May 2013 update

PARLIAMENT

A relatively quiet month in Westminster in terms of activity was illuminated during a House of Lords debate on the Queens Speech on the 15th May.

 

Lord Ramsbotham (Crossbench)

My Lords, in noting the antics in the other place following the non-inclusion in the gracious Speech of a possible referendum on Europe, I am confident that they will not be repeated in this House if my contribution is devoted to the surprising absence of another issue. Before I come to that, as a vice-chairman of the Chagos Islands all-party group I agree with everything that will be said by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on the Chagossian return.

Baroness Whitaker (Labour)

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his trailer for my remarks, and for his support.

The gracious Speech promises to “ensure the security, good governance and development of the Overseas Territories”.—[ Official Report , 8/4/13; col. 3.]

This is sorely needed for the Chagos Islands, the inhabitants of which were exiled from their homeland by the British Government in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I am indebted to our former high commissioner to Mauritius, Mr David Snoxell, for his advice.

It is not as if anyone now thinks this exile was an example of good governance. On 23 April 2009 the then shadow Foreign Minister, Keith Simpson, said: “There is no doubt that there is a moral imperative”, and that, “I suspect … the all-party view is that the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognised, and that there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 23/4/09; col. 176WH.]

In a letter to a member of the public on 23 March 2010 the shortly to be Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I can assure you that if elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.

I will briefly remind noble Lords of how this tragic fate overtook the Chagossians. In 1965 our Government detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in order to form a separate British Indian Ocean Territory, in defiance of four UN resolutions. They reclassified the inhabitants as contract workers, made the largest, most southerly, island, Diego Garcia, available to the United States for use as a military base, and gradually removed the Chagossians from all the islands, eventually depositing them in Mauritius and the Seychelles during 1971 to 1973. Some came to Britain from 2001.

Now, fewer than 700 of the original islanders remain. The United States base on Diego Garcia is 140 miles away from the outer islands, to which some would like to return. When the Government of the United States were asked by our Foreign Office publicly to affirm, as was reported in a WikiLeaks cable from the United States embassy in London, that they required the whole of the British Indian Ocean Territory for defence purposes, they did not do so. The State Department has indicated informally to a member of the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) All-Party Parliamentary Group, of which I also am a member, that if asked it will review the security implications of a limited return. Our Law Lords described official letters that claimed that there was a defence risk as “fanciful” and “highly imaginative”.

In 2014 the agreement with the United States will come up for renewal. I suggest that this gives an excellent opportunity for exploring whether a small number of Chagossian people could return to the outer islands. It would seem to have no security or defence implications for the base on Diego Garcia. I am assured that many will not want to return, but all want their right to do so restored, and some will want only to visit their homeland and come away.

Would this be a burden to the British taxpayer? The Foreign Office set up a feasibility study in 2001, which claimed that resettlement was not feasible and anyway was very expensive. The infeasibility argument has been discredited by one of its own consultants and by others, most recently in a report by Professor Paul Kench of Auckland University. As for the cost, it would be idle to pretend that justice would not carry some. However, the United Kingdom would not have to bear the whole burden of restoring the tiny infrastructure. The European Union high representative has confirmed to Charles Tannock MEP that funds are available. The UNDP may have capacity and it would surely be right for the United States, Mauritius and the Commonwealth to do their bit.

What of the marine protected area, with its full no-take ban on fishing—except, as it happens, around the waters of Diego Garcia, where recreational fishing can be practised—which was hastily declared by David Miliband, as Foreign Secretary, just before the last election? It is unlike most other MPAs, for instance around the Galapagos Islands, where the people who live there help to maintain it.

There is worldwide support for a marine protected area that takes account of the interests of the Chagossians and Mauritius. However, it should have been properly conceived, with a defined role for inhabitants. As it stands, there is only one vessel to patrol the ban over 640,000 square kilometres, and I have seen photographs of very recent substantial illegal fishing operating within the MPA.

The MPA was proclaimed without taking account of the views of the Chagossians, who applied for judicial review in the high court, or of Mauritius, which has brought a case under the Permanent Court of Arbitration for breach of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. There is much work to be done to make the MPA what it ought to be so that everyone can wholeheartedly support it.

In the time available I have simply tried to pinpoint the chief aspects of a manifest and agreed injustice of a fundamental kind. This hardly matches the human rights standards of the Commonwealth charter, which we signed only last March. However, it is very good news that the Foreign Secretary has shown indications of a positive attitude to righting these wrongs in his statement following the end of the human rights case in Strasbourg, and that he is reviewing the policy on resettlement. I hope that the Minister can say how the Government will now proceed and when Parliament will be consulted about the review of that policy.

Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I warmly echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on the right of the Chagossians to return to their homeland, from which they were ejected many years ago in one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history. I also join her in welcoming the review by the Government of their Chagos policy, which I hope will lead to the removal of this blot on our reputation.

Lord Rosser (Labour)

At this point, I refer to the speech made by my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the issue of the Chagos islanders—a matter also referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Avebury. The issue is whether they should be able to return to the outer islands. My noble friend referred to the statement made in 2010 by the now Foreign Secretary that he would,

“work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.

My noble friend asked what the Government were doing or intending to do in the light of that undertaking. I do not know what that statement by the Foreign Secretary was meant to mean. I hope that the Minister will provide a direct answer to my noble friend’s question when he responds.

Lord Astor of Hever (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Defence; Conservative)

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked why the Chagos islanders could not return. We regret what happened in the late 1960s and 1970s. The responsibility for decisions taken then has been acknowledged by successive Governments. However, the reasons for not allowing resettlement, namely feasibility and defence security, are clear and compelling. The Government will continue to look at the issues involved and engage with all those with an interest.

 

On the 20th May, Jeremy Corbyn asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:

 

“which occasions the British Indian Ocean Territories administration has intervened or apprehended vessels under suspicion of illegal fishing in the last year.”

 

Mark Simmonds: “in accordance with the British Indian Ocean Territory Fisheries (Conservation and Management) Ordinance 2007, four vessels have been arrested for illegal fishing, 10 have been given warnings and five have been cautioned in the year up to 12 May 2013.”

 

CRAIG MURRAY

The broadcaster, human rights activist and former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray described the treatment of the Chagossian community as being a “deep shame” to the United Kingdom.  Following a High Court ruling that evidence from Wikileaks was inadmissible due to breaching the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity, Murray was scathing in his criticism.  He questioned whether the principle of “whistleblowing” was under attack by what he argued was a fascist interpretation of justice.

 

“The subsequent wikileaks release of the cable recording the US Embassy briefing by Colin Roberts – which shows just what an odious, immoral creep Colin Roberts is – confirms the truth at what I am saying. I am still very angry at the environmental organisations which allowed themselves to be used in this way; they were blinkered and stupid. There is nothing more dangerous than a good man with a monomania.

 

The Guardian rightly execrated the ludicrous court decision to pretend the wikileaked US cable did not exist. It rather undermines the famous legal maxim that “facts are stubborn things”. A truer maxim would be ‘Facts are things which vicious, authoritarian judges can make disappear when it benefits the government for them to do so’.”

 

GREENPEACE

Greenpeace have condemned the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) over what it regarded as a failure to monitor the tuna stocks as a result of its inability to control fishing fleets and prevent illegal fishing in the region.  The Greenpeace International Oceans campaigner in Mauritius, Sari Tolvanen, felt that the IOTC had failed in its remit to “control fishing fleets and to prevent and combat illegal fishing. The most effective measure that the IOTC members meeting in Mauritius can adopt is to ban all transshipments of fish at sea. Only by making the vessels come to port can authorities adequately inspect vessels and the fish they catch. This would also bring additional income for coastal states running port facilities.”

 

 

 

 

 

OLIVIER BANCOULT

The Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) Chairman Olivier Bancoult released the following statement earlier this month in relation to recent correspondence from Chagossians around the world who were unhappy at suggestions that Chagossians should not return to the islands in order to protect the MPA created around the archipelago.

 

“The judicial review contesting the legality of the Marine Protected Area was held in April 2013.  I believe it important to stress on the importance of that litigation. Many have misinterpreted the legal actions that we have taken and stated that we are against the protection and preservation of the environment.

 

I believe it important to reiterate that the Chagossians community is not against the protection and preservation of the environment. We are simply stating that environmental protections cannot be used as an excuse to infringe our fundamental right to return to our homeland.

 

Moreover, the UK should have embarked on a detailed consultation process without concealing any information or manipulating the findings.  We would like to emphasize that despite the fact that we met with a purportedly independent facilitator, our concerns were not attended to. Our traditional fishing right has been ignored.

 

We believe that the Chagos Archipelago was declared as a MPA in violations of well established norms and principles of international law. 

 

It is crucial that we all understand that nobody can snatch our fundamental human rights. We are born with our human rights. This is the land of our ancestors and forefathers. We have every right to reside in the Chagos Archipelago.

 

Our homeland is a symbol of our culture, traditions, heritage and it provides us with a sense of belonging.

 

Without our homeland, our culture will be eradicated, our rights ignored and we will lose part of ourselves.

 

I am happy that the young Chagossian generation is involved in this struggle and prepared to fight for our right to return. I am confident that the younger generation shall ensure that the Chagossian rights’ are protected and respected.

 

Lastly, I would like to thank the entire Chagossians community for their supports, faith and believe in our legal battles.

 

We shall not stop until our goal is achieved.

 

Our goal is the right to reside in our homeland. No more; no less!”

 

 

ADAM BURTON

The supporter and artist Adam Burton from the Something Else paper contacted us initially through our new CRG Twitter account a couple of months ago and also attended the recent Judicial Review at the High Court in London.  He has kindly notified us of a series of screenings of the John Pilger documentary “Stealing A Nation” which will be taking place on the following dates at the stipulated venues:

 

Pogo Café, 7:30PM on Monday the 17th of June
76, Clarence Road, London. E5 8HB – 020 8533 1214

 

X Marks the Bökship, 7:00PM on Wednesday the 19th of June
210 / Unit 3, Cambridge Heath Road, London. E2 9NQ

 

Project/Number, 7:00PM on Friday the 21st of June
10, Cazenove Road, London. N16 6BD

 

The Russet, 7:30PM on Tuesday the 2nd of July
Hackney Downs Studios, Amhurst Terrace, London. E8 2BT

 

Further information can be found here and places will be limited so if you would like to attend please let us know so we can advise the organisers accordingly.

 

JMG LE CLEZIO

The writer and Nobel prizewinner for Literature, JMG Le Clezio, wrote a powerful and moving piece for the French magazine Liberation.  The article chronicled the tragedy of the Chagossians from deportation in the 1960s all the way up to the disappointment of the ruling from Strasbourg last December.  He condemned the treatment of the Chagossians as an “organised denial of human rights” and that the ruling from Strasbourg in December effectively amounted to “moral cowardice”.  This was subsequently also picked by Le Mauricien.  The piece was also accompanied by an audio documentary which can be found here.

 

DR SEAN CAREY

Hot on the heels of Clezio’s eye-catching piece, long time supporter Dr Sean Carey once again questioned the role of conservationists in relation to their actions which undermine the will of the Chagossian community:

 

“How nice, you might think, that UK marine scientists can explore the corals and monitor shoals of fish in the British Indian Ocean Territory. But what Jones omits to mention is that 50 or 60 years ago there was a vibrant community of around 1700 islanders living in harmony with the environment. The only reason there isn’t now is that the entire population was exiled.

 

The shameful history of what happened was neatly summarised by Baroness Whitaker in the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords recently. She said: “In 1965 our Government detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in order to form a separate British Indian Ocean Territory, in defiance of four UN resolutions. They reclassified the inhabitants as contract workers, made the largest, most southerly island Diego Garcia, available to the United States for use as a military base, and gradually removed the Chagossians from all the islands, eventually depositing them in Mauritius and the Seychelles during 1971 to 1973.”

 

DAVID VINE

Last Sunday was the fortieth anniversary of the final deportations of the Chagossian Community from Peros Banhos which took place on 26th May 1973.  Long time supporter David Vine picked up on the theme while remembering Lisette Talate, the iconic campaigner who passed away last year.  Lisette’s daughter Lucia also passed away earlier this month and the association extends their deepest sympathies to the Talate family.

 

Vine draws on medical research which supports the theory that Chagossians displaced from their homeland ultimately died of “sadness”:

 

“Scores more Chagossians have reported deaths from sadness and sagren. They are not alone. Reports of deaths from a broken heart abound, including among elderly forced into nursing homes and other indigenous and displaced peoples. In my own family, my grandmother recounts how her mother died of a broken heart after sending her 13-year-old son from Nazi Germany to Amsterdam in 1938, where he was ultimately deported to Auschwitz and murdered. When she died, her doctor said she died of a broken heart. ‘The guilt she carried with her ultimately just broke her heart,’ my grandmother explains. ‘Yes. It’s possible.’

 

In fact, medical research increasingly supports such claims: one study suggests that acute stress can bring on fatal heart spasms in people with healthy cardiac systems; anotherindicates that the death of a spouse or child can cause dangerous heart rhythms, potentially increasing the risk of heart attacks and sudden cardiac death.”

 

APPEAL

If any of our supporters have access to a Wheelchair which they no longer need could they please let us know.  We have received an appeal which has been made directly to Sabrina Jean on behalf of a Chagossian who requires the use of one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STATEMENT FROM UKChSA CO-FOUNDER CELIA WHITTAKER

Former newsletter editor and co-founder of this association Celia Whittaker provided us with a statement earlier this month.  It was intended to serve as a reminder of the mission statement of the association and to reiterate the founding principles upon which this organisation was built upon.  Over to Celia:

 

“I was unable to attend the AGM so, as the last founding member to step down from the Committee, this is my retirement speech.

 

It is now twelve years since the UK Chagos Support Association was started by Margaret Brown, Sylvia Boyes, Paul Heaton and myself. We had each contacted Richard Gifford after the splendid High Court victory in November 2000, this being the first time we had heard about the forced exile from the Chagos Archipelago decades before. We were appalled at the way the UK government had behaved – and continue to be disgusted that, after all this time, they continue to deny the Chagossians justice and their basic human rights. Richard introduced us to each other and the Association was formed.

 

Our intention in founding UKChSA was to support the Chagossians in their struggle. It was, and still is, important that the historic injustice done to them should be corrected, their human rights reinstated, their right to return expedited and funded by the UK government.

 

We, as an Association, undertook to promote public awareness via the media, contacting our MPs, word of mouth etc. We never intended to speak for the Chagossians as we were not another Chagossian group but a Chagossian support group. We are independent of the different Chagossian groups – each of which (like any national or family group) has varying views and opinions whilst united in the main aim of restoration of human rights and justice for all. The current Chair of UKChSA, Sabrina Jean, is also Chair of UKCRG so she wears two hats but, as decisions within UKChSA are made by Committee and not one person alone, she is able to do this.

 

Paul, Margaret, Sylvia and I all worked voluntarily and this has continued. Money started to be sent to us by supporters – usually they said it was to help improve living conditions. There has never been a great deal of money and all financial requests simply cannot be met. UKChSA tries to help when it can and likes to get feedback (usually forthcoming from house renovation and education projects) so that supporters can see the result of their donations.

 

Much has been achieved in the last twelve years although it often feels like two steps forward and one step back. There is wider public knowledge of the problem, the APPG being formed etc. but there is still a long way to go. Although, for personal reasons, I have to take a less active part, I am still very much a supporter and know that the younger generation stepping up are better equipped than I am to cope with web technology, the Update etc. The one huge plus for me over the years has been the wonderful and inspiring people I have met, both Chagossian and non-Chagossian. Thank you to you all.

 

I hope and pray that success will come in my lifetime: every time a Chagossian dies I feel a particular sadness for them that they have died in exile but that is nothing, of course, compared with their grief and that of their families and friends.

 

Good luck and keep up the good work”

 

The association wishes to extend its sincerest gratitude for Celia’s contribution to our work over the years.  On a purely personal level she was the first person I ever contacted regarding this cause the morning after the broadcast of John Pilgers “Stealing a Nation” documentary almost nine years ago.  Her support and wisdom as I have grown into this role to bring you this newsletter every month has been immensely valuable and I cannot emphasise strongly enough how much her experience was needed, particularly during the initial months following my succession to the role.  Celia’s patience and dedication has set a very high benchmark which we all now feel compelled to not only maintain, but to strive to build upon in the same way she has worked so tirelessly to help this organisation grow and expand over the years.

 

As Celia takes a reduced role in matters going forward, we all owe it to her to ensure that the founding principles upon which this association was created all those years ago are honoured.

 

Happy retirement Celia, and thank you for everything.

 

PETITION

We were recently contacted by a 91 year old supporter who receives our monthly newsletter by post and has no access to any computers or the internet.  She felt so strongly about the injustice caused to the Chagossian community that she has asked for us to add her details to the petition.  We are delighted to confirm that this has been done and would like to thank her for support.

 

Over the course of the past twelve months we have sought an almost impossible target of 100,000 signatures exclusively from British citizens via the E-Petitions website.  We have fallen some way short of that target, but this campaign can never be regarded as a failure.  As I have pointed out to supporters on platforms such as Twitter, if we were able to locate just one new supporter, then the exercise has been worthwhile and a success even if one our overall target was not achieved.

 

The fact that the petition has been the driving force behind our renewed presence on the social networks and that in doing so we have found many more than just one new supporter, the petition has accomplished a number of other goals as we have highlighted this cause to new supporters and have established a stronger presence to take our message forward. The final figure for the petition which closed on May 25th stood at 1017 signatures and even more remarkable is that we added over 300 signatures in the final two months.

This was thanks solely to the new Twitter account which helped to stimulate so much interest.  A big well done to all involved and we will of course have news of our next campaign push later in the year.