March 2005 update

1. Minutes of last meeting have been circulated and agreed.

2. CHAIRMAN’S REPORT
Firstly we would like to welcome the new faces to our meeting.
As we meet today we are in a worse situation, certainly legally, in regard to the Chagos issue, than we were when we formed in year 2001.

It was the successful High Court hearing of 2000 that brought us together as an action group, and it was devastating to see the loss of last year’s court cases, and the slapping on by H.M. Govt. of Orders in Council banning all resettlement of the Chagos Islands.

When we delve a bit deeper though, substantial progress has been achieved: we have raised awareness of the Chagos issue in the U.K. & overseas, much needed funding has been raised for all the Chagos groups, several thousand pounds by now. I would like to express my thanks to everyone responsible for this remarkable achievement
We have also remained a thorn in H.M. Govt. side, and will continue to be so, until some justice is attained.

Our excellent web site is receiving a lot of interest and we have had contacts from Australia, New Zealand & other countries, more on this later in our Secretary’s report. I would like to thank our very active webmaster Robert, for his sterling efforts, in bringing our site up to such a high standard.

As regards future Chagos developments, I was intrigued to read David Snoxall’s comments on completion of his tour as British High Commissioner, Mauritius recently. Mr. Snoxall stated that he felt it would be well into the future before Diego Gartcia would be ceded to Mauritius, but that the outer Islands may be negotiable, on an earlier basis. One wonders if there is a F&C Office shabby deal brewing.
In regard to the recent devastating Tsunami across the Indian Ocean, it is striking that virtually no damage was sustained by the Chagos Archipelago, it being protected so well by deep ocean trenches and massive coral reefs. This removes at a stroke the main plank on which H.M. Govt. says habitation is not sustainable.

The sanctioned trip to the Chagos by H.M. Govt. by representatives of Chagos groups, to visit family graves and old homes, had been put on hold by the Govt. giving the excuse that the Mauritian Authorities would not allow one of their boats to be used. In answer to this delaying tactic Olivier & the C.R.G. have located a suitable commonwealth vessel currently near the Indian Ocean, Bill Rammell when confronted with these details, was stunned and said he would respond. This is a truly crazy situation as Britain has plenty of its own vessels it could use for this trip, several Royal Navy vessels are currently in the Indian Ocean.
To add insult to injury the B.I.O.T. Admin. Have sanctioned an eco cruise to the Chagos in April this year costing £4000.00 a head arranged by the Chagos Conservation Trust, sailing from the Seychelles. They have also sanctioned a scientific trip by the C.C.T. during 2006 to study rat infestation of Eagle Island. Not the only place where rats are found!

However, the latest information from Olivier and the CRG in Mauritius is that the Islanders’ visit should now take place in April using a ship called RTS Sinbad Nui based in Zanzibar. During the visit they are hoping to place a commemorative plaque on each of the main islands. Two priests and a doctor will travel with the Chagossians who will number a hundred. Let’s hope it happens this time.

The Chagos community in the U.K. is now becoming established, and numbers around the 200 mark, most are finding jobs & accommodation, and settling into the British way of life. Our Secretary has recently visited them in Crawley.

The legal route is now via the European Court of Human Rights which could take a long time before there are actual developments, as there are so many cases referred to this court by member countries. We are also aware that 96% of cases do not proceed but we are convinced the Chagos case certainly should.

I will now pass to our Treasurer for her report, and thank everyone concerned with the Chagos issue, for all their support and backing during a very difficult twelve months.

3. TREASURER’S REPORT

At our last meeting, there was a balance in the account of £378.53.
Since that date we have received a total of £3,213.50 from fund raising activities and donations by members.

£3,000 has been dispersed to the various groups during this period leaving £592 in the account at the moment.

Sadly, we have to pay a transfer fee of £20 with every donation sent overseas.

4. SECRETARY’S REPORT

John Pilger’s programme “Stealing a Nation” has increased our membership since last October and we are heartened by the interest people are taking in the plight of the Chagossians. Many visit the website and say how good it is and I, too, would like to thank Robert for all the hard work he puts in on it.

Amongst our more recent contacts are:

Mary, who is doing post-graduate degree work in International Law. She is hoping to increase awareness of the Chagos issue at SOAS, University of London.

Jeanita, born on Diego Garcia, exiled to Seychelles and now working in Australia. She was pleased to discover us and has been put in contact with Pierre Prosper, leader of the Seychelles Chagossians.

Gerald, a photographer from Canada now living on Mauritius. We helped him contact the Chagos Refugee Group and he has visited Olivier and offered to help in practical ways.

Two Scottish folk singers heard the Chagossian appeal to “help us to send our message to the world” and are doing so via their music.
I could go on but will just say that all our contacts are valued from students right through to seniors. We hope they all keep up the good work of spreading the word. Rich, who has been with us for a while, is planning to publicise the issue while on a Peace March in London later this month and, thanks to our web-master, we have a useful info sheet that can be handed out called “Paradise Stolen”.

Alex, who has also been with us some time, is working on a new web-site called www.ukwatch.net with a much wider remit than ours but will post useful information about the Chagossians there too.

Mike and Chuti, two post-graduate students in International Human Rights Law at the University of Central England (Birmingham) have prepared a statement to submit to the 61st. Session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva and will also be doing an “Oral intervention” to the Commission highlighting key points of the Chagos issue. This is a superb opportunity to speak to the international community.

I advised Mary, mentioned earlier, to contact Jeremy Corbyn M.P. She did and he has asked her to draft a statement/oral intervention on behalf of the Chagossians for Liberation which is a UK based, UN recognised, NGO that he chairs. She has now contacted Mike, in Birmingham, to co-ordinate what they say to best advantage.

I have been encouraging everyone, in Updates, to contact ITV to repeat the Pilger programme. Richard Gifford received a quite promising reply from Nigel Pickard but all other responses have been entirely negative. David, from London, points out that it’s not in the government’s interest to have it repeated.

Mr. Jim Boumelha, Chair of Policy Committee for the NUJ, contacted us as the union had been mandated by its annual conference to do something about the situation of the Chagos Islanders. Probably the most useful thing they could do, as news informers and opinion formers, is to write lots of articles publicising the issue and calling on the government to right this dreadful wrong.

We hear that things are afoot in Europe. Olivier has had talks with Jacques Vergess, a noted lawyer, who is to challenge the Orders in Council at the International Court of Human Rights. M.Vergess is a brother of Paul Vergess MEP for Reunion who has taken an interest in the Chagos Islanders. Glenys Kinnock MEP tabled a Parliamentary Question to the European Commission asking it to respond to the suggestion that European Development Funds could be made available to support a future settlement for the Chagos Islands. The answer simply restated that BIOT had not received any financial allocation from the EDF and that the UK commissioned a feasibility study which has been published. The question that really needs to be answered is “What can the EU do about a member state that ignores the Human Rights of its citizens?”

We hear, from Olivier, that the trip to visit ancestral graves on the Islands will now be made in April. We sincerely hope there will be no more delays by Bill Rammell and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We note that Tony Humphries has taken over from Charles Hamilton at the BIOT and Pitcairn desk in the FCO. Bill Rammell, of course, is in overall charge under Jack Straw. Mark Twain said “The human being is the only animal that blushes – or needs to”. The Ministers should not only be ashamed of the way the Islanders were treated in the past but should be putting things right again.

5. ANY OTHER BUSINESS

The meeting was thrown open to the floor.

It was decided to disburse the bulk of the money from the account to be used by the Chagossian groups.

A suggestion was made that the Chagossians themselves should be encouraged to perform some publicity stunt (of an eyecatching but peaceful nature) to help raise awareness in the press and public. All ideas are welcome, please.

Helen John, who attended the meeting, intends to stand against Tony Blair in Sedgefield her particular platform being the banning of nuclear weapons. She reminded us of the price the USA paid to the UK for the use of the Islands – a deduction on nuclear weapons. The true price was paid by the exiled Chagos Islanders.

It was agreed that the “fight” continues.