November 2013 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 38th meeting on 9 October

 

The Group felt that the PQs concerning the BIOT Policy Review, answered in early September, had been helpful. It was clear that the next stage was a statement by the FCO Minister to Parliament on the results of the consultation on the Review and the proposed feasibility study which was expected this month. The Group understood that it would include draft terms of reference and that thereafter experts would be invited to conduct the study. Members felt that the consultants should be respected experts in their disciplines and of proven objectivity and independence, if the study was to be seen as balanced and transparent. The Group reiterated their wish that Parliament should be able to debate the results of the study before the summer recess in July 2014. This had been stated in the Chairman’s letter to the Foreign Secretary of 16 July on the Group’s views about the review of policy. It was agreed that the Chairman would respond to the forthcoming statement on behalf of the Group. Members asked the Chairman to remind the Foreign Secretary of his offer for a further meeting following their last meeting with him in December 2011.

 

The Group discussed possible interventions in debates and further PQs in the current session. The debate in the Lords on the Future of the Commonwealth on 17 October would be an opportunity, given the emphasis on human rights in the Commonwealth Charter, signed by The Queen in March, since the continued exile of the Chagossians remained inconsistent with Commonwealth values and the UK’s promotion of human rights.

 

Members also discussed the need for HMG to involve the Americans in potential resettlement in view of the  anticipated renewal of the 1966 UK/US Agreement in 2016. This should not wait until after the feasibility study had reported. It could be addressed in the annual round of UK/US Pol-Mil discussions usually in October. US agreement and funding, especially if resettlement were to be on Diego Garcia, should form part of the renewal of the 1966 Agreement and be discussed in 2014 when the Agreement comes up for re-negotiation.

 

The submission of 1 October by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) to the Ministry of Justice, concerning the UK’s failure to report on BIOT in its periodic reports to the UN Human Rights Council, was considered. Members were surprised to learn that the UK had on each occasion declined to report on BIOT on the grounds that it was uninhabited, an argument repeatedly rejected by the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They felt that the UK should be honest about its own failings with regard to human rights. They hoped that the Justice Secretary would  ensure that this omission was rectified in the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review Mid-Term report.

 

The Group took note of articles in the Commonwealth Law Bulletin in August (Prerogative legislation as the paradigm of bad law-making: the Chagos Islands by Ronan Cormacain) and in Ocean Challenge Summer 2013 (Sharks on the lawn at Diego Garcia – but is rising sea-level to blame? by Richard Dunne).  They also took note of the ILPA briefing, so far as it concerned the Chagos Islanders, for the debate on ‘Requirements for those who apply for UK citizenship or nationality’ in the Lords on 8 Oct, and also noted the current state of appeals to the First Tier Information Tribunal concerning the application of FOI to BIOT.

 

Members were pleased to learn that an international conference on the Chagos Islands had been organised by the Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius from 29 to  31 October to mark their 30th anniversary and that the Coordinator would be speaking at it. They hoped that the UK, Mauritius and the US would participate.

 

The next meeting of the Group will be held on 20 November.

 

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG

 

The recess and conference period is now behind us which meant that there were several Chagos related Parliamentary Questions which were tabled since the two houses returned.  The Liberal Democrat’s Lord Avebury got us under way on the 22nd October when he asked:

“whether they have any plans to discuss with the government of the United States the creation of a settlement for Chagossians on Diego Garcia in the context of the
renewal of the 1966 United Kingdom–United States Agreement.”

Baroness Warsi (Conservative)

“Senior officials have discussed with US officials our intention to commission a new feasibility study into the resettlement of British Indian Ocean Territory. Though the Government is supportive of the long-term use of Diego Garcia as a shared strategic asset for the UK and US, we do not anticipate formal discussions with the US about the future use of Diego Garcia until this study has been concluded.”



Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to include a report on British Indian Ocean Territory in their report to the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

Baroness Warsi (Conservative)

“There were no specific recommendations regarding the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in the UK’s Universal Periodic Review report in May 2012. The mid-term review document is currently being drafted, and we cannot comment further on its content at this time.”

 

23rd October- Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he will open discussions with the US Government on the re-negotiation of the 1966 UK-US agreement on British Indian Ocean Territory, and whether such discussions will include resettlement of Chagossians in their homeland.”

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness, Conservative)

“No date has been set for discussions between the UK and the US on the extension of the 1966 agreement on the British Indian Ocean Territory. Though the Government is supportive of the long-term use of Diego Garcia as a shared strategic asset for the UK and US, we do not anticipate formal discussions with the US on this issue until the review of our policy on resettlement has been concluded.”

 

24th October-  Henry Smith (Crawley, Conservative)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will ensure that the UK's Mid-Term Report (Universal Periodic Review) to the UN Human Rights Council includes British Indian Ocean Territory.”


Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire, Conservative)

“There were no specific recommendations regarding the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in the UK's Universal Periodic Review report in May 2012. The mid-term review document is currently being drafted, and we cannot comment further on its content at this time.”

 

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP and long-time friend of the Chagossians, has sponsored a Parliamentary Early Day Motion (EDM).  It congratulates the Chagos Refugees Group on their recent conference in Mauritius which marked the 30th anniversary since the organisation was established (full details will follow in our December newsletter).  It also calls on the House of Commons to recognise the historical injustice committed against the Chagossian community and for it to be corrected by facilitating a return to the islands.

EDM number 649 which is entitled as “Chagos Refugee Association” was tabled on the 29th October and will remain open for the remainder of this parliamentary session.  It can be found here.  This is the first EDM since 2010 and so it is an excellent opportunity for supporters to ask their MPs to sign and can be utilised as a gateway to engage them further in our on-going campaigns.  Ideally it could even lead to some joining the very productive APPG which will strengthen our position within Parliament further.

LEAVE TO APPEAL AGAINST MPA JUDICIALREVIEW RULING

We are delighted to confirm that last month Lord Justice Jackson granted our legal team leave to appeal against the Marine Protection Authority (MPA) Judicial Review ruling from April.  It was considered that there were “grounds of appeal (which were) properly arguable” and meant that the application for appeal was granted.  At this stage it is still unconfirmed as to when the appeal will be heard, but early indications are that it could take place as early as February 2014.  These things are notorious in terms of their predictability so we will closely monitor developments and confirm the date of the hearing once this is officially announced.

DAVID VINE‏

Another of our long standing prominent supporters, David Vine, has been working alongside Phil Harvey and Wojtek Sokolowski.  Collectively they have put together a revised version of a model which was developed for the Chagos legal litigation to calculate compensation owed to the Chagossians as a result of the expulsion from their homeland.  The full report can be found here but a brief summary as outlined by David is as follows:

  • The aim of the Human Rights Standards Damages Model is to calculate damages Chagossians have suffered as a result of their expulsion from their homeland by the US and UK governments.
  • The Chagossians were forcibly displaced from their homes in the Chagos Archipelago between 1968 and 1973 during construction of the US military base on the Chagossians’ largest island, Diego Garcia. They have now remained in exile for more than 40 years.

 

  • Although money cannot measure or fully compensate for the losses Chagossians have experienced, we believe it is important to provide a damages estimate so that Chagossians (and other groups) can seek proper compensation and some measure of justice.
  • Our model offers a framework that allows an objective and transparent way to measure tangible and intangible damages suffered by the Chagossians and other peoples who have been dispossessed or who have experienced other human rights violations.
  • The basis for our model is a 2005 United Nations resolution that reaffirmed the right of victims of gross human rights violations to reparations. Both direct victims and indirect victims, like children and other family members, are entitled to reparations.
  • To calculate lost land and property, our model estimates the value of the Chagossians’ land through comparisons with 1) annual rental payments made by the United States for the military use of the Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands; and 2) Japan’s 2006 agreement to pay the United States $6.09 billion to reclaim land occupied by U.S. military bases on Okinawa and help move U.S. troops to Guam.
  • To calculate lost income, we looked for small, isolated comparison populations living next to a military base like Diego Garcia who were able to enjoy the economic benefits of living next to a base. Our model holds, however, that a population that has suffered its own social and economic human rights violations (e.g., Kwajalein, Guam) is not an appropriate comparison group because properly measuring compensation demands assuming that governing sovereigns uphold the highest human rights standards, rather than assuming additional rights violations. Our model, thus, compares Chagossians’ earnings since their expulsion with the earnings of three comparison populations (France’s Indian Ocean island Réunion; the UK Overseas Territories; and the UK) representing three levels of attainment in securing economic and social rights.
  • To calculate other consequential damages, including injuries to health, educational opportunities, and psychological wellbeing, among others, our model employs a commonly used methodology mandated by the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act to compensate workers for consequential damages stemming from minimum wage violations. This methodology allows an additional award of “liquidated damages” equal to back pay owed, although this doubling multiplication factor probably understates the true extent of Chagossians’ damages.
  • Accounting for Chagossians’ lost land and property, lost income, and consequential damages, we estimate that total damages fall between $5.4 billion (€4.3 billion) and $13.2 billion (€10.5 billion) (expressed in international $ and purchasing power parity €).
  • For reasons that we explain in the article, we believe that actual damages probably fall towards the higher end of this range.
  • Because the US and UK governments have barred us (and other researchers) from Diego Garcia, our calculation does not include an estimate of what appear to be significant environmental damages caused by the US military base.
  • The size of our damages estimate is a function of 1) the severity of Chagossians’ losses connected to being exiled; 2) the fact that these harms include not only losses suffered individually by each Chagossian, but also losses suffered collectively as an indigenous people dispossessed of their homeland; 3) the fact that both of these categories of loss have continued to accumulate as a result of the Chagossians’ continuing exile; and 4) the length of time the exile has continued.

*Note: This article was published in September 2013, although the publication date is 2012

David has been busy last month because he also wrote a piece on the ever expanding reach of US military bases.  It largely deals with the compliance of Italy who has allowed the expansion within her territories, but does make reference to the existence of a certain base in the Indian Ocean:

While much attention has been focused on President Obama’s “Asia pivot,” the Pentagon is concentrating its forces at bases that represent a series of pivots in places like Djibouti on the horn of Africa and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, Bahrain and Qatar in the Persian Gulf, Bulgaria and Romania in Eastern Europe, Australia, Guam, and Hawai’i in the Pacific, and Honduras in Central America.

RICHARD DUNNE

An updated guide to the Chagos Islands and their physical environment, a version of which was first presented to the BIOT Policy Review Team, has been submitted to us by Richard Dunne.  It makes for fascinating reading and a full version is attached to this edition of the newsletter, but one of the most striking areas highlighted looks at long term sustainability in terms of rainfall and water supplies:

  • The Chagos islands (Salomon & Peros Banhos atolls in particular) have the highest annual rainfall totals of all Indian Ocean atolls (Stoddart 1971b), approximately 3,750 and 4,000 mm/year (Posford Haskoning Ltd 2002).

 

  • Completely dry months do not occur on Salomon & Peros Banhos atolls (Stoddart 1971b).

 

  • Freshwater on all the islands is contained in lenses trapped in the coral basement and is suitable for domestic consumption.

 

  • The water supply ‘population capacity’ of the two principal islands in the northern atolls would be approximately 3,000 for Ile du Coin and 1,500 for Ile Boddam for an average water demand of 100 litres per person per day (Posford Haskoning Ltd 2002).

 

  • Diego Garcia obtains all its freshwater supplies from the island lenses, sufficient to support a population of several thousand military and civilian contractors.

 

The association eagerly awaits feedback from the BIOT Policy Review Team regarding these fascinating facts which severely undermine previous arguments that any resettlement would be unsustainable.

 

30th ANNIVERSARY OF THE CHAGOS REFUGEES GROUP

As announced in our September edition, the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) marked the 30th anniversary since the organisation was established.  A series of events has been held, the most prominent of which was the International Conference, full news of which will be included in our December edition.

 

The 10th October was the day the group officially marked 30 years of existence.  The Association agrees that such a milestone should be celebrated, but equally it is a note of caution to all of our supporters that this injustice has been allowed to continue for far too long.

 

 

It is in everyone’s interests that there will be no 40th anniversary and that the organisation will instead be functioning as an autonomous body which oversees the interests of Chagossians, and that this role is administered from the Chagos Islands.

 

 

 

OLIVIER BANCOULT IN ARGENTINA

During a very busy month for the CRG leader, Olivier Bancoult was also invited to Buenos Aires to participate in a press conference with the Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman.  An Argentine press release announced:

“Once again the UK displays its disdain for international law and double standards regarding the right to self determination of peoples, since it ignores the right of Chagossians to return to their lands and on the other hand pretends to force the right to self determination for the Malvinas question, even when the United Nations do not consider such option applicable”

Olivier went on to denounce the double standards in terms of the treatment of the Chagossians when compared to the Falkland Islanders, a contradiction that:

“ensures that gives all power to the inhabitants of the Falklands, while with we will do everything the opposite.”

A short clip of the press conference can be found here.

FORGOTTEN IN THE INDIAN OCEAN

Tessa Grauman recently aired a two part radio magazine highlighting our struggle for justice.  The first segment deals with the background story of the cause while the second addresses the political and diplomatic issues behind the deportation forty years ago.  Olivier Bancoult, Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Gifford and Richard Dunne were amongst a number of individuals who contributed to the production.

MINORITY RIGHTS GROUP INTERNATIONAL

We were recently contacted by the international human rights organisation Minority Rights Group (MRG) regarding a submission they made in September to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland’s Mid-Term report to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The full submission can be found here but in summary the MRG argued that the UK has an obligation to ensure that human rights treaties to which it is party to, is applied to any territories under its jurisdiction.

OLIVIER GOUJON

One of our supporters from Twitter has put together a collection of images of Chagossians on the micro-blogging social network Tumblr entitled “The Dogs of Chagos”.  The post also includes contributions from interviews conducted with a number of islanders based in Mauritius.

Meri-Elysee Charlemagne is a Chagossian. Born on the island of Peros Banhos in 1972. She was deported with her grandmother Emilienne and the rest of her people in 1973 by the United States of America and the UK.

The story began 300 years ago, when escaped or freed slaves settled on dream archipelago, the Chagos islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Abundant fishing, copra work for companies Seychelles, life goes on its light rail and happy until the mid-twentieth century. The Chagos are then dependencies of Mauritius, a British colony. Decolonizing the area of the Indian Ocean, the English refuse to include the Chagos islands in the independence of Mauritius. The archipelago is sold to the Americans (ED: This was not actually the case), who want to set the largest military base of the world, on Diego Garcia, the main island of the archipelago. Small problem: the Chagossians. They became 8000 and are settled on the islands of Diego, Peros  Banhos and Salomon. The deportation is organized: “At first, says Emilienne, they told us we were going on vacation, or make medical visits in Mauritius, but those who left never returned, so we are suspicious and we don ’ longer wanted to leave, so the Yanks have forced us to get on the boat and we left everything, our houses, our furniture, our animals. We travelled in the hold, as slaves, like dogs. ” The Nordvaer left Diego on June 2, 1973 with 2000 Chagossians on board. The 2000 that the British and American governments had failed to deceive. Direction: the slums of Mauritius.

 

Just a reminder again that Jeremy Corbyn’s EDM number 649 can be found here.