June 2011 update

June 2011 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 21st meeting on 8 June.

Members discussed the follow-up to the RGS Conference of 19 May. They were grateful to Philippa Gregory, Ben Fogle and Roch Evenor for their considerable efforts in bringing together Chagossians and all those involved with Chagos. They noted that the vice chairman of the group, Andrew Rosindell MP, would be accompanying the organisers of the conference to a meeting with the Foreign Secretary on 27 June. The Group discussed ongoing exchanges with the US Embassy concerning defence security, a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman concerning maladministration and a meeting with the Foreign Secretary at which the three main parties will be represented. The Group agreed that matters should be brought before the Foreign Affairs Committee, Public Administration Committee and the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights. The Coordinator reported on a meeting with FCO officials.
The next meeting will be on 13 July.
David Snoxell
Coordinator

 

House of Commons.

Written answers and statements, 7 June 2011
Two questions from Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative):
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 Overseas Territory in the last 12 month period for which figures are available.
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
In the twelve months up to 31 March 2011 the total was £2,049,616.

Andrew Rosindell
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 each of the last five years.
Alistair Burt (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State FCO; North East Bedfordshire, Conservative)
Total spending on legal advice on the following cases:
2004-08: Bancoult 2—Judicial Review into British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) 2004 Orders in Council
2009-present: Chagos Islanders v. UK at the European Court of Human Rights
2010-present: Application for Judicial Review of the BIOT Marine Protected Area
Was as follows:

2010-11  £23,555
2009-10  £36,486
2008-09  £204,693
2007-08  £114,853
2006-07  £203,300
Total spending on legal advice for the BIOT Administration was as follows:
2010-11  £47,663
2009-10  £29,088
2008-09  £19,174
2007-08  £15,177
2006-07  £16,977

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

Dr Charles Tannock has been supportive of the Chagossians for some time and here is a reply he recently wrote to one of his constituents:

My role is limited as an MEP but I have just written the High Representative Baroness Ashton a letter to bring the whole issue to her attention. The matter is essentially a bilateral one for the UK to settle but the EU may have a role in co-financing the aid package which will be required to allow the Chagossians back eg helping pay for infrastructure etc

I am not a member of the all party group which is for Westminster MPs but I am in communication with its Vice Chairman Andrew Rossindell MP who is aware of the help I am giving. For instance I have tabled Parliamentary Questions on the matter and met a delegation of displaced islanders in my Brussels office.

I have the role of MEP adviser to the governments of the British Overseas Territories and I regard this as a related human rights issue.

Kind regards

Dr Charles Tannock MEP

London Region-Conservative

Dr Tannock last month wrote ‘Enforced Exile’ for Parliament Magazine:

The Chagos Islands – an Indian Ocean archipelago under British sovereignty – would probably be unknown to the wider world were it not for the fact that successive British governments have connived to
systematically dispossess the islands’ people – the Chagossians – not only of their homes, but of their very identities.
In the late 1960s the United States wanted to construct a military base in the Chagos archipelago. Britain, deeply in debt, was in no position to refuse, particularly when the US offered to sell US Polaris missiles
at a discount in return for leasing the island of Diego Garcia. However, the quid pro quo was that all the islands would have to be completely depopulated.
Between 1968 and 1973, Labour and Conservative governments organised the expulsion of everyone living on the 55 islands of the Chagos archipelago. In order to do this, the Foreign Office’s strategy was
based on the fiction that the Chagos Islands had no settled population.
Despite the catastrophic impact of this forced removal, the islanders never gave up hope. Many Chagossians eventually moved away from the Seychelles and Mauritius, and some have settled in London, the region I represent. They have been a persistent thorn in the side of successive British governments.
The Chagossians want to return to the outer islands of the Chagos archipelago. They have never sought to resettle on Diego Garcia, which they accept will remain off-limits (it is leased to the US government
until 2016, an arrangement that is certain to be extended). There is no possible security threat to US interests from the islanders’ return to the outer islands, and to claim that such a threat exists is
disingenuous in the extreme.
Ten years ago UK High Court ruled that the islanders’ expulsion had been unlawful and that they should be allowed to return. Initially the British government accepted the ruling but it was overturned by an
opaque and undemocratic legislative procedure known as an Order-in-Council in 2004.
Last year the outgoing Labour government declared the Chagos Islands to be a protected marine zone, thereby preventing the islanders – if eventually they do return – from making their independent living from
fishing or from exploiting any oil and gas reserves that may be discovered in the Chagos Islands.
Unsurprisingly, the Chagossians have taken their case to Europe. The Foreign Office has often used the excuse that resettling the Chagossians would be prohibitively expensive from a logistical point of view.
However, in an answer to a parliamentary question I put to the Commission recently, the Commissioner responsible for development policy, Andris Piebalgs, indicated that the Commission would give full
consideration to any request from the UK, as the sovereign authority, for EU co-financing of the repatriation of the islanders.
The Chagossians are also currently pursuing their case in the European Court of Human Rights, which has suggested that the case be withdrawn in favour of a ‘friendly settlement’.

A decade has now passed since the Chagossians’ legal victory – a victory, sadly, that turned out to prove pyrrhic, in that it seemed merely to strengthen the Foreign Office’s resolve to stop the islanders going
back. Many Chagossians have settled in the UK but would go back immediately if they could. It is not only unjust but also deeply ironic -in the context of the debate in the UK on migration – that here we have a community of immigrants that would gladly go back to their homeland, if only we would let them.

 

MAURITIAN PARLIAMENT

(As reported by the Independent, 1st June)

To break the deadlock on the constitution of an arbitral tribunal consisting of five members, Mauritius requested the president of International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) Judge José Luis Jesus to assume the role of appointing the three independent arbitrators to complete the bench.
This was announced by the Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam in a statement on the case brought by Mauritius against the UK with regard to the ‘marine protected area’ which the United Kingdom is proposing to establish around the Chagos Archipelago.
Since Mauritius and the UK have not agreed on the means for the settlement of the dispute, it has to be submitted to arbitration. ‘Mauritius has appointed ITLOS Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum as a member of the Arbitral Tribunal. As for the UK, it has appointed on 19 January 2011 Sir Christopher Greenwood, Judge of the International Court of Justice,’ the PM informed the House.
The other three members of the Arbitral Tribunal had to be appointed by agreement between Mauritius and the UK. After consultations, the president of ITLOS appointed on 25 March 2011 Professor Ivan Shearer of Australia, and two ITLOS Judges, Judge James Kateka of Tanzania and Judge Albert Hoffmann of South Africa as the three remaining arbitrators. He also appointed Professor Ivan Shearer as President of the Arbitral Tribunal.

PRESS COVERAGE

There was, of course, coverage of the Chagos Regagne Conference organised last month by UKChSA patrons, Dr. Philippa Gregory and Ben Fogle (and reported in May Update).

On 21st May, Dr. Sean Carey had an article in Guardian on line on the subject and here is an extract:

Cambridge University’s Dr. Mark Spalding, a speaker at the conference and one of the world’s leading reef conservation scientists, thinks that old-style ‘colonial’ conservation is no longer credible. ‘I think that most conservation NGOs – those with their sleeves rolled up doing work on the ground – are pretty uncomfortable about doing conservation without thinking about people,’ he says. ‘I’m very sure that CEN would have lobbied other NGOs – big global ones as well as local organisations – to join their team but they didn’t [join].’ And he is in no doubt about the reasons why: the tense political situations behind Chagos – the islanders’ desire to return to their homeland as well as the desire of Mauritius to get its territory back from the UK – are important factors. ‘Conservation history is littered with failures where the voices of key stakeholders have been ignored or abused,’ he says……

So does Spalding have a solution? He does as it happens, and it is a radical one. ‘The simplest answer is, as a first stage, for those Chagossians who want to resettle to go to Diego Garcia. There would be no additional environmental impact. Moreover, the infrastructure is there – harbours, an airport, shops, restaurants and even a cinema.’

With the agreement between the UK and the US over the use of the Diego Garcia as a military base up for renewal in 2016 this is surely an opportune moment. The Americans are on record saying they have no objection to the presence of Chagossians, so while the UK officials are often quick to try and say they are bound to meet the Americans needs that shouldn’t be an obstacle. Over to you, William Hague – your signature is required.

23rd May,  Le Maurician, an article by Sylvia Edouard-Gundowry also covered the conference, concentrating on the issue of racism. She quoted Philippe Sands QC, who is representing the Mauritian government against the UK in its legal dispute over the MPA: He gave the reasons why he thinks that MPA is illegal and mentioned that all the organisations that are supporting the MPA are guilty of ‘aiding and abetting’….. Sands said in a personal capacity, ‘When it looks like a racist and colonial policy, it probably is a racist and colonial policy’.                                                                                                       In an interview with Dr Sean Carey in New Statesman in 2008, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor of social anthropology at Oslo University, expert on ethnicity, identity, politics and nationalism, declared that the ethnic origins of the islanders – descendants of African slaves and indentured Indian labourers – were significant in the way the islanders had been treated. Dr Carey asked him if a similar situation would have arisen if the Chagossian were white and Eriksen replied, ‘It is very difficult to imagine Falklands/Malvinas islanders being treated similarly to Chagos islanders without a nationwide – indeed an international – outcry’.                                                                                                                          Forty years later, is this racist policy perpetuating towards the Chagossian community?

23rd May, the Guardian printed a letter from David Snoxell (coordinator of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group) commenting on an earlier article by Sam Jones:  Your excellent report (A land neglected and decaying, but it’s still our home, 20 May) focused more on the problems than the solution to the vexed issues of the Chagos Islands. The purpose of the Chagos conference on 19 May was to explore with Chagossians, NGOs and other interested parties a way forward. The proposal being considered was for a research station for visiting scientists to be staffed by Chagossians living in an eco-village. The Foreign Office says it opposes resettlement on grounds of feasibility and defence security. But despite many parliamentary requests, it has not said what security threat Chagossians living on islands 140 miles from the US base on Diego Garcia would pose. The US remains silent. The FCO feasibility argument is based on a discredited 2002 study. A few hardline environmentalists think only scientists should be allowed to visit the islands, despite the presence of 4,000 personnel on Diego Garcia. But many scientists believe human habitation, if carefully controlled, would not damage the environment and that Chagossians would make ideal custodians of their islands.                                                                                                        The Foreign Secretary has said he is working for a just and fair settlement. This proposal offers an imaginative way out of the current logjam. But it would require the involvement of all parties – Mauritius, the US, Chagossian groups, conservationists and Parliament. It could be the first step to an overall solution of the issues, not least the future of the designated marine protected area. Mr Hague should establish an FCO department dedicated to bringing this about.

26th May, Vitesh Boodhoo wrote a lengthy article for Mauritius Now covering a press conference given by Olivier Bancoult on his return to Mauritius after the Chagos Regagne Conference during which he reasserted that Chagossians will not give up their fundamental right to return to their homeland.

2nd June, The Times featured an article by Philippa Gregory – ‘The secret Falklands that’s still in conflict’ in which she writes: I have been reading through Foreign Office papers from the 1960s to try to understand the Chagos story: it’s an eye-watering experience of duplicity and arrogance. For my day job (novelist) I have been working at the same time on the Plantagenet court in England. Even the court’s confusion and skulduggery pale beside the Foreign Office in its end-of-empire prime. The act of drowning someone in a vat of malmsey in the Tower of London would be a mere nothing to them – and easily and elegantly denied.

5th June, Craig Murray (former ambassador to Uzbekistan) wrote in the Independent: It astonishes me still more that our (government) policy in Central Asia toadies still more to the world’s most vicious dictators than it did under New Labour, in the interest of supply lines to Afghanistan and future energy contracts. Still less is there any sign of an intention to address long-standing British wrongs, such as the deportation of the whole population of the Chagos Islands to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia.
The FCO still publishes an annual human rights report. Under Robin Cook, each country’s human rights record was subjected to stern analysis. That caused embarrassment by pointing up the gross double standards with which we treat Libya, Burma and Zimbabwe on one hand, and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan on the other. So Jack Straw had the format changed. The report is now ordered by theme so that inconvenient abuses by allied states could simply be (and are) elided. The coalition government has
made no attempt to change the format or the mindset it represents.

UKChSA is still waiting for the UK government to examine the (Chagossian) beam in its own eye before spotlighting the mote in others.

 

7th June, the Guardian printed a Response article by Josh Reichert entitled ‘The Chagos Islanders have nothing to fear from this marine reserve.’ (Still available on line).  Sadly, this contained numerous mistakes such as saying that the UK Gov’t has maintained for 40 years that the Chagossians have no right of abode: Robin Cook restored the right of return (which implies abode also) to the Outer Islands in Nov 2000 and that remained in force for three and a half years until overturned by the undemocratic and secretive Orders in Council in June 2004. Unfortunately, the exiled Chagossians did not have the means to return to their homeland. All Chagossians are keen to preserve their environment and should not be prevented from doing that. They managed perfectly well before the huge military base with thousands of people was established on the main island of Diego Garcia – which is, in any case, exempted from the MPA!

Mr Reichert said the Pew Environment Group worked with a range of groups and organisations, including the Chagossians, with regard to establishing a marine reserve. This is not true as they only consulted the smallest group of UK Chagossians who recently elected their leader ‘president of a government in waiting for Diego Garcia’ in a one horse race. (Diego Garcia and the Chagos islands actually come under the control of the FCO as the British Indian Ocean Territory). Pew did not consult the larger groups in the UK or the much larger groups in Mauritius and Seychelles. Presumably they wanted to claim they had consulted ‘Chagossians’ for their own public relations purposes but consulting the leader of the smallest group is risible. Pew and the UK government did not properly consult the states surrounding the Chagos Archipelago either which was politically inept to say the least.

The  Response article spawned a shoal of comments on line the briefest of which were ‘Sorry, you didn’t say what the environmental consequences have been from stationing a huge military base on a coral atoll.’ And ‘This issue was pretty clear in the Wikileaks wasn’t it? The British Government proposed creating a wildlife reserve to undermine the Islanders chances of getting home. It’s there in black and white, so who is this guy?’

‘This guy’, Josh Reichert, is the Managing Director of Pew Environment Group, a prime mover for the establishment of the Marine Protection Area. Enough said.

 

NEWS FROM THE GROUPS.

The CRG in Mauritius held its General Assembly at the beginning of the month and here is a report by NEWSNOW:

The Leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, Mr Olivier Bancoult, told NEWSNOW last night that the majority of the Chagossians – about 600 – living in Mauritius attended the General Assembly of the CRG held in Pointe aux Sables on Sunday. Mr Bancoult said this is a concrete proof that the CRG represents the majority of the Chagossian community.
‘This is beyond our expectation and also shows the strong bonding that there exists between the Chagossians. All these people have come to the meeting by their own means. We are very supportive of each other in our common fight,’ Mr Bancoult said.
He said he explained to the Chagossian community about the conference which was held in the UK recently and its different outcomes. The CRG, he told them, denounced the implementation of the Marine Protected Area in the Chagos archipelago, saying that this is a completely illegal move on behalf of the UK government.

‘I went there to make clear that Chagossians would not agree to the MPA project if our fundamental right of return is not respected. We will not consent to the MPA project without our participation. The MPA project has once again shown the dishonesty of the UK government’ he told Chagossians on Sunday.
He also told the community that the CRG appreciated the intervention of Mr Philippe Sands, who is the Mauritian government’s counsel for the case entered in the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea’s tribunal to contest the setting up of the MPA.
‘We are very happy that the Mauritian government’s lawyer explained that Mauritius is fighting not only for its sovereignty over the Chagos archipelagos but also for the right of return of Chagossians.
‘We are very happy that the Mauritian government respects our fundamental rights,’ Mr Bancoult told the general assembly.

Still in Mauritius:

Dr Laura Jeffery is hosting a major conference at the University this month which will be attended by Chagossians, government representatives, and eco-tourism experts amongst others. In an interview for Mauritius Now, Laura said: the aim of her current research work is to have a clear view and detailed report on the present situation of Chagossians and what they plan for their future as well as the future of their children.
‘I have just started to interview Chagossians in Mauritius. I would have to question as many Chagossians as possible to have a better and clearer idea about what they want their future to be and that of their children.’
She explained that her research would mostly concentrate on Chagossians living in Mauritius because most of the exiled Chagossians were sent to Mauritius, but that her research will also focus on other Chagossians living in the Seychelles, and in England.

 

Seychelles Nation carried an account of the visit by two Chagossians from the Seychelles to their homeland (the same trip as Bernadette Dugasse – April Update.)

Liza Micock and Anne Marie Gendron returned from a week-long visit to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) as part of a programme funded by the UK Government. Both women were born on the island; Liza left before she was two years old and Anne Marie when she was seven, and have memories and family stories about life on the islands. It was the first time that either of them had been back and their stay included some time on Diego Garcia, the main island, where they visited the Old Settlement and local cemeteries and two days aboard a ship to tour the northern atolls of Peros Banhos and Salomon, where flowers were also laid at local graveyards on Ile Du Coin and Ile Boddam.
‘It was very special to go back to Diego and the other islands and see places that I remember from growing up there when I was a child. Attending mass at the church where I was baptised was very emotional,’ Anne Marie Gendron said of her visit.‘Also the beauty of the beaches and the ocean took my breath away and the fish was so fresh, we ate it every day! It was a great opportunity.’
‘A lot of politics surround the islands,’ Liza added, ‘but what was important for me was having the chance to visit and I hope that others get to share that same experience.’

CRG in UK

Sabrina Jean, leader of the CRG in UK (Crawley) was invited to speak at a conference organised by a Leeds University Student about the Indian Ocean. She represented the Chagos Refugee Group and was pleased to tell them about the Islanders struggle for justice. She was shocked to find how many people in the hall did not know about the Chagossian problem. The conference went well: people listened then asked lots of questions. She found it a very emotional experience and was pleased that her listeners thought it a crime against humanity.

At the end of this month, Sabrina and five others will be going to a Lush event. More about this next month.

 

Crawley
The Ifield Community College Choir

Two concerts with the BBC Singers called “Rhythms of the World” are taking place on 17th and 18th June 2011 at Ifield Community College, Crawley and BBC Maida Vale Studios, London.

Amongst the guests will be H.E. Mr Abhimanu Kundasamy, High Commissioner of the Republic of Mauritius and Mr Ramiah, Cultural Attaché, as well as Henry Smith, MP for Crawley.

The BBC will broadcast a short feature about the choir in the magazine programme Music Matters, presented by Tom Service on BBC Radio 3 at 12.15 lunchtime, on Saturday 18th June. Still available on iplayer, the Chagossian item is about 15 minutes in.

The concerts will showcase choral music from around the world. Both choirs perform on their own before coming together with the drummers to perform Missa Luba – a version of the Latin Mass based on traditional Congolese songs.

(A supporter has written to tell us that Patrick Allen won the Guardian Award for Secondary School Teacher of the Year in 2004. No surprise to regular readers of Update and followers of the Choir – a truly inspirational teacher)

 

DATE FOR YOUR DIARY – Edinburgh Festival.

A Rotten Little Story is a short one-act play that tells the murky tale of the secret sale by the British government of the paradise island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The story told is based on the true events of how, at the behest of the US government, Britain `kidnapped’ the islanders during the 1960s and dumped them in the slums of Mauritius where many of them still struggle to survive.

The shocking events of the “British Indian Ocean Territory” have been kept hidden from mainstream public knowledge ever since the late 1960’s, but the plight of the islanders continues to this day.

“A Rotten Little Story” exposes the truth behind this sorry tale, and is a pulsating piece of theatre that is a must see. Its simple, storytelling style makes it suitable for younger audiences, and the themes and content ensure it is always a play very much appropriate for adults to experience.

Directed by Bandwagon Theatre Company

Written by Dr Jim McCarthy

Set Design: Stacey Jo-Branford

Edinburgh Fringe Festival Preview Shows

Greenside Studio 1, Royal Terrace, Edinburgh

August 5th, 6th, 7th, all at 12:45pm

Tickets: Free

Box Office:+44 (0)131 226 0000

Greenside Box Office: 0131 557 2124

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011

Greenside Studio 1, Royal Terrace, Edinburgh

August 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, all at 12:45pm

Tickets £5, Concessions £4

Box Office:+44 (0)131 226 0000

Greenside Box office: 0131 557 2124

 

BOOKS

Last month Update mentioned a book launch in Amsterdam and we have been sent this account: The book ‘Eviction from the Chagos Islands: Displacement and Struggle for Identity’ was launched at VU University Amsterdam, 31 May 2011. Stephen Allen, Jocelyn Chan Low, Vinesh Hookoomsing, Laura Jeffery, Steffen Johannessen, Maureen Tong and David Vine have contributed to this volume, which has been edited by Sandra Evers and Marry Kooy. The authors of several vignettes enrich the book with personal testimonies of the trials and challenges of the Chagossians past and present.
Political scientist Wilbert van der Zeijden introduced the book launch with a lecture on the centrality of Diego Garcia in U.S. military infrastructures, and the consequences of the base for the Chagossians. Some stories of Chagossians were presented in a very lively way by Dutch journalist Saar Slegers, who let us listen to some excerpts of her recent radio documentary on the Chagossians in Mauritius. In a short interview, Mauritian film maker Atman Ramchalaon, who lives in Amsterdam, spoke about his commitment to the Chagossian cause. One of his childhood friends was born in Chagos. Ramchalaon told him that if he would make it to the film academy, he would make his first documentary on Chagos. So he did. With the eviction a unique society was lost, he said during the meeting. Bernadette Dugasse spoke about her experiences and showed us some pictures of her recent trip to the Chagos islands. We were glad that almost 30 people were present. Some of them did not know about the history and situation of the Chagossians, and said they were impressed by these stories. A Dutch national newspaper published an interview with Bernadette Dugasse, and Sandra Evers was interviewed by the presenter of a popular national radio programme.
We hope the book will be a fruitful contribution to the future of the Chagossians.

Bernadette had a wonderful time in Amsterdam for the book launch. She also did a press interview and had a sightseeing tour of the city by boat with one of the authors, Marry. She was presented with a copy of the book (by Marry Kooy and Sandra Evers) and also bought a copy for her friend Charlesia Alexis – a noted Chagossian singer.

 

‘L’an prochain a Diego Garcia…’ (Next year in Diego Garcia) is not yet available in English. It is a thoroughly researched book on the expulsion of the Chagossians by Jean-Claude de l’Estrac. More information by email on request.

 

MESSAGES FROM SUPPORTERS

 

It is not possible to mention all who contact UKChSA each month but here are two unusual ones:

From K: I am a U.S. Navy veteran. I was also on the first American ship, the USS Monticello LSD 35, to enter Diego Garcia back in April 1971.

Since that time I have learned about the gross injustices perpetrated against the Chagossian People by the U.S. and U.K.Governments. This subject has been something that’s been burning in my heart for years, especially since I viewed the John Pilger film ‘Stealing a Nation’. As a member of Veterans For Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, I would like to help your movement anyway I can. With that in mind, do you have an office or any representatives in the United States. If you do, would you please pass my contact information on to them so perhaps we could work together to publicize what happened in Diego Garcia and the Chagossian People many years ago.

From Clency: Hope you’re well. I’m not sure if this is too late for this month’s Update but I wanted to share with you an excellent presentation by Tori Hywel-Davies who took part in the Ignite presentations. The rules were you had 5 minutes to present a 20 slide presentation on a subject of your choice. A tricky challenge at the best of times, even more so when it’s your first attempt at public speaking. I’m sure you’ll agree it was a fantastic effort:

 

Correction.  Last month’s Update said that Richard Gifford is lawyer for the CRG – he is also lawyer for Seychellois Chagossians.