March 2007 update

  • The Chagos debate organised by the London School of Economics’ Mauritian and Public Affairs societies was well-attended and interesting. Richard Gifford, the solicitor who has battled valiantly for the Chagossians for many years, summed up the situation and gave his hopes and suggestions for future progress. Former diplomat Iain Orr, now of consultancy Biodiplomacy, played devil’s advocate in the absence of a government representative. Hengride Permal, chair of the Chagos Island Community Association, based in Crawley, made an impassioned plea for the return of the islanders to their home and the removal of the US base.

  • On 5 March there was an excellent article in The Times by Ishbel Matheson of the Minority Rights Group. She quoted a government QC at the recent hearing saying: “None of those who currently live in British Overseas Territories has a right of abode which cannot be removed by Her Majesty”. Matheson wrote: “That will come as a shock to all the citizens of the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar……with the flourish of a ministerial pen, the busybodies in London may yet evict the lot of you.”

  • Lord Triesman recently gave this written answer to a question from Lord Hoyle on whether the rights of those living in British Overseas Territories can be taken away from them: “In general, rights of the individual established under the Constitution of an Overseas Territory, or provided for in other legislation, can only be taken away by passing amending legislation. Rights of the individual established by a treaty, which has been extended to an Overseas Territory, can only be removed by extending an amending treaty to the territory, or by denunciation of the treaty. A view would have to be taken at the time as to whether it was appropriate and legal to remove any right.”

  • On 7 March BBC Radio 4 broadcast Paradise Lost – the Story of the Chagos Islands, a documentary telling the story of the eviction and struggle of the islanders. In the programme, Mauritian president Sir Anerood Jugnauth said he may take the UK to the International Court of Justice over the Islanders’ plight.

  • An enquiry to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about legal costs to the taxpayer so far finds that the Crown has spent nearly two million pounds fighting the Chagossians’ right to return – not including this year…

  • On Tuesday 27 March, at the Friends Meeting House, The Friars, Canterbury, various groups will combine to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade and to remember George Champion. George was one of the first and most dedicated supporters of the exiled islanders, even changing his name to George Chagos. “Diego Garcia and Slavery?” will be at 7.30pm. Speakers will be Allen Vincatassin, leader of the BIOT Peoples Party and Marika Sherwood, author of After Abolition and the event will be chaired by the Reverend Philip Barker.