November 2006 update

UK CHAGOS SUPPORT ASSOCIATION.

MINUTES OF A.G.M 29TH. OCTOBER 2006.

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

2. Chairman’s Report.

Good afternoon everybody. It’s great to see so many people here.

We last met on September 24 last year. Or rather, some of you last met then – I wasn’t here. I’ve been chairman since May this year and, strange though it might sound, I’ve never seen more than one other member of the UK Chagos Association together at any one time – because so much of what we do is done by phone, post, email and internet. So I’m very glad to finally be here with a real group of people sitting around a table.

Since then a lot has happened, and I’ll start by quickly running through where the Chagossians were then and where they are now:

The past year

• This time last year the islanders were wondering how the judges would view the archaic Orders in Council that the Blair government used to prolong their exile in 2004. They were still waiting for their appeal against the Orders to be heard at the High Court.

• They were also wondering if they’d ever see their ancestors’ graves again. The Foreign Office still hadn’t set a date for the repeatedly postponed visit, and they wondered if it would ever happen.

• In December, the court hearings began, which many supporters attended, and they were left waiting for a verdict.

• While they waited, the visit finally did take place. We were sent photos of Chagossians kissing the ground of Diego Garcia. It was the first visit home in forty years, and it was bittersweet. Of course it was a big step forward, but at the same time it served to highlight the injustice that these people are still suffering. It lasted only a few days and the islanders weren’t even allowed to spend the night on the islands, because, supposedly of the mosquitoes – a detail that really brings out the absurdity of the situation.

• In May came some of the best news for the Chagos islanders since this Association was set up – the High Court quashed the Orders in Council of June 2004. However, this good news was really only the second chapter to some very bad news, putting the Chagossians back to where they were over two years ago, before the Orders were passed. And with the government’s appeal now pending, it all looks set to drag on for some time.

• It was just after this news that, in a shockingly undemocratic process, I became chairman, in a five minute phone call with Celia.

The situation now

So here we are, one year on. A lot’s happened. But in a way, nothing’s really happened, because we’re still waiting.

Whether the government lose or win their appeal, it’ll take months, like it did last time, and they’ll think of something else afterwards anyway. In this sense the Orders in Council are a success – even though they’ve been overturned, they have allowed the Government to postpone justice for the Chagossians for almost three more years – and very likely for longer. We have to expect the Government to carry on with this strategy, because they know just as well as we do that justice delayed is justice denied.

But it’s not all bad – there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful too. As you can see from the unprecedented turnout today, our support is growing all the time. We are regularly in touch with dedicated, active supporters all over the world.

Looking forward to the next year, we must carry on kicking up as much of a fuss as we can so that the Government can’t get away with this, and to ease the suffering of the exiles in the meantime. We also have to be ready to help plan a resettlement if and when this becomes a reality.

Today’s business

As far as today is concerned, the most important business relates to our application to become a registered charity. As well as giving us a more official status, this means we will benefit from Gift Aid on all donations – Celia will tell you more about this.

Before I hand over to Celia I would like to thank everyone again for coming.

3. Secretary’s report.

I would like to welcome Robert Bain to his first AGM as Chairman of the Association. It has been a pleasure working with him, albeit at a distance, since last May. Having been (and remaining as) Webmaster for some time, he was no stranger to us and was incredibly well-informed thus making his “promotion” very simple and straight forward.
His becoming Chairman was not as undemocratic as he makes it appear – the rest of the Committee were consulted and expressed their delight.

I am pleased to say the Update was issued twelve times this year with occasional e-mails in between. We appear to have been read in UK, Europe, USA and such far-flung countries as New Zealand, the Falkland Islands, St.Helena and Ascension.
The item generating the most feed-back was a letter from Kevin Akin and the accompanying resolution adopted by his local Fellowship of Reconciliation in California. Our readers were cheered to realise that there ARE Americans who are aware of the Chagossian plight and deplore it.

We are delighted to have a new media consultant, Daniel. He is, like Robert, young, enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable about the Chagos situation.
Supporter numbers increased by about five dozen in one evening thanks to Daniel, Ann Stewart and others who manned a stall, handed out fliers and collected email addresses at the Barbican showing of John Pilger’s documentary “Stealing a Nation”. (This is now available, incidentally, on Network DVD “John Pilger: Documentaries That Changed The World”) It can also be viewed on Google Video.

A London supporter sent me the following: “I went to the Barbican on September 21st and had the great pleasure of meeting Richard Gifford and hearing Olivier Bancoult at the Question and Answer session afterwards. I was VERY moved by the documentary and was pleased to hear the intake of breath by the audience, including many young people, at the breathtaking arrogance of the “authorities”. Oh, I DO hope the appeal will go in favour of the Chagossians.”
The discussion session was chaired by Bashir Khan, who is now the Chagos Refugee Group’s representative in London.

Bashir has been helping Chagossians in the Feltham area and appealed to us for an interpreter. We e-mailed members with computers and were pleased with the result. His latest request is for any old, but working, mobile phones (and chargers) supporters may have.

Another opportunity for supporters to meet up and learn more about the Chagos Archipelago will be at the Stanley Grey Lecture in London on 29th.November. The subject being “The History, Science and Politics of the Indian Ocean Chagos Archipelago”. (More details in October Update or apply to Secretary).

We were pleased to see the Alternative Human Rights Report which came out this month but saddened that such a document should still be necessary in the 21st century.
The chapter about the Chagossians was written by Robert.

We receive many requests for help and information from students and journalists which is willingly given as they, in turn, help to spread the word. Often we receive copies of their work and they come up with useful suggestions.

We keep up our regular contacts with the different Chagossian groups: CRG in Mauritius, the Seychelles group and the two groups in Crawley. Fortunately, e-mail is quick, inexpensive and allows for the different time zones.

We continue to correspond with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and are currently waiting for them to find a missing document relating to the so-called Feasibility Study undertaken by the government some years ago.
Last AGM, I reported how a simple request for information under the Freedom of Information Act was turned down with the excuse that it was not in the national interest. We appealed this judgement but have had no response. The standard excuses now are both “national interest” and “sub judice”.

The United Nations Committee (Special Political and Decolonisation) concluded its consideration of decolonisation issues recently with the adoption of eleven draft texts. These drafts included measures to safeguard and guarantee the inalienable right of the peoples of the Overseas Territories to their natural resources and to have control over the future development of them. The property rights of the peoples should be protected in accordance with UN resolutions and also their right to self-determination
The UK delegate abstained from voting because, she said, “her country was fully meeting its obligations regarding the …Territories under its administration.” In the case of the Chagossians, it is not.

Since the last AGM, one of the highlights of the year was the court case in London where Richard Gifford, Sir Sydney Kentridge and their legal team appealed, successfully, against the Orders in Council denying the Chagossians access to their Islands forever. It was good to meet both the Chagossian delegation and supporters at the High Court.
Getting that positive result in May was wonderful but the government’s subsequent decision to appeal was greeted by disbelief and derision by all.

The high-light of the year for the Chagossians was their brief visit to their homeland where they were not even allowed to spend a single night. Packs of postcards of that trip are now available for purchase. (Contact the Secretary)

In contrast, an “Indian Ocean Cruising Guide” by Rod Heikell under Documentation and Visas (for the Chagos Archipelago) writes “None is required although the naval patrol vessel of the British Navy visits on occasions, usually on a two week rota, and you may be required to submit a crew list and particulars. At times they may also set up a barbeque on the beach with all yachts invited.”

Money donated to the Association has been used to help with expenses whilst Chagossian delegates were in London for the court case and also for weatherproofing Chagossian homes on Mauritius. Eighteen homes have been improved and we were also able to give some financial assistance towards the provision of spectacles.

As Robert said, the Association is hoping to become a registered charity.

I mentioned students’ work earlier. Natasha Gopaul in her “Diego Garcia: Whose Footprint of Freedom?” recommends that “..the US and UK pursue a pre-emptive policy and commit to a peaceful and negotiated resolution …before the international community magnifies their failure to practice what they are actively preaching for the rest of the world.”

4. Treasurer’s Report.

In our current financial year, £7, 571.65 has been raised and grants of £6360.23 have been made. Money has gone mainly to benefit the Chagossians on Mauritius because that is where most of them live. Donations have also been made to the Crawley Group and a sum is currently being held whilst the Seychelles Group settle on a suitable project.
At the moment, we are planning for early next year when we know there will be expenses for the Chagossians when the government appeal comes to court.
Thank you to all fund-raisers : every donation, whether large or small, is much appreciated.
Supporters can donate via Pay-Pal (details on the web-site www.chagossupport.org.uk) or by post. Cheques need to be made payable to UK Chagos Support Association.

5. Any Other Business.
a) The Model Constitution for a Charitable Unincorporated Association was adopted and the Declaration by Charity Trustees was filled in and signed.
b) A discussion on how money should be allocated to the different groups resulted in a decision that money should be disbursed according to need and each request would be judged on its merits. Any application for funding would have to be for something specific with information on what benefit it would bring to the community.
c) After discussion, it was decided that we, and all supporters, need to keep reminding MP’s of the Chagos issue. At the moment, they need to be backing John Austin MP in his bid to get BIOT (Chagos Archipelago) included in the UK Overseas Territories Association, the next meeting of which is on 22nd.November
Also, MPs need to contact Mike Gapes MP, asking him, and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, to consider “launching an inquiry into this sordid episode in British history.” (Quotation from a supportive MP.)
d) The FCO standard reply at the moment is that everything is “sub judice” but they should be able to answer the question : Only one hundred Chagossians have briefly visited their homeland: when will the next trip be? It wouldn’t hurt to remind the Foreign Minister that not ALL overseas subjects feel the government (in its own words) “ is fully meeting its obligations regarding the territories under its administration.”
e) A good supporter from Hexham has some very interesting black and white film showing the Chagos Archipelago during WWII. Suggestions as to how this could be used to advantage would be welcome – archive film is popular on television at the moment.
f) It was noted that the Queen is to visit Crawley at the beginning of November and the Chagossians living there hope she will notice them and be aware of their plight.
g) A member from Leyland showed us a piece of work she had contrived with a photocopier, her own passport, photos of Chagossians and some clever comments. The result is an eye-catching A3 sheet which she will be mailing to her MP and to the Foreign Minister.

The Chairman thanked everyone for coming and the meeting closed.