March 2006 update

  • We are pleased to report that, thanks to your generous donations, Yves Florian, Denise Raphael and Rita Baptiste will soon have homes in a better state of repair than previously. This work is a three way partnership: we pay for the materials, the Chagossians do the work, and it has been organised by “Mo Pense Toi”,a charitable group in Mauritius. By UK standards, the requirements are very basic: corrugated sheets, wooden posts, nails, and some cement, so a little money goes a long way.
    The Mo Pense Toi team have been a great help and support to Chagossians in many ways including extra tuition for students, contributions to exam fees and providing spectacles.

  • The Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) sends thanks for your continuing support and best wishes to all. In their own words, “We hope that we will dance like David, be favoured like Esther, lead like Joshua, be blessed like Jacob and laugh like Sarah.”
    The big news from Mauritius, of course, is the pilgrimage to the Chagossian homeland which, we are told, should set off on March 30th on m/s Mauritius Trochetia. The islanders plan to leave monuments on Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Salomon.

  • Ascension Island has been widely covered by the media recently with articles in several papers and on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (Radio 4). Thanks to Dr Vince Cable MP, there was an Adjournment Debate in Westminster Hall on 15 February to discuss the problem. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) encouraged Ascension islanders to set up an Island Council and invest in homes and businesses – then did a complete U-turn when this was all underway. No credible reason has been given. Cost has been mentioned but that would have been considered from first mooting a Council. Rather patronisingly, the FCO man, Douglas Alexander, implied there had been some “confusion” among the Island Council. Not true – paperwork exists which unambiguously shows that expectations were created and built up over a period of years.
    The Ascension islanders feel betrayed. The Chagossians can sympathise with that and they are still waiting for justice – decades later.

  • Both the Chagossians and this a are very annoyed at something the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been telling concerned correspondents: that, although the Chagossians had won the (limited) right to return in November 2000, none chose to do so. This ignores a few basic facts – their homes and livelihood had been destroyed, they are now living many miles away, and (thanks to the UK government) they are poor. How were they supposed to fund a return?

  • David Cameron MP, leader of the Conservative Party, received wide press coverage with his criticism of the Royal Prerogative. We are with him on this one: Orders in Council are the Royal Prerogative in action and are a totally undemocratic course of action by any government. We are still waiting for the High Court judgement on the Chagossian appeal against the Orders in Council which prevent them ever resettling their homeland.

  • We have news of the ongoing case in the United States and we are grateful to Emily Creighton and Karin Sinniger for the following:
    “On December 20, 2001 the Chagossians filed a class action complaint against the US government for forced relocation, torture, racial discrimination (i.e. refusing to hire Chagossians to work on the base), negligence, trespass and several other torts (wrongs). Various named US government officials (including familiar names like Robert McNamara, Dick Cheyney; Donald Rumsfeld, etc.) with knowledge of these torts were also sued in their personal capacity.
    On December 21, 2004, a District Court dismissed the case stating that because the Chagossians’ claims arose out of the development of a military base, they presented a political question which the court was not permitted to hear. (i.e. in the US, the legislature makes laws and the judiciary interprets them. The District Court felt that if it heard the Chagossians’ case, it would be venturing into foreign policy territory which was not its role.) The District Court also immunized the individual government officials under the Westfall Act.
    On Feb. 16, 2006, the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. heard the Chagossians appeal. The Chagossians argued that the District Court erred in failing to exercise its constitutional power to hear the Chagossians’ case because the court did not distinguish the federal officials’ justiciable illegal conduct (i.e refusing to let the Chagossians who needed to go to Mauritius for medical attention return to their islands in the 1960s; gassing the Chagossians’ pets; cutting off their food supply; forcing them onto a ship where they lived in unsanitary conditions with no food or water and then dumping them on a foreign island without compensation) which occurred in the process of implementing government policy, from the US government’s non-justiciable foreign policy. In other words, the Chagosians are claiming DG could have been built without their human rights having been violated. (Justiciable = capable of being decided by legal principles or by a court of justice.)
    The Chagossians also argued that the district court improperly immunized individual government officials under the Westfell Act. The Westfell Act shields individuals acting for the US government from liability for garden (commonplace) variety torts arising out of the ordinary conduct of their official business but it does not exempt them from liability for egregious and illegal acts.
    The judges were interested in how they could issue a positive decision in this case without being flooded with Abu Ghraib torture claims. The Chagossians lawyers responded that the construction of the base at DG occurred in peacetime and that military action in Iraq is ongoing and that the treatment of detainees at war can’t be equated to the treatment of a peaceful population. The judges were also interested in whether the actions of the government people who oversaw the removal of the Chagossians from their islands were within the scope of their employment. The government lawyer had no answer to the question of how acts of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment can be considered part of an official’s duties.
    The Chagossians’ US legal team is hopeful that the Court of Appeal will order the District Court to rehear the case and have a trial on the merits. If the Chagossians don’t win, however, they will not stop fighting. They will ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider their decision “en banc”, and if that fails, they will petition the Us Supreme Court to hear their case.

  • Readers might like to check out the case of the Greenland Innuits who were forced to leave Thule in the early fifties to make way for an American airbase.

  • We wrote to the Duke of Edinburgh re his film of Diego Garcia. Sadly, his equerry says that HRH’s librarian has been unable to find any record of cine film or photos taken during his wartime visit to DG. What a pity.

  • We have learnt some more about the New Federation Board for football for countries that do not exist (such as Chagos, Lapps, Tibet etc.) but, sadly, Chagossians will not be able to take part because of the costs involved for kit and travel.

  • Among our new contacts this month is a gentleman who found a brass icon with an image of Christ and an inscription in French whilst diving in the Peros Banhos lagoon in the late 70s. It is his wish to hand this is on to the Chagossians. As Pierre Prosper (leader of the Seychelles Chagossians) is currently in London, he will be very pleased to accept it and hold it in trust for all Chagossians until it can go back home with them permanently.

  • Please help to spread the word about this blot on British history and encourage everyone you know to protest to their MPs.