November 2011 update

A message from Olivier Bancoult OSK, chair of the Chagos Refugees Group, on Chagos day:

 

Today, the 3rd of November 2011, we, the Chagossian brothers and sisters commemorate the day when we were unceremoniously deported from our Homeland, the Chagos Archipelago.  The wounds inflicted have not yet been healed. Indeed, how can we ever forget the good old days spent on our Homeland? 

We are armed with an unflinching determination to fight for the restoration of our right to return and shall not cease until our goal is achieved.  Regardless of the British government’s systematic refusal to allow us to return, we know for a fact that ultimately fundamental human rights shall triumph!

We have constantly reiterated that human rights are inherent. Human beings are born with them. The Chagossians shall have their rights vindicated. Irrespective, of the creative and cunning approach being endorsed by the UK government to hinder our legal battle, we are confident that truth shall prevail! The truth is simple. Despite the fact that we were the permanent inhabitants of the Islands, the UK government misrepresented us as being merely contract workers on the Island in order to escape the purview of the United Nations. The UK government was therefore fully cognizant of the undeniable fact that the deportation was in violation of international law and did its utmost to conceal this unlawful act.  

Our homeland is our identity and culture but it is also our past, present and future.  For decades we have been denied our right to return and yet we are fighting for our cause every single day. I am sure that many believe and hope that one day we will ultimately give up. Therefore, I would like to emphasize that every single day we become increasingly more optimistic that we shall win our legal battle. The outcome can only be our victory. Indeed, it is a fight of truth over falsehood, honesty over deceit and traditions over manipulations. The very fact that in 2007, the Master of Rolls, Sedley LJ described the right to return to one’s homeland as ‘one of the most fundamental liberties known to man’, is a testimony that we are fighting for a legitimate cause. It is important to remain mindful of the fact that deportation is a crime against humanity.

Not only have the Chagossians community been deported, but the condition of the ships throughout the whole voyage was abysmal. Overly crowded, deprived of cooking facilities and no medical assistance, many of our elders eventually died on the ship and a few even committed suicides.

The deportation process occurred as from 1967 to 1973. It started with what was later nicknamed “Phase one” where islanders who left the islands of Chagos, due to holidays or serious sickness, were denied return. They could not return to collect their possessions and they could not say good bye to their families, friends and community. In “Phase two” food and medications were restricted which made life for those that had stayed almost unbearable. “Phase three” was then put into action which was the forcible removal of all islanders left on the Chagos islands.

In a public meeting Chagossians were informed that they would be removed from the island. They were given no prior warnings to this and never received an explanation as to the reason.

They were told that those who refused to leave would be starved to death. After appealing to the authorities present, to please let them  stay, at least on the eastern side of Diego Garcia, they were told to leave this island or fare the same fate as our pet dogs. The dogs had been shot, gassed with exhaust fumes of military vehicles or burned alive in the sheds where, formerly, coconut husks were burnt to dry copra.

Throughout the journey people could not get fresh air because the horses occupied the upper decks and the port holes could not be opened because the ship was too heavy and water would have flooded in. There was urine and manure from the horses on the lower decks and we were seasick and sick, mentally and physically. Not only had the Chagossians  just lost their homes but also have been treated worse than animals by the so-called civilised countries.

 

 

Fortunately, the Chagossians community is not extinct. In spite of the difficulties encountered on a daily basis, the hope of returning to our homeland one day, gives us the strength to face all adversities. 

Last but certainly not the least, I believe it important to highlight that the fight for the right to return, while being spearheaded by the Chagossians brothers and sisters, is not one that exclusively belongs to our community. It is not a battle to be fought by Chagossians only. Indeed, every single person who believes in human dignity and in fundamental freedoms should support us in our cause.

It is a global fight against human rights violations and as Martin Luther king Jr, so eloquently described it, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.

One day, we will be commemorating the day that the Chagossians finally returned home. Mark My Words!  Our fight is ongoing, we shall not stop until we win and victory can only be ours as truth always prevails!

Regards,

Olivier Bancoult, OSK

 

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 24th meeting on 19 Oct. 2011.
The Group reviewed the answers to recent Parliamentary Questions and letters from FCO Ministers. Most had simply re-stated standard FCO arguments on feasibility and defence which were neither clear nor compelling. These replies remained unconvincing. The Group was pleased to note that the Foreign Secretary  would meet members on 9 November to discuss the issues.
The meeting discussed the need for discussions to be opened with the US on the future of BIOT well in advance of 2014. The US had never said publicly that it required the Outer Islands for defence purposes, though this was frequently asserted by the FCO. It was felt that the MOD should also be invited to express a view – they had never done so. The Group would continue to press for a meeting with the US Ambassador to discuss the threat, if any, that resettlement on one of the Outer Islands might pose to the security of the US base or to military operations on Diego Garcia, 140 miles away. The Group felt that the Foreign Secretary should discuss the matter directly with his counterpart, Hilary Clinton, and if necessary persuade her that resettlement posed no threat to the US base. It was thought that since Robin Cook was Foreign Secretary his successors had not discussed the matter with their US counterparts.
The Group took note of the decision by the Foreign Affairs Committee to consider its request that the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration be extended to cover the two uninhabited Overseas Territories, BAT and BIOT, since these territories were directly administered by the FCO. In its 7th report of the 2007-8 session the FAC had stated “We conclude that there is a strong moral case for the UK permitting and supporting a return to BIOT for Chagossians…The FCO has argued that such a return would be unsustainable, but we find these arguments less than convincing”.
The Group considered a complaint to Treasury Solicitors by the lawyers, acting on behalf of the Chagossians, that the FCO had failed in its Duty of Candour to the Courts in the litigation. This had seriously damaged the Chagossian Islanders case and may have led to a miscarriage of justice. The Group were puzzled to learn that the FCO had declined to confirm that the Duty of Candour also applied to submissions to the ECtHR.

The Group took note of a recent report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urging the UK to include information on the implementation of the Convention on Racial Discrimination and its recommendation that all discriminatory restrictions on Chagossians entering BIOT should be withdrawn. The Group also noted the address on 24 September of the Prime Minister of Mauritius to the

UN General Assembly, concerning Chagos.

A letter from the High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission, Baroness Ashton, in which she looked forward to a fair resolution of the issue of resettlement was noted. The letter concluded that “should the UK Government decide in favour of a return of the Chagos Islanders to their islands, the EU will closely examine all possibilities of support, if such a request for support is made by the UK Government.”

The Group asked the Coordinator to represent it at the joint meeting on the Chagos MPA of the Linnean Society and the Chagos Conservation Trust on 24 November.

The 25th meeting of the APPG will be on 23 November.

David Snoxell

Coordinator.

 

David gave a talk on 8th November to the International Affairs Society of Bristol University, entitled

‘Colonialism v Human Rights: the case of the Chagos Islanders expelled from their homeland, the British Indian Ocean Territory, last remnant of Empire in the Indian Ocean and relic of the Cold War.’ This is available via email.

 

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS

(A record number this month.)

House of Lords
17 October 2011
Lord Ouseley (Crossbench)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action is proposed to remove restrictions on Chagossians (Ilois) from entering Diego Garcia or other islands on the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
There is no right of abode in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), and anyone wishing to visit requires a permit. The only exceptions to this are members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, public officers and officers in the public service of the Government of the United Kingdom while on duty. The Government do not intend to resettle the territory, since we believe the arguments against resettlement-on the grounds of feasibility and defence security-are clear and compelling.
However, we acknowledge that many of those who formerly lived on the islands, and their descendants, wish to visit BIOT, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has organised and funded a number of trips to facilitate this. Recognising this, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has instructed FCO officials to increase the number of these sponsored visits so that as many members of the Chagossian communities as possible have the opportunity to visit Diego Garcia and the outer islands.

 

House of Commons

17th October

Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much his Department has spent on enforcement of the British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos Islands) Marine Protected Area since the area’s inception.
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
In the period since the declaration of the British Indian Ocean Territory Marine Protected Area (MPA) on 1 April 2010, a total of £3,089,943.31 has been spent on enforcement of the MPA. This includes the costs of the British Indian Overseas Territories patrol vessel, which performs a range of functions in the Territory.
Andrew Rosindell
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many of his officials have duties associated with enforcing the British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos Islands) Marine Protected Area.
Henry Bellingham
There are a number of officials of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) who have duties associated with the enforcement of the BIOT Marine Protected Area.
The BIOT Commissioner is appointed by Her Majesty the Queen by instructions through a Secretary of State. Mr Colin Roberts (Director of the FCO’s Overseas Territories Directorate (OTD)) is the current BIOT Commissioner.
Under section 7 of the BIOT (Constitution) Order 2004, the Commissioner appoints a Commissioner’s Representative, a Deputy Commissioner and a BIOT Administrator. There is in addition an Assistant Administrator.
The current Commissioner’s representative is a Royal Navy Commander appointed by the Ministry of Defence as Commander British Forces at BIOT. The Deputy Commissioner and the BIOT Administrator are currently members of OTD.
Andrew Rosindell

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he plans to visit any British Overseas Territories in the next 12 months.
Henry Bellingham
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), and I have plans within the next 12 months to visit the British overseas territories. It is not usual practice to announce these visits until they are confirmed.
Andrew Rosindell
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his policy is on the designated Marine Protected Area surrounding the Chagos archipelago.
Henry Bellingham
The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) declared a Marine Protected Area (MPA) on 1 April 2010 to ensure the ongoing protection of the unique environment of the Territory.
A Science Advisory group has been created to draw up a scientific framework for the MPA and to advise on research and other activities to enhance its effectiveness.
The BIOT Administration is working closely with interested Chagossian groups and non-governmental organisations to work on specific environmental projects in BIOT.
Andrew Rosindell

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many infringements of the designated Marine Protected Area surrounding the Chagos Archipelago have been reported to his Department since the area’s inception.

Henry Bellingham
There have been 12 infringements of the Marine Protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory since 1 April 2010.
Andrew Rosindell
To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how many officials in his Department are currently stationed in (a) British Overseas Territories and (b) the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Stephen O’Brien (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, International Development; Eddisbury, Conservative)
The Department for International Development does not publish the numbers of staff in each country where we operate, as this may represent a security risk, especially to our staff serving in hostile environments or fragile states.

(This last reply is interesting for two reasons:

  1. It does not actually answer the question asked which was not how many staff do you have in each country where you operate and
  2. Her Majesty’s Government is actually quite happy to publish how many Foreign and Commonwealth Office people are stationed in every country – see Parliamentary Questions for 17th Feb 2011 – so where is the security risk to DfID?)

 

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office
25 October 2011 Excerpt
Henry Smith (Crawley, Conservative)
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for his diligence in meeting, on a number of occasions now, constituents of mine who originally come from the Chagos islands. Will he update the House on what progress his Department has made with regard to visits to the Chagos islands by those islanders?
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, FCO; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in engaging the Chagossians in his Crawley constituency. He has been an absolute pillar of strength for that community. We have organised a number of visits back to the Chagos islands this year for Chagossians from the UK, the Seychelles and Mauritius. We will organise more visits in the future, and I want to get more members of the Chagossian community involved in environmental, conservation and heritage work in the territory.

House of Commons
27 October 2011
Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much his Department has spent on the maintenance of British assets on the British Indian Ocean Territory in each of the last five years.
Henry Bellingham
We only hold financial records for the past three financial years and the current year. During this period, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Administration spent £19,850.38 on the maintenance of British assets on BIOT.

(The question did not cover the assets of the Ministry of Defence or any other department.)


8th November Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Ivan Lewis
(Bury South, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the Government intends to publish its new strategy for the British Overseas Territories.
Henry Bellingham
The British Government plans to publish a White Paper on the Overseas Territories next year. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement given by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), on 14 September 2011, Hansard, column 48WS, setting out the main principles of the Government’s strategy.

 

10th November.

Ethnic Groups: Treaties
Lyn Brown (West Ham, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the Government plans to ratify International Labour Organisation Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, and if he will make a statement.
Jeremy Browne (Minister of State (South East Asia/Far East, Caribbean, Central/South America, Australasia and Pacific), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)
The Government are fully committed to promoting and protecting human rights for all individuals, including indigenous people, without discrimination on any grounds. We continue to work overseas and through the UN to improve the situation of indigenous people around the world.
International Labour Organisation Convention 169 sets out a framework for how governments should act with regard to indigenous and tribal people within their own territories. To date the UK has not ratified the convention as we do not consider that the UK or its overseas territories have any indigenous people to whom it would apply. We are also of the view that the convention does not apply extra-territorially. For these reasons, we would not be able to give effect to the convention. However, I have asked officials to look again in detail at our position to reassure ourselves that it is the right one
.

 

As the supporter who forwarded the last question to us pointed out, BIOT (Chagos) has no indigenous people because they were exiled. And if, as the Minister seems to imply, there have never been any, why does he have a problem with the UK supporting this treaty and the rights of indigenous people worldwide?

As the Minister is asking for officials to ‘look again in detail at our position to reassure ourselves that it is the right one’ supporters could write and tell him that it is not!

 

 

 

PASSPORTS

Many Chagossians have difficulty getting passports because of the terms of the law which gave them British citizenship. Some Islanders and spouses are being denied this right because of anomalies such as their father being away fishing and was not on a Chagos Island on a certain day. Or, perhaps, their mother was ill and being treated in Mauritius. (Marie-France told us about this last month).

This poor legislation which gives citizenship to some people but excludes sometimes brothers and sisters of the same family, and separates husbands and wives causes much frustration and distress in the community. Philippa Gregory (Patron of UKChSA) raised the issue with her MP, William Hague (Foreign Secretary) and he observed that it was a problem which could only be resolved by a change in the law.

It has occurred to some within UKChSA that perhaps he could use Orders in Council to right this particular anomaly? It seems to be a preferred method at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when dealing with the Chagos Archipelago.

(Philippa is also taking an interest in the football team in Crawley which is struggling for lack of funds.)

 

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Before you ask ….no news yet!

 

PRESS

Richard Norton-Taylor reported in The Guardian (UK) on 11th November:

Intelligence documents showing how British officials were involved in the secret rendition of UK residents to Guantanamo Bay and other jails – where they say they have been abused and tortured – must be disclosed, an information tribunal was told yesterday.

‘Government statements denying UK involvement in rendition have been shown to be false by subsequent statements and court decisions,’ said lawyers for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary rendition. Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester and the group’s chairman, referred to inaccurate statements to the Commons by former Labour ministers, notably Jack Straw. Years later, and only after persistent questioning from some backbench MPs and journalists, government assurances were shown to be false, the tribunal heard.

In just two examples, the government had to admit that the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia had been used by the US in CIA rendition flights, and British soldiers handed over to the US two men who were subsequently incarcerated in the notorious prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, Tyrie said.

 

There have been two mentions of Diego Garcia and the exiled islanders on TV and radio recently which seems to indicate that knowledge of their plight is becoming more widespread. The first was on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions?’ last month and the second, 3rd November, was on BBC 1’s ‘Question Time’. This is from UKChSA website www.chagossupport.org.uk:

It’s fair to say you don’t hear a huge amount about Chagos in the mainstream media. So it was great to see poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah bringing up the Diego Garcia story on the BBC’s ‘Question Time.’

It was part of a discussion about the royals’ meddling in politics, prompted by the controversy around Prince Charles being offered a veto on certain new legislation.

Zephaniah said:

“We are told that we elect our politicians and that the royal family stays out of it… There’s an island called Diego Garcia, and the British citizens were moved off that island for an American base to come on. In the British courts the people of [Diego Garcia] won the right to return and because of some kind of antiquated rule or whatever, some people went into a room with the Queen and they stood up and the Queen just overruled the decision of the court… We’re not being democratic if politicians make decisions and members of the royal family can veto them.”

He’s right, although it’s worth pointing out that what the monarch rubber stamped that day was drafted by the Foreign Office under the New Labour government. It wasn’t the Queen who was abusing her power – the government was abusing it for her. So the problem isn’t so much the royals being naughty, it’s that their antiquated powers are wide open to abuse.                                                                                        The result, as we know, is that vulnerable people suffer.

NEWS FROM CRG IN MAURITIUS

Chagos Day.

03 November, declared by the Government of Mauritius “a special day of commemoration of the deportation of the Chagossian community” saw a wreath laying ceremony at Quay C in the presence of The Hon Mrs Sheila Bappoo, Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity and Reform Institutions, and some 100 Chagossians. A time of prayer was led by Father Gérard Mongelard.

A gathering of 300 Chagossians, including those who are in old-aged homes, on Sunday 06 November at Pointe aux Sables marked the celebration of the Chagos Day. They had a very good time together. They danced to the rhythm of the Chagossian sega and sang. Lunch was served on the occasion. The day ended at 5 p.m.

2) Delegation to Agalega Islands

A delegation of the Chagos Welfare Fund will make a trip to Agalega on board the Mauritius Pride from 19 to 26 November. Agalega Islands belong to Mauritius. 50% of the population has some links with the Chagossians and there are also native Chagossians living there. The delegation will visit the inhabitants and distribute foodstuffs, indoor games and computers.

3) Pilgrimage to the Chagos islands

Nine Chagossians from the Chagos Refugees Group (2 from Mauritius and 7 from England) paid   tribute on the tombs of the ancestors on the occasion of All Saints’ Day /All Souls’ Day on a recent trip to the Archipelago.

 

St. HELENA

The Press Association reports: St. Helena will become a little less remote in 2015 with the opening of its first airport, financed by the British government. The £200 million project will see the first flights to the island, which has a population of a little over 4,000.

Roughly the same number of Saints as Chagossians. Whilst not begrudging the Saints their good fortune, compare and contrast the way the UK government treats them with the way they treat the Chagossians!

 

CHAGOS INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT

This was established as a Non- Governmental organisation based in Geneva earlier this year. They have issued an update on their activities to date. Under its President, Venen Paratian, CIS is currently filing an application to seek observer status as a non-governmental organization within the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. Here is a short extract from the Update regarding visits to the Archipelago:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) keeps an eye closely on the Chagos dossier and monitors  all its aspects.  This is understandable because it is senior FCO officials that have always advised Ministers on Chagos and BIOT.  For FCO the question is not how to find a lasting solution to the Chagossian problem but rather to identify consistently ways and means to perpetuate a foreign presence in the region by-passing the basic human rights principles.  One of the tactics employed has been to encourage and organise selected visits of Chagossians to Diego Garcia, Peros Bahnos and Salomon islands.   We believe  that FCO organizes such visits for  a  selected few Chagossians probably to quench the ardour of Chagossians residing in Crawley, London…… Shouldn’t the full support of the UK Government for democracy in the Middle East be extended to Chagossians as well?  Otherwise, how do we explain this glaring contradiction of Prime Minister Cameron who stands for human rights in Libya and not for Chagos?   We will never stop repeating that Chagossians have been robbed of their freedom. Human rights principles should be applied universally!

Wendy Paratian submitted a well-researched thesis for her Masters degree at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, entitled ‘The Complexities surrounding a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Archipelago.’ Her Conclusion can be read on the CIS website www.chagosinternational.org.

 

 

 

THE CHOIR

A special e-mail last month alerted supporters to a performance by the Ifield College Community Choir on BBC Radio 4. Aled Jones played highlights from the Gala Concert given at the recent ‘Let the Peoples Sing’ international choral competition, organised biennially by the European Broadcasting Union and hosted by BBC Radio 3 in the new studios of Media City in Salford. This was a very special pleasure. One supporter e-mailed to say:

I listened with utter delight to the Chagossian singers and drummers. To me it was the highlight of the programme. All three pieces were perfect and so very beautifully performed. WELL DONE to all those involved. A CD would be wonderful. It might be a major task to complete but would be a truly lovely gift to buy. What’s stopping that from happening I wonder?
Thank you so much for letting me know this was happening on Sunday.

We are pleased to say that the choir’s conductor, Patrick Allen is planning a CD. He also said that the drummers won the Music Award at Crawley Youth Awards on 2nd November and were presented with the award at a ceremony at the Hawth Theatre in Crawley.

Here is the text that was read out at the Awards Ceremony:

• They have played and sung music from their community to a wide audience, raising understanding and appreciation of the community – and helping the integration of the community into the town. They have performed for many local charities, and at many community and official civic events.

• They have performed all over the UK, including London, Manchester, Birmingham – bringing the attention of the country to Crawley and its diverse communities.

• Through their collaborations with Ifield Community College Choir, they have integrated their drumming into a wide range of musical genres- – including the music of Mozart! This was a collaboration with the ICC Choir and the BBC Singers which led to a performance in Chichester Cathedral with the West Sussex Youth Orchestra.

• They have been featured on BBC Radio 3 in two broadcasts: Music Matters and The Choir with Aled Jones. They were particularly praised as an outstanding example of cultural fusion and integration. They also were the subject of a feature in The Times, called “Crawley’s Link to a lost Culture”

• They have recorded at Maida Vale studios with the BBC Singers and ICC Choir. They have performed at the Royal College of Music and at the Royal Geographical Society.

• They have performed at an important international conference, concerning the future of the Chagos islands

• They have represented the UK on BBC Radio for the Let the People’s Sing Choral Festival.

• In short they have done an astonishing amount for Crawley, its cultural life, and to spread the name of Crawley across the nation with music of the highest quality.

UKChSA sends heartiest congratulations to such talented young people – and to their truly dedicated conductor.

 

Thank you for your support, and please consider writing to Jeremy Brown (last Parliamentary Question).