2010 and 6 April 2010, indicating strong support from all sides of both Houses.

    I fully appreciate that your workload must be enormous and we wish you strength to carry your reforms through Parliament. However, for the reason given, I believe there is a final window of opportunity to settle our just claims before it is too late.

    Please consider the abandonment of the previous Government’s opposition to our Application to the Strasbourg Court and announce the restoration of our right to return and resettlement in our homeland. I believe this step would put an end to our suffering and save money to the UK treasury.

    Yours sincerely,
    Olivier Bancoult

  • A group of Labour party members have formed the Labour Friends of Chagos Islanders. The aim of the group, started by Kieran Roberts, is to promote the cause of the Chagossians within the Labour Party and its membership and hopefully demonstrate that a substantial number of members exist who, like us, want the current policies on Chagos to change drastically and allow (and facilitate) the Chagossians the right to return. There’s more information on their website (still under construction).
  • On 3rd June, Mr. Hague had a meeting with the Mauritian Prime Minister, Mr. Ravinchandra Ramgoolam. On 5th June, The Mauritian daily paper Le Matinal ran the following report:
    The Chagos Marine Park project will be reviewed. This is what the new British Foreign Secretary has promised to Mauritian Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam during their meeting in London on Thursday evening. The Mauritian PM maintained that the British government had acted in a cavalier manner on this issue. The Foreign Secretary stated he “would consider the actions to be taken in view of reviewing the Marine park file”.

    Navin Ramgoolam then suggested that these actions should be taken within the framework of bilateral discussions between Mauritius and Great Britain. William Hague also announced that the British government had initiated a judiciary inquiry into the use of the Chagos in the alleged cases of tortured prisoners. (sic. judicial inquiry into the use of Diego Garcia in the etc.)

  • The United Nations Association of the UK (UNA-UK) wrote to the Foreign Office in May expressing its members concerns about the proposed MPA plan.

    While UNA-UK welcomes the efforts to protect the Chagos archipelago and notes that in his announcement, former Foreign Secretary David Miliband described the decision as “without prejudice to the outcome of the current, pending proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)”, we are disappointed that neither his statement nor the consultation document made reference to the representations by members of the Chagossian diaspora for recognition of their ‘right to return’.

    We therefore urge the new UK government to:
    – work with the Chagossians (and all other relevant parties) on an MPA solution that takes into account their right to self-determination as set out in the two International Covenants and the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and simultaneously provides adequate protection for a very precious marine ecosystem;
    – consider, once the outcome of the ECHR decision is known, the recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Committee on the right of Chagossians to return; and
    – report on the situation in the UK’s next periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee.

    This move on UNA-UK’s part started in the London and SE Region.

  • 30th May in the Guardian, Dr. Sean Carey entitled Chagos Islanders Must be Allowed Home beginning:

    It was very crafty of David Miliband to instruct the commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory to declare a marine protected area in the Chagos archipelago on the afternoon of Maundy Thursday, 1 April. It wasn’t quite a Jo Moore “it’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury” moment, but it came fairly close.(9/11)
    It certainly wrong-footed a significant number of British MPs from all the major parties who had attended a debate on the Chagos islands in Westminster Hall on 10 March and were given the impression that the issue would be discussed in the Commons before any decision was made. The displeasure caused sparked emergency debates in both houses on 6 April, shortly before dissolution.
    It is also revealing that the former foreign secretary’s announcement was timed to catch out the authorities in Mauritius where, because the National Assembly had been dissolved in preparation for the general election on 5 May, there was no time for a parliamentary debate or statement.

  • 3rd June in Asahi Newspaper (Japan), Professor Yoichi Kibata wrote an article comparing Chagos and Okinawa – both islands having US bases.
    An extract: In the mid-1970s, when the construction of the military bases was under way, a British newspaper referred to Diego Garcia as “a new Okinawa”. Since then these two islands have continued to play crucial roles as the location of the most important American bases. How should we interpret the situation in which the voices of the people of these islands are raised on the occasion of the advent of new governments both in Japan and Britain?
    Though the concrete demands of the two islanders are different— Okinawans want the removal of bases and Chagossians desire to return to their islands—, both harbour essentially the same hope of taking back their own living space which they have been deprived of as the result of the construction of American bases. And both in Japan and in Britain the voices of these islanders are urging all of us to reconsider the nature of military relationship with the United States and to re-examine the way in which the two countries should respond to the American world strategy that lay in the background of these bases.(Full article available, in English, electronically.)
  • 4th June, David Snoxell had an article in the Mauritius Times entitled “New British Government, new Parliament – a new policy on Chagos?”

    Mr. Snoxell is optimistic and writes:

    The approach of the new Coalition Government on Chagos looks clear and there are high expectations that they will reverse the policy of no return. The new political climate makes and early resolution of the issues, which encompass human rights, conservation and sovereignty, possible. The Foreign Secretary should engage with the Chagossians, Mauritius and the US to bring about an overall settlement. To the Coalition will thus go the credit for wiping out this shameful stain on the UK’s human rights record.

  • All supporters of the Chagossian cause are welcome and valued but we don’t often hear from US diplomats:

    Dear M. Bancoult and members of the Chagos support groups.

    Please let me introduce myself. Gerald Loftus, retired US diplomat who served at the US Embassy in Mauritius 1987-1990. As the Consul and Administrative and Post Security Officer there, among my duties was handling the monthly US Air Force C-141 flights that took Mauritian contract workers to and from Diego Garcia. In that capacity, I traveled to Diego Garcia in 1989. As Consul, I also sometimes met delegations from the Ilois community who took petitions to the American Embassy in Rogers House.

    In the June issue of the Foreign Service Journal, I have published a “Speaking Out” column, entitled “Diego Garcia: Freedom’s Footprint or Enduring Injustice?” For your information, the FSJ has a monthly circulation of some 15,000 and a readership of about 30,000, mostly in the diplomatic and foreign affairs communities………. your cause is one that I believe, like you, cries out for justice. There really is no better time than now to press on both UK and US sides, while of course pursuing your case in European venues…….

    Sincerely,

    Gerald J. Loftus
    American diplomat 1979-2002

  • News from the CRG in Mauritius
    1. Training and Resource Centre
    Since Wednesday 03 March the CRG office has moved into the new premises. Our new contact details are available:
    Email: obancoultcrg@intnet.mu
    Works on the enclosing wall of 38m x 27.40 m to secure the property are still to be completed.
    2. Housing
    Building materials for Noëlline Siballam have been bought and the work will soon be started.
    3. CRG website
    The new CRG website is www.chagosrefugeesgroup.net
    4. Corporate Social Responsibility Accreditation
    The Government of Mauritius has established a policy with the overall objective of mandating registered companies to pay 2% of their book profit towards programmes that contribute to the social and environmental development of the country. Any company making profit is required to set up a CSR Fund to finance CSR activities of approved NGOs.
    The CRG submitted an application with the National Corporate Social Responsibility Committee to be enrolled on the List of Approved NGOs and it has received its accreditation. We are therefore eligible to receive funding for programmes that focus on the following: Socio Economic Development (including gender and human rights), Health Education & Training, Leisure and Sports, Environment, Catastrophic Interventions & support.
    5. Spiritual concert
    On the initiative of Rev. Mario Li Hing, our chaplain and advisor, Ny Ako, the artistic group from Scripture Union Madagascar that was touring Mauritius, was at the Ilois Community Centre, Pointe aux Sables on Sunday 18 April.
    The 500 people present were captivated by the Malagasy cultural diversity – its songs, dances, music, costumes…. Everyone was delighted.
  • Chagos Island Community Association
    Hengride Permal had a stand/stall (funded by UKCSA) at the Public and Commercial Services Union Annual Conference last month to raise awareness of the Chagossian cause. Many people signed up to support.

    CICA had a fund raising dance on the 29th of May where lots of Chagossians were present. It was a great success and was filmed for a documentary project.

  • The Diego Garcian Society showed a film “Exiled” on 8th June in The Hawth in Crawley. This was part of an oral history project which has the exiled islanders telling their own experiences.