May 2004 update

1. Minutes of last meeting have been circulated and agreed.

2. CHAIRMAN’S REPORT

We were hoping to have Allen Vincatassin with us today, but pressure of Chagos affairs keeps him in Crawley. The situation in Crawley is mixed: both good and bad news. On the positive front, all the Chagossians have employment and accommodation, which is a major step forward. As regards the more negative developments, Allen tells me that the Diego Garcia Island Council committee have had to give up the intended cultural centre through lack of financial support from their membership who are not in highly paid jobs.

Other relevant matters as follows: firstly, a court hearing is scheduled for 17 or 18 June to rule on whether an appeal against last October’s ruling can proceed to actual appeal.

Sheridans (Solicitors) are exploring a possible route for funding via the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to see whether the Chagossian community may qualify as bone fide refugees under UN guidelines. If this is the case, they would be able to apply for resettlement funding. The UN response is waited with interest.

The planned Chagos Islanders standing committee to be made up of representatives of the three main Chagos groups, agreed in principle some time ago, is yet to get off the ground. It appears a number of obstacles remain to be overcome before progress can be made.

As regards the situation in Mauritius with the CRG linking up with the anti USA military organisation LALIT, following a conference in Mumbai last year, I would comment as follows: we have to remain neutral about the proposed intention to charter a boat and sail to Diego Garcia as not all the Chagos groups agree with this approach. The main positive outcome of such a trip would be the worldwide publicity it would generate.

I have been contacted by Nigel Wenban Smith who is a former BIOT Commissioner and chair of the Chagos Conservation Trust. He wants to involve the UK-based Chagossian community in the re-launch of a book on the Chagos titled “The Peak of Limuria” which is being released at the end of May 04. I have passed this request on to Allen Vincatassin.

Finally, to expand on two points raised previously: firstly, I have with me the latest UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum newsletter featuring an article on a new Foreign and Commonwealth/Department for International Development funding scheme for financing environmentally linked projects in the Overseas Territories. This would appear to be ideal for pilot resettlement funding but, as matters stand with the Government currently, there is no imminent prospect of this.

In conclusion, to expand on the second point, I have with me today the current edition of the Chagos Conservation Trust newsletter featuring a resume of the UK Government’s new Chagos Conservation Management Plan, which I will circulate around the Committee. This makes for interesting reading, especially the section on the environmental protection zone which coincides exactly with the present military exclusion zone. What an amazing coincidence!

3. TREASURER’S REPORT
We have spent over £900 this year which went mainly to help the group settling in Crawley and to help a Seychelles Chagossian who became stranded in Yorkshire. This lady, who is now settled near Crawley, has repaid some of the money disbursed to her. Currently we have £379 and some pence in the account (to which must be added contributions received today). We have been helped most generously by different groups of The Society of Friends.
4. SECRETARY’S REPORT
When I did the January update, Basseer Hulkhory of the Ilois Support Trust Fund was taking a long break on Mauritius with his family but he contacted me afterwards to say he also spent some time with the CRG. Comic Relief Funding runs out this year but he hopes the CRG will be able to do some fund raising over there. The Trust Fund is hoping to give some help to the Seychelles Group.
Steffen, the Norwegian student, is settled in a flat at Beau Bassin and is working hard at learning the language – but finding time to play some football too.
Georges wrote from Switzerland to tell us about a programme covering the Chagos issue on a French Television channel which, unfortunately, we do not get. He also mentioned a film called “Diego The Forbidden” made in 2002 which won first prize in the Vevey film festival of that year. This was made by David Constantin. Has anyone seen this? Eddy Beague also wrote to tell us about the TV programme.
As you probably know, our Chairman, Paul Heaton, is now online. Welcome to the twenty first century.
Laura is now back in the UK after her, quite lengthy, stay on Mauritius where she worked with the CRG while continuing her studying. Kate, the student who visited Mauritius before Laura, has changed her job and flat but is working on a piece for our website. We look forward to seeing that.
Talking of the web site: Robert is doing an excellent job with that and has to be congratulated.
The Judicial Review in the Administrative Court in the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand planned for mid-March did not go ahead. (This was a test case to decide whether West Sussex Council or the Government were responsible for the Chagossians who had arrived at Gatwick.) It didn’t proceed because all the Chagossians had found jobs and private accommodation.
We notice that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Mission Statement says “We shall work through international forums and bilateral relationships to spread the value of human rights, civil liberties and democracy which we demand for ourselves.” Quentin Letts wrote in the Daily Mails’ “Yesterday in Parliament” that the basic tenor of the 250 page Human Rights Annual Report is that “….when it comes to keeping a needle nose on human rights abuses round the world, when it comes to making sure the Third World and its despots darn well behave themselves, nobody does it better, mate, that Her Majesty’s Government. Sanctimony, we’ve got it.”
Chagos News, a quarterly publication by the Chagos Conservation Trust, has an interesting article by Dr. Charles Shepherd about a Chagos Conservation Management Plan. I wrote to him about this asking :
Who would fund implementation of the plan?
What effect does all the military activity have on the natural environment and
What role does he see for the native population if they should return to their homeland?
His reply, in brief, was:
The FCO.
Little effect although the lagoon hasn’t been well studied. (Not everyone would agree with him here. See Action Atlas web site.)
“It seems people will not be permitted to live there” … but he wouldn’t see it as a problem.
I was e mailed an article from a Mauritian paper which was based on an article in the New Scientist of Feb 7th this year. I then went to the library to read the original article which was a very good summing up of the background to the whole current Chagos situation. It also mentions one of the scientists involved in the 1960’s, David Stoddart, who regrets the part he inadvertently played in the exiling of the Chagossians. (Does anyone have an e mail address so that I could contact him?)
Margaret has continued to find interesting information for us via her computer including an item on the World Socialist website which implies the USA are buddying up to Mauritius in case the UK refuses to extend the lease on Diego Garcia. We wish.
It would appear that the US military employ about 2,000 civilian workers on their base but not one Chagossian. Olivier Bancoult has applied seven times and been rejected seven times. Maybe the USA see Al-Qaeda using Chagossians but is that any more likely (the Islanders being Christian) than using the Mauritians, Phillippinos and Sri Lankans currently employed there?
I continue to write to anyone I think could be supportive. Letters to MP’s, Downing Street and the FCO STILL bring the standard photocopied reply which, summarised, means we are doing nothing and will continue to do so for as long as we can. Hilary Benn (International Development Secretary) is certainly NOT a chip off the old block.
We are keeping up to date on LALIT’s activities – they are the group planning to take a ship to Diego Garcia with Chagossians on board. They are in contact with the “Peace Boat” which is both a large liner and an organisation based in Japan and they are hoping to involve them in the project. Peace Boat’s web-site, I think, is www.peaceboat.org
There was recently a question in the Daily Mail’s “Answers to Correspondents” asking why the graveyard in Diego Garcia has so many headstones with Welsh names. I haven’t seen an answer published but haven’t had the paper every day. Can anyone satisfy my (Welsh) curiosity?
We have learnt of a similar situation to the Chagossians involving the Danish Government’s eviction of Inuit people from parts of Greenland to make way for a US base in the fifties. The Inuit had previously been given some money but lost their case for more realistic compensation. (Sound familiar?) In contrast to this, 5,000 descendents of Africans removed by the British from their lands in the 1920s (a diamond rich territory) have been awarded one billion pounds by the South African Government.
On 13 November last a “stele” was unveiled on Mauritius by their Prime Minister to mark the Chagossians’ arrival there all those decades ago.
5. ANY OTHER BUSINESS

It was decided to make donations to both Chagossian groups over seas as there was a healthy amount in the account. The secretary was instructed to obtain bank details for the Seychelles group.
Deep concern was expressed from the floor about the current use of Diego Garcia vis-a-vis Iraq: will Iraqi prisoners be transferred there for questioning well away from watchful eyes and ears? Is Saddam Hussein being held there?
The question of why the British High Commissioner in Mauritius did nothing to help the Islanders when they were dumped on the quay side there all those years ago was raised. The general consensus was that to do so would have been admitting that there WERE people with a legal right to inhabit the Chagos Archipelago.
We discussed the fact that no Chagossians have been employed on Diego Garcia in a civilian (or any other) capacity. We suggest they keep applying but make copies of all application forms and the replies. These could be both interesting and useful.
We feel the government is still deliberately dragging its feet over the whole issue and we look forward to the day when they decide to “do the right thing”.