March 2008 update

  • The most unexpected news recently was David Miliband revealing to the Commons (information already known to Reprieve, the EU, readers of this update and various newspapers) that Diego Garcia had indeed been used for refuelling rendition flights by the USA, despite having denied this previously on the basis of assurances from the US. The BBC’s Paul Reynolds, pointed out that “not only was the US government supposed to ask permission for such flights, but assurances were given to Britain which led to misleading statements by ministers”.

  • Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugee Group (CRG) in Mauritius said: “We Chagossians deeply regret that our island has been used as a place where terror suspects have been transported while we are not free to go there… We believe the time has come for the British Government to follow the example of the Australian Prime Minister [who has apologised to the Aborigines] to take responsibility for their acts and doings and to apologise to the Chagossian community.”

  • Last month we reported that eight islanders were visiting the Archipelago in order to tend the graves on Salomon and Peros Banhos. They have arrived there and started on their work. Pete Bouquet and Jon Castle are also in the Archipelago at the moment aboard their boat the Musichana.

  • In November last year, with support from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, we began the exercise to assist the Chagossians to formulate proposals for the resettlement of the northern atolls. Even in the period when the FCO (under Robin Cook) was contemplating resettlement, there was no consultation with the Chagossians. Since that time, the FCO has consistently opposed resettlement on the grounds of both environmental risk and economic costs.
    Our job has been to contest these grounds and to indicate how we believe resettlement should take place. We approached John Howell, the former Director of the Overseas Development Institute in London and, more recently, Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs in South Africa, to help in this task.

    John visited Mauritius three times and, in addition to working with the Chagossians, met with potential investors (in tourism and fisheries especially), consulting engineers, environmental NGOs and quantity surveyors. He has now produced a draft set of proposals that is being circulated among a number of people with specialist interests in the Chagos Islands, including some resettlement sceptics.

    Our proposals draw upon the two feasibility studies commissioned by the British Indian Ocean Territory administration in 2000 and 2002 on the resettlement of the Peros Banhos and Salomon atolls and on the Chagos Conservation Management Plan (also commissioned by BIOT) in 2003. We had nothing like the resources (in staff numbers, time and site access) available to any of those studies, and we are not claiming to have produced a fully-fledged Resettlement Plan. This is a task for BIOT, hopefully taking account of our proposals and consulting closely with those who intend to return on a permanent basis. In our proposals we are providing our preliminary answers to five main questions that BIOT will have to address if it finally accepts the case for resettlement:

    – How many Chagossians want to return and what are their expectations for housing, services and amenities?
    – How will Chagossians secure incomes and livelihoods, and their islands generate revenues, to pay for the services and amenities required?
    – How will Chagossians contribute to the conservation of the marine and land resources on which their livelihoods will depend?
    – How will the resettlement be managed and the islands run their affairs?
    – How much will resettlement cost and where will the money come from?

    We hope to complete the final round of consultations over the next month and then make the proposal, provisionally titled ‘Going Home: A proposal for the resettlement of the Chagos Islands’, available to the public. In due course, we hope to receive a response to the proposals from BIOT. More importantly, we hope to receive a response that recognises the constructive contribution that the CRG and others have made to addressing reasonable concerns about environmental conservation and economic viability in the resettlement of the northern atolls.

  • As well as the coverage in the papers of Mr Miliband’s statement on rendition flights, there was a rather more unusual item in the Mirror: ten reality TV stars were asked what they would do if they were Prime Minister. Steve Brookstein, who was an X-Factor winner in 2004 (and is now on tour) said “I’d apologise to the natives of Diego Garcia who were thrown off their island in 1973 to make way for a US military base.” Contact has been made with Steve who has very kindly agreed to write, sing and publish a song for the Chagossians.

  • Recently, the Royal Commonwealth Society held a public debate on ‘Human Rights and the Commonwealth’ which focused on the War on Terrorism. During questions at the end, the rendition flights were mentioned by several people who also commented on Her Majesty’s Government’s treatment of the Chagossians. Devapriyo Das (Acting Head of Public Affairs) emphasized that justice for the Chagossians matters to the RCS.

  • The Chagos Islands Community Association in Crawley has submitted evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Overseas Territories. On Saturday 15 March CICA will be holding a public meeting in London at International Student House, Great Portland Street. After speeches from MPs and trade unionists, there will be a showing of John Pilger’s film Stealing a Nation. All are welcome.

  • Thank you to all who have sent donations to help the Chagossians. Enough money was recently transferred from UKCSA to Mauritius for eight homes to be repaired. Your money supplied corrugated iron sheets, wooden posts, cement and nails and the Chagossians provided the labour. Marlene Ono, Jacques Uranie, Alfred Desire, Jenny Mardav, Jeannine Jaffar and Joseph Francois are very grateful for the work done. We would also like to thank the people of the church in Mauritius which organises this work on a voluntary basis.

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