March 2009 update

  • The European Court of Human Rights is considering the admissibility and merits of the Chagos islanders’ case, and the UK government will be invited to submit written observations by mid-June. Legal representatives for the islanders will then have a chance to respond.

  • The biggest help to the Chagossian cause so far this year has been the formation of the All Party Parliamentary Group. The group held its third meeting on 4 March, with a good turnout from both Houses and all three parties. The group discussed the proposal for a Chagos Conservation Area, supporting this conservation initiative but taking the view that the interests of the Chagossians remain paramount. The Group considered several actions in progress: a possible new study on the practicalities of resettlement, contacts with EU Commissioners and party political leaders in the European Parliament, the case in Strasbourg, a letter that has been sent on behalf of the group to President Obama and Gordon Brown, and a forthcoming meeting with the US Embassy. The next meeting of the Group will be on 18 March to coincide with the visit of Olivier Bancoult who will meet members and who later will call on Gillian Merron MP, the FCO Minister responsible for BIOT.

    At the invitation of the Chairman, Gillian Merron and her officials joined the Group for a discussion. The Group wished to work closely with the Minister and the FCO to find solutions to the future of the Chagossians and Chagos Islands. The Group’s proposal, supported by the FAC, for a new, truly independent study on the practicalities of resettlement, given that the 2002 feasibility study was out-of-date and in the eyes of many also discredited, was raised with the Minister. The legal costs to the taxpayer so far and further costs of Strasbourg, together with the prospect of the UK losing and facing international condemnation, was also raised. The Minister expressed her wish to remain in touch with the Group, which she thought could play a useful role, and to answer any questions they may have.

  • The CRG has responded to a Conservation Plan for the Chagos Islands by the Chagos Conservation Trust. The CRG said it supports environmentalists in the establishment of protected areas and the creation of a permanent research base in the Chagos Islands, as long as such plans are made in consultation with the people of Chagos, and allow for Chagossians to return to their homeland. Selecting islanders for training would have to be an important part of any project. The group said: “We assert that the Chagossians themselves would be better guardians of their islands.”

  • Hengride Permal of the Chagos Island Community Association in Crawley sends us the sad news that Regina Mandarin died on 16 February, aged 68. Chagos born, Regina was one of a kind – a great fighter for the cause and a very good-hearted person. She will be missed a great deal. A letter has been written to the Foreign Minister asking for a visit to take Regina’s ashes to Peros Bahnos and to have a monument to her there. This was Regina’s wish and a positive answer has been received.

  • Allen Vincatassin, leader of the Diego Garcian Society in Crawley, met with new Overseas Territories Minister Gillian Merron on 12 February in Crawley. Allen has asked for her urgent consideration of issues including British citizenship rules, visas for spouses, and projects that will benefit the community.

  • We are always keen to get ideas, information and feedback from readers. Most feedback last month was shock that the Chagos Environment Network was planning to create a vast conservation area in the Chagos Archipelago without the knowledge of the Chagossian Islanders. Articles sympathetic to the Islanders appeared in New Scientist, Independent and the Economist.

    The Chagos Environment Network should be aware that the UK is a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination both of which are strong on the rights of indigenous people.

  • Dr David Vine has a new book out next month entitled Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. He is planning a speaking tour to raise awareness of the Chagossian situation.

  • A seminar was held at Dublin City University recently entitled ‘Remembering the Chagos islands in Contemporary Mauritian Literature’, examined how the plight of the Chagossians has been represented in modern writing, notably in Le Silence des Chagos by Shenaz Patel.