May 2005 update

Let’s start with the bad news first which some members may already know : the long promised (and frequently delayed) visit by the Chagos Islanders to their archipelago has been delayed yet again. There have been discussions between the Foreign Office Minister, Bill Rammell and Olivier Bancoult, leader of the CRG in Mauritius. A Press Release from the British High Commission in Port Louis states that “Mr. Rammell was keen to make progress and said that the British Government has secured a provisional booking for the South African based vessel, the Royal Star, for a voyage from 25th.October to 5th.November”. One wonders just how keen Mr.Rammell (who just scraped back in to the House of Commons after several recounts recently) can be? How difficult is it to find a boat and organize a trip for 100 people? Private companies manage it without all the resources of the British Government – who moved personnel and equipment very quickly against Afghanistan and Iraq when the USA wanted them to!

Mr.Rammell has now been moved to Education and Skills. Perhaps his successor, Lord Triesman, will do better.

Some good news from Crawley : The Appeal Tribunal has ruled in favour of the Chagossians, saying they should have been considered as habitual residents when they arrived in this country. The Secretary of State, however, may appeal this decision. Refugees and asylum seekers get help as soon as they arrive and the Chagossians could actually be regarded as refugees since they were forcibly evicted from their original homeland. That being the case, morally, it should really be the government who take responsibility for them and not the local councils.Their wish is to find work to support themselves as soon as possible and to sign up for useful college courses. Some private rented accommodation has been found in the Crawley area. Deborah Gabriel, a journalist with Black Britain, has an interesting article on this.

We are delighted that ITV intend repeating “Stealing a Nation” on 21st July – but still rather late – 11p.m. A big thank you to everyone who contacted Nigel Pickard about this. If you are outside the UK, please encourage your friends and relatives over here to watch this award winning film – and to get their MP to watch it too!
This programme has been shown on New Zealand television and at a festival of John Pilger’s work in Australia. During this month, a group in New Zealand are planning to show it and have a phone link with Olivier for questions and answers.
An NTSC (America) version is available – contact me for details.

Before the general election, the Liberal Democrat’s Policy Unit sent out a letter deploring the treatment of the Islanders by successive British governments. Whilst they regret their displacement, they go on to say “it seems to be unrealistic and impractical for the islanders to be resettled now back on Diego Garcia after so many years.” (Bit defeatist – where there’s a will, there’s a way and we could make some practical, constructive suggestions.) They go on to say that “Her Majesty’s Government can go some way in repairing the damage by providing the Chagossians with the apology they deserve, adequate compensation and assistance for those islanders where they are currently located, and the opportunity to return, for visits to loved one’s gravesides for example.”

Compare this with the Foreign and Commonwealth Annual Report 2004/5 (page 139) “The year has not been without problems….We have defended successfully a legal challenge from the Chagossian people of the British Indian Ocean Territory who had sought compensation and assisted resettlement…”. So, despite saying they “regret” what happened in the past when writing to us, the FO sees fit to gloat about successfully defending a legal challenge…. A complaint, on the same page, is that Argentina won’t authorise charter flights over its airspace which “may slow down the development of the tourist industry in the Falklands”. Lucky Falklanders to be still on their islands and to have a government trying to help develop their tourist industry! (Thank you to the kind member who told me about this report and thank you to another staunch supporter who found it and emailed it to me.)

We have received this from Olivier :

Dear friends,

It is my pleasure to inform you that Madam Marie Lisette Talate will be nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. Her nomination is included among the “1000 Women for a Nobel Peace Prize”, a group dedicated to seeing 1,000 women recipients of the prize to represent the many different types of women peace workers throughout the world.
As a result of her nomination, Madam Talate’s story and photograph will be included in the forthcoming “1000 Women for a Nobel Peace Prize” book. In addition, she has been invited to attend a Southern African regional meeting of Peace prize nominees to be held in Johannesburg in June.
We are honoured and excited by Madam Talate’s nomination, and we hope to see her accept the prize in Oslo later this year.
As always, thank you for your continued support in our struggle.

Sincerely,
Olivier Bancoult

We wish Lisette luck with this – you have seen/will see her in “Stealing a Nation” where she described how happy she was in November 2000 when the High Court ruled they should be returned: “…I felt at ease. I thought I would return to my motherland and I would return to the cemetery where my ancestors are. I thought I would again see my lovely beaches and the beautiful sea where we were born.” Sadly, as we know, the government obtained undemocratic and secretive Orders in Council which overturned the High Court decision.

If you are fluent in French, you might like to read this article from Le Monde.

A recent contact is Patrick Saintas of the Mauritian Christian Association which helps children of that island.

There is an interesting Minority Rights Group International report called Diego Garcia: a Crime Against Humanity? which discusses the arguments for considering the Chagossian’s removal and exile as a crime against humanity.

David Vine M.A., S.Wojciech Sokolowski Ph.D. and Philip Harvey J.D., Ph.D. have spent three years researching “Dérasiné : The Expulsion and Impoverishment of the Chagossian People.” (Dérasiné is the word used by the Islanders to describe their forced uprooting and exile). The Executive Summary of this excellent work is about seven pages long and I can email or snail mail it on request. (The Minority Rights report can also be emailed or sent by regular post – for surface mailing, contributions towards postage are always welcome.)

It is sad to see Tam Dalyell, a long time champion of the Chagossians, leaving the House of Commons but we wish him a long and enjoyable retirement. We are very happy to know that Jeremy Corbyn, a staunch supporter and friend of the Chagossians will still be there. If only ALL members had their dedication and probity.

Following up a suggestion from Mike Sutton, it would be a good idea to have at least one active supporter in each parliamentary constituency. Any suggestions as to how we set about and achieve this?

Very advance notice – we are planning to attend the Bradford Peace Fair on November 26th. And will have a stall with articles to sell and information about the Association.

Finally, ways in which you can help :

1. Establish who your current MP is (I have a list!) and make contact with him/her – we can always provide info for this or take from the website.

2. Visit our website, www.chagossupport.org.uk, which goes from strength to strength thanks to our excellent web-master, Robert. He has recently been liaising with a member who specialises in Oral History and has visited the Chagossians in Crawley. If you don’t have a computer, try your local library, they are always willing to help.

3. Encourage others to get involved. Give someone this Update!

4. Collect the beans off Nescafe jars and send them to me, please – a member is collecting them to raise funds.

Thank you to all who contributed in the form of ideas, support or donations – all are most welcome and will be put to good use.

With thanks and best wishes,

Celia Whittaker,

(Secretary)