March 2011 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 19th meeting on 2 March 2011.

Members reviewed developments and the letters which had been exchanged between the Chairman and  FCO Minister Mr Bellingham, concerning defence security and Wikileaks and between Lord Avebury and Lord Howell (FCO Minister), concerning the destruction of the draft Feasibility Study in 2002. The Chairman had written to the Foreign Secretary to invite him to meet the Group and a reply was awaited. The Group was pleased to note that the Foreign Secretary had agreed to meet  Andrew Rosindell MP and representatives of UKChSA next week to discuss the future of BIOT.

The Group was disappointed to learn that Mr Bellingham had declined to support a proposal for a new study to be conducted by the Commonwealth Business Council which Olivier Bancoult had put to him at their meeting last October. It appeared that both the EU and DfID had been willing to consider funding the study.

The Group considered the implications of further Wikileaks, published on 5 February by the Telegraph, of US Embassy cables (11/7/08 and 5/6/09), in which an FCO official had told the US Embassy that HMG would honour the ruling of the ECtHR if it decided in favour of the Chagossians’ right of resettlement but that HMG would appeal within the ECtHR system if the Chagossians prevailed in the first instance. Members wondered if that was also the position of the Coalition Government. They also noted that the same official had commented that HMG considered Mauritian assent an essential prerequisite to creating an MPA. (But that the MPA had subsequently been declared despite the opposition of the Mauritian Government).

The Chairman reported on a helpful meeting with the High Commissioner of Mauritius. The Group took note of the statement made by the Prime Minister of Mauritius to the African Union Summit (in which he drew attention to the removal of the Chagossians and the presence of Olivier Bancoult in his delegation) in Addis on 30 January, and the resolution unanimously adopted by the Summit, deciding fully to support the action of Mauritius at the UN General Assembly with a view to Mauritius exercising its sovereignty over the Archipelago.

The Group took note of the article (My fight for the forgotten islanders) by Ben Fogle in the Sunday Telegraph on 13 February and the Coordinator’s letter (Protecting the rights of Chagos Islanders) the following Sunday.

The next meeting of the APPG will take place on 4th April before the Easter recess.

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Chagos Islands APPG

House of Commons.

William Hague, Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

10th March Written Answers and Statements:

Our overall vision is for our territories to be vibrant and flourishing communities, proudly retaining aspects of their British identity and generating wider opportunities for their people. We want to cherish the rich environmental assets for which, together, we are responsible.

We will continue vigorously to uphold the principle of self-determination and to ensure the continued security of all the overseas territories. We set this commitment out clearly in the strategic defence and security review. We want to help the territories plan their future in a competitive and unpredictable world. We will help territories that are struggling economically to avoid unnecessary financial dependence on the UK. We will help territories that now rely on UK financial support to reduce their dependence and pursue the path towards economic sustainability. We will ensure a sustained and robust British presence in our uninhabited territories to protect them for future generations.

We are determined that the situation we have found in the Turks and Caicos Islands is not repeated, there or elsewhere. We therefore want to work with territories to make sure the right controls are in place to ensure good governance and sound management of public finances.

I am clear that, as well as seeking greater engagement with the territories from all Government Departments, the FCO must increase the resources allocated to this important work. Despite our challenging spending review settlement I have ensured that this is so. As I informed Parliament on 1 February, I have decided to increase the overseas territories programme fund to £7 million per year. I have ensured the resources available to run the overseas territories network are maintained at a level that will permit the upgrading of a number of governorships which were downgraded in recent years. This will help ensure that we are able to recruit governors with the skills and experience to do these unusual and challenging jobs.

In addition, I have reallocated resources in the current financial year to help rectify some of the budgetary weaknesses that have emerged in some territories in recent years.

Most importantly, and mindful of the recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Committee I have approved a discretionary grant of £6.6 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands  Government to reimburse the costs incurred in the past year pursuing corruption and violent crime. This is for the special investigation and prosecution team; related civil recovery work; and the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands police. My officials have co-ordinated this carefully with  DFID’s work to underpin the territory’s public finances.

This is an exceptional case. Our basic principle remains that it is an integral part of good governance for a territory Government to ensure that the criminal justice system is properly funded. Territories should not look to the UK to fund criminal investigations or prosecutions that they are reluctant to pursue themselves. But the burden in this case has been exceptional. The fiscal rescue package put in place by DFID should enable future costs to be met from the Turks and Caicos Islands Government public purse in the normal way.

I have also approved the following:

£1 million to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Administration to strengthen the territory’s reserves. This     is necessary in the face of rising costs of operating the BIOT patrol vessel. These funds will also enable the Administration to support new measures to help Chagossians visit the territory for humanitarian purposes and to contribute to environmental work in the territory. In this context, I would also like to inform the Committee that the BIOT Administration has concluded an agreement with the Blue Foundation and the Bertorelli Foundation by which the Bertorelli Foundation will donate £3.5 million over the next five years to offset the loss of fisheries revenue that has flowed from the establishment of a full no-take marine protected area. I am most grateful to these foundations for their generous support…..                                                                                                                     I also plan to bring all aspects of the Government’s policies on the overseas territories together in a new White Paper in the course of the year ahead. We will want to consult widely on this. I am working with relevant Departments on a new strategy to underpin this Government’s approach to the territories. I intend to seek agreement to this strategy across Government through the National Security Council and will update the House further once this is complete.                                                                                                                                          I will inform Parliament of the outcome of discussions in the NSC in due course

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE.

After February Update, it was suggested that we print the reply John Loader received from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Skip this bit if you have already received an identical missive!

Dear Mr. Loader,

Thank you for your letter of 6th October to the Foreign Secretary on the use of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). As a member of the Overseas Directorate, I have been asked to reply.

The Government is continuing to contest the case brought by the Chagos Islanders to the European Court of Human Rights as we believe that the arguments against allowing resettlement on the grounds of defence security and feasibility are clear and compelling. We do not see the case for paying further compensation as this has already been paid in full and final settlement of all claims. Both of these issues have already been decided by the UK Courts.

Full immigration control over the whole of the British Indian Ocean Territory is necessary to ensure and maintain the availability and effective use of the Territory for defence purposes of both the UK and the US in accordance with our treaty obligations to the US. The obligations stem from the UK/US Exchange of Notes which govern the use of the whole of the Territory for defence purposes. The first of these agreements was the 1966 Exchange of Notes which provides that BIOT is to remain available for the defence needs of the two countries for an initial period of fifty years. It also provided for a continuation of the use of BIOT for defence and security purposes for a further twenty years after the initial period.

But defence security is not the only consideration. An independent feasibility study commissioned by the FCO in 2002 came down heavily against the feasibility of resettlement of the outer islands. While the report concluded that short-term habitation for limited numbers on a subsistence basis is possible, it also emphasised that any long-term resettlement would be precarious and costly. It is important to remember that the outer islands, which have been uninhabited for nearly forty years, lack all basic facilities and infrastructure.

You state in your letter that the US is unconcerned about the return of the population. This is not the case. US authorities have always made clear their concerns about the possible restoration of a settled civilian population in the territory which, they have said “would severely compromise Diego Garcia’s unparalleled security and have a deleterious impact on our military operations.” This was most recently confirmed in October 2010 when the US reiterated that they remain concerned about the implications of any resettlement of the outer islands.

The Government realises that the decision not to change fundamental policy on resettlement will be a disappointing one for the Chagossians and their supporters. However, the Government also recognises the value in engaging the Chagossians on various issues such as the implementation of the Marine Protected Area and other environmental work taking place in the Territory and will try to find funding for further visits to the Territory by Chagossians including visits to repair the graveyards on Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Salomon.

Yours sincerely,

Julia Campbell.

If  UKChSA was to run a monthly competition, March’s would be to list all the deceptions, half-truths, evasions, and inconsistencies with current ministerial positions and Wikileaks revelations in the above letter.

PRESS COVERAGE

The Sunday Telegraph, 12 February, published an excellent full-page article by Ben Fogle, patron of UKChSA: My Fight for the Forgotten Islanders.

The following Sunday, the Telegraph published the following two letters:

SIR – Coming from a leading conservationist, Ben Fogle’s passionate advocacy of the right of the Chagos islanders (News Review, February 13) to live in their homeland is of tremendous encouragement to them. The Marine Protected Area is clearly of immense value for the protection of the unique Chagos Archipelago, but must not be at the expense of its former inhabitants or Mauritius, to whom the islands will in time be returned.

WikiLeaks has revealed that a motive for the Marine Protected Area, designated by the last Labour government, was to block the return of the islanders, even though they would make ideal guardians of their own environment.

Before coming to power, both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems were highly supportive of the Chagossians and promised a just and fair settlement. Nine months later, there is little sign of progress towards that goal, despite widespread support for an overall settlement from parliamentarians and the public. Ministers should listen to those views just as much as they listen to officials in the Foreign Office.

David Snoxell
Co-ordinator, Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

SIR – Ben Fogle’s article on the Chagos islanders’ eviction in 1971 from their home needs our support. I did write to my MP a few years ago, but nothing happened. I would urge others to do this, as the treatment of these people is a disgrace.

Alan Tolley
Lincoln

Mauritius Times, 4th March, had an article by Sylvia Edouard-Gundowry on the difficulties involved for Chagossians coming to the UK beginning:

While the case regarding the right of return to their homeland in the Chagos Archipelago is likely to be heard at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg next month, many of the Chagossian people who have migrated to the United Kingdom from Mauritius since 2002 are struggling to reconstruct their lives.
It is estimated that more than 2000 Chagossians now live in the town of Crawley, in West Sussex. With language as the main obstacle, many find it hard to find jobs and access essential services.
Settling in a new country is no easy task and the journey seems even more challenging for those who have very little or no English. However, a number of Chagossian people have enrolled on the English for Speakers of Other Languages programmes (ESOL) in Crawley.

The author writes about different Chagossians and their experiences then continues:

Unfortunately for the Chagossians in Crawley, the UK government recently announced that it was cutting funding for ESOL. Only people who are on Jobseeker’s Allowance or the Employment and Support Allowance will now be able to attend courses without charge. This means that those who receive other benefits will no longer be eligible. These changes appear to contradict the British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recently expressed views about the importance for immigrants to learn English in order to be part of the ‘Big Society’. Many Chagossians living in the UK are already on the margins of society; it looks like they are destined to remain there.

The Morung Express, India and Open Democracy both carried an article by Alex Morrison about the election of Allen Vincatassin as President of the Diego Garcia and Chagos Islands Council.

Electors did not choose from rival politicians, instead voting for or against a proposed president and vice-president and a list of key points which included creating the council itself and accepting British sovereignty. The vote was run
by Electoral Reform Services and was open to all members of the Diego Garcian Society, a forerunner of the new council, which was free to join and open to all Chagos islanders and their descendants.

122 votes were cast. Most of the estimated 2,000 Chagossians in Crawley belong to the larger CICA, CRG and Seychellois groups. Democracies need to accommodate a variety of views but the ultimate goal for Chagossians is justice and the right to return to their homeland.

From ‘The Mauritius Miracle’ by Joseph E. Stiglitz who is a University Professor at Columbia University and a Nobel Laureate in Economics (Guardian Online):

The Mauritius Miracle dates to independence. But the country still struggles with some of its colonial legacies: inequality in land and wealth, as well as vulnerability to high-stakes global politics. The US occupies one of Mauritius’s offshore islands, Diego Garcia, as a naval base without compensation, officially leasing it from the United Kingdom, which not only retained the Chagos Islands in violation of the UN and international law, but expelled its citizens and refuses to allow them to return.

The US should now do right by this peaceful and democratic country: recognize Mauritius’ rightful ownership of Diego Garcia, renegotiate the lease, and redeem past sins by paying a fair amount for land that it has illegally occupied for decades.

BBC AND CHAGOS

On 2nd and 3rd March, Radio 4 broadcast a programme called “OK Coral” in the Costing The Earth series.

The programme, most of which was balanced and knowledgeable, was concerned with coral reefs and the “unexpected toughness of reefs”. It was structured mainly on interviews with leading coral reef scientists. Also interviewed was Ms Rachel Jones, Deputy Team Leader of the Aquarium at Zoological Society of London, who had been a member of Charles Sheppard’s 2006 expedition to the Chagos. Unlike the other contributors, she is not a recognised coral reef research scientist. Ms. Jones’ interview is to be found between the times 13.42 and 16.50 on the iPlayer version.

Ms Jones painted a rosy picture of the health of the Chagos reefs, which she attributed to the lack of a human population since the 1970s. Specifically she claimed that in the Chagos islands the coral reef “reverted to its natural conditions” following the removal of the inhabitants. She went on to describe the corals as being in “incredible condition” with “amazing coral cover everywhere”, that the Chagos reefs have “a huge impact on the rest of the Western Indian Ocean”, being “able to replenish other reefs further downstream” and acting as a “source of new genetic material for reefs in the region.” She describes “how incredibly resilient natural systems are when they are given a chance” and that the Chagos corals “have recovered better than they have anywhere else in the Indian Ocean, more quickly and completely” following seawater warming in 1998.

Experienced coral reef scientists advise us that almost all of what Ms Jones said in her interview (which largely repeats what the Chagos Environment Network has been stating throughout their campaign for the Marine Protection Area) is factually incorrect and grossly misleading. As a result, a strongly worded letter of complaint has been submitted to the BBC and signed by the following:

Lord Avebury, Professor David Bellamy OBE, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Professor Barbara E. Brown, Dr. Sean Carey, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Richard P. Dunne, Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Roch Evenor, Ben Fogle, Andrew George MP, Richard Gifford, Dr. Philippa Gregory, Tom Hooper MBE, Dr. Peter Jones, Baroness Kinnock,

Lord Luce, Lord Ramsbottom, Andrew Rosindell MP, Professor David Simon, David Snoxell, Lord Steel and Baroness Whittaker.

In particular, the signatories have called upon the BBC to consider commissioning a further programme specifically dealing with the ecology of the Chagos Archipelago and the new Marine Protected Area which balances the arguments on all sides and includes both coral reef scientists and other participants, not least Chagossian voices.

In the next Update we hope to post the whole letter and the response from the BBC. Watch this space.

CONSERVATION.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature is to review and advance implementation of the ‘new conservation paradigm’, focusing on the rights of indigenous peoples and ending ‘fortress’ conservation.
The IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest international environmental network of governments, NGOs and scientists.

Key principles include:

• No new parks should be established without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples;

• Forced resettlement should be strictly eliminated;

• Lands taken without consent should be returned to their traditional owners;

• Indigenous peoples should be involved in the management of protected areas and share in the benefits; and

• Community-based initiatives and processes, such as Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas, should be recognised and supported.

The crucial link between the continued existence of a people, its culture and the ecosystem of which it is part

constitute a great opportunity for conservation to achieve objectives of safeguarding biodiversity by enabling indigenous peoples to continue to manage their territories in a sustainable way. This realization is the basis for the ‘new paradigm’.

Sounds like a step in the right direction.

The MPA and Mauritius.

Mauritius has submitted the dispute on the Marine protected Area around the Chagos Archipelago to arbitration. In brief:

Mauritius requests the Annex VII arbitral tribunal to declare, in accordance with the provisions of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the applicable rules of international law not incompatible with the Convention that, in respect of the Chagos Archipelago:
1. The ‘MPA’ is not compatible with the 1982 Convention, and is without legal effect; and/or

2. The United Kingdom is not a ‘coastal state’ within the meaning of the 1982 Convention and is not competent to
establish the ‘MPA’; and/or
3. Only Mauritius is entitled to declare an exclusive economic zone under Part V of the 1982 Convention within which a marine protected area might be declared.

Irini Papanicolopulu, Marie Curie Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford. Full article by email, on request.

NEWS FROM CRG IN MAURITIUS

There have been two fundraising events for the Chagossian community in Mauritius:

  1. Tombola – held on Sunday 27th February at Pointe aux Sables. Traditional Chagossian foods, cultural and artistic creations were on sale.
  2. Chagossian Night – This took place on 5th. March at Pointe aux Sables.

PHILIPPA GREGORY

Philippa Gregory is continuing to collect contact details for all Chagos people in order to do a survey of who would like to return to Chagos and for how long. Chagos people will also be offered free courses in leadership, community building and conservation to prepare for their return. Chagos people – please email Zahra Moussavi at zahra@mason-ventures.com

Philippa Gregory and Ben Fogle are planning a Chagos meeting day for scientists to discuss the practicalities of return, and the likely impact on the environment with the Chagos people.

CRAWLEY

Sabrina Jean (CRG Crawley) has asked if anyone within the area can help a couple who have been given a council home which is totally empty – they are over 60. If you can help, please contact Sabrina on yandangael@yahoo.co.uk

Or phone her: 07882226272 or 01293520675.

Really good news from the Ifield Community College Choir: In the European Broadcasting Union competition ‘Let the Peoples Sing’ we got as far as the semi finals. However we are very pleased that we were one of only two UK choirs left at this stage (neither of us made the final), and to have been selected by the BBC to represent the UK in a very prestigious competition representing the best choirs from across Europe and North America. If I tell you that finalists include the San Francisco Girls Choir and the Swedish Chamber Choir, I think our choir from a Crawley comprehensive (with 1/4 of its membership from the Chagossian community) did amazingly! Also we will be performing in the celebration concert for ‘Let the Peoples Sing’ in Manchester at the new BBC Media Centre in October. Patrick Allen.

SUPPORTERS

One supporter was surprised by a Guardian report on lobbying groups and All Party Parliamentary Groups in general indicating that there are sometimes personal advantages to the MPs involved. The Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group is a perfect example of MPs and Lords being entirely altruistic and supporting a cause solely to find justice and fair play for a group of disadvantaged people – the illegally exiled islanders of Diego Garcia and the rest of the Chagos Archipelago. If and when they succeed – against the massed ranks of civil servants, U-turning ministers and certain conservationists who favour wildlife above humans – the MPs and Lords will probably not even get a coconut!

Sid Davies contacted UKChSA after reading Ben Fogle’s article and mentioned that he had visited the Chagos Archipelago. He has kindly obliged Update with this account:

A visit to the Chagos Archipelago

In the early morning of June 12th 1984 we sighted the low lying Saloman atoll in the Chagos Archipelago. A lone Norfolk pine towered above the coconut palms which covered most of the island. We had consulted the Pilot Book for the area and found the passage from the open ocean into the lagoon.  Stationing a hand in the rigging to look for coral heads in the shallow water we entered and anchored close to the shore and near some roofless buildings.  Two smaller yachts were at anchor nearby.

We had been advised that yachts were not allowed to call at the main island Diego Garcia and Saloman appeared the most interesting alternative.

We stayed three days and explored the island which was deserted and rather sad looking.  The homes of the former inhabitants were mostly roofless and the short railway track to the stubby quay was overgrown and rusty.  The little church was open to the sky and visiting yachtsmen had left scribbled messages on the wall with names and dates.  A few chickens scratched among the ground cover; one of the yachts we had seen belonged to a young French couple and having heard that there was no cockerel on the island, had brought one with them from the Maldives.

The other yacht was owned by an elderly couple – the husband had the charming name of Chester Lemon.  He had served in the US Navy during the war and he and his wife had sold their farm in Australia, bought a yacht and had spent several years sailing the world.  They eagerly accepted copies of the Times which were weeks old.

During our stay an US Orion plane skimmed low over the island and we heard that a patrol boat visited at intervals to check on visitors. We heard various radio signals and we believe that they came from US naval vessels which we were told spent some time at sea rather than be possible sitting targets as at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

After three agreeable days when we collected seashells,  explored the lonely beaches and had barbeques with the other crews on the pure white sand, we upped anchor, motored out of the lagoon and set the sails for the next leg of our passage from New Zealand to Rhodes.  Soon we experienced the start of the Southwest Monsoon which blows hard across the Indian Ocean from May to September, giving us some exciting sailing.

The yacht was a 250 ton all aluminium ketch belonging to a wealthy Italian.  He used it as a base for his family to enjoy various locations such as the Caribbean, Polynesia, the Barrier Reef and the Mediterranean.  It was skippered by my nephew and being retired and an ex sailor I was his navigator.  The owner never sailed on the long passages.

Another new supporter, Martin Jackson, wrote ‘Truth’, a poem for his daughters as a New Year gift and has allowed the use of this extract:

Deceivers maybe emboldened with a righteous pretence, an enflamed pride or an intoxication brought about by the heady vintage of power.

Know this, take whatever side you may but make sure there dwells truth.

Make your stand with truth as your backbone.