October 2003 update

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

2. CHAIRMAN’S REPORT

Paul spoke for all of us when he expressed his grief and disappointment at the result of the court hearing which was given on the 9th October. It is difficult to understand how Judge Duncan Ouseley could rule that there was no case to answer after saying that they had been treated unjustly and shamefully by successive UK governments. As a leader column in The Independent said “they surely deserve as much consideration as, say, the Falkland Islanders, on whom the equivalent of £1million a head was spent to defend them from Argentinian aggression.” The writer went on to say “it can never be too late to make amends for an act of shockingly recent imperial arrogance.”

An appeal will be lodged but may not be allowed.

Sylvia was thanked for attending the judgment on our behalf.

However, we must all look to the future. Paul has spoken extensively with Allen Vincatassin and all are in agreement that we must see what the government WILL do for the Chagossians. An early visit would be good and the possibility of a pilot resettlement project must be pursued. This should be along the lines proposed by Jonathan Jenness in his response to the government’s Feasibility Study 2B – being a group project involving Islanders, scientists and environmentalists. This would develop and expand as infrastructure is put in place.

Allen Vincatassin has joined the Chagos Conservation Trust (formerly the Friends of Chagos) which seems to be run mainly by ex-British Indian Ocean Territory personnel with members of the scientific world. This is so that he can put the Chagos case within this influential conservation forum. The Trust is planning to eradicate rats from Eagle Island in 2004 and a major scientific expedition to the area is planned for 2005. Allen is planning to press for Chagossian involvement in both these projects.

Richard Gifford, Olivier, Allen and the leader of the Seychelles based Chagossians are on their way to Rome for an EU/ACP forum – Members of European Parliament meeting with representatives of African, Caribbean and Pacific states closely allied to EU countries.

Paul and Trish visited the new Chagossian community in Crawley and found them to be settling down well. They were all studying English at a local college whilst working at a variety of jobs. An evangelical church in the area has been very supportive. Allen has been very active in setting up a cultural centre which will be a meeting place for ALL Chagossians. It needs some work doing on it before opening later this year or the beginning of next. We wish them all the best with this and have already given some financial help.

3. TREASURER’S REPORT

We have a balance of £187.59 in the account (after adding in three cheques handed to Sylvia today.)

Money has been sent at different times to both Mauritius and Crawley. It was agreed to send £150 to help in Crawley and then build up a little capital to send to Mauritius. We support all Chagossian groups where we can.

4. SECRETARY’S REPORT

1. Points arising from the June update :
a) Baroness Amos’s promotion to replace Clare Short was reported but she has now moved on again – so soon! Her replacement as Secretary of State in the Department for International Aid is Hilary Benn and letters can be addressed to him at 1, Palace Street, London SW1E 5EH.
b) Denise Hall, the journalist mentioned, wrote a piece for the Irish Examiner. Paul sent a disc of photographs to illustrate this to the paper but, sadly, it has not been returned and it was the only copy – taken on his visit to Mauritius. We really appreciate Denise’s help. She has interested the biggest union in Eire (SIPTU) in the Chagossian’s plight and facilitated a meeting between Allen and the M.E.P. and labour party chairman, Proinsias de Rossa

2. We appreciate the coverage in the broadsheet newspapers of the judgment. That in The Independent and The Guardian were particularly sympathetic towards the ill-treated Chagossians.

Mark Curtis wrote a moving article in the Observer – he is the author of “Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World”. (Published by Vantage and very favorably reviewed by John Pilger.)

3. Amongst others, we are still in regular contact with Jonathan Jenness and appreciate his support (and wit).

4. Bill Ramell received a letter of congratulation from us when he replaced Baroness Amos at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We made a few constructive suggestions and asked a few questions but only received a bland reply with no useful information and not written by him. We will try again!

5. David Borrow M.P. has been very helpful and has always replied promptly to letters and e-mails which is more than can be said of the U.S.Embassy who have not mailed us once. If they are reading this : WHAT DO WE HAVE TO DO TO GET A REPLY FROM YOU?

6. Bill Samuel (Turks and Caicos Islands representative) continues to be a good friend to us and promotes the Chagos cause at the U.K.Overseas Territories meetings.

7. Georges Wuethrich (President of the Swiss Chagos Association) keeps in touch and sent a most interesting e-mail after his trip to Mauritius. In the 6th Indian Ocean Islands Games, seven Chagossian members of the Mauritian team won medals including three gold. The captain of the winning Mauritian football team pulled off his shirt to reveal a “Proud to be Chagossian” T-shirt as he went up to receive his gold medal. Well done! Congratulations, too, to Georges and Nicole on their recent wedding.

8. Laura, our postgraduate student member, has been in the U.K. for a Summer break (with her partner, Andrew) and was in London for the judgment. She is now returning to Mauritius where she is working hard. Hope you enjoy the rest of your time there, Laura.

9. Kate, who spent some of the Summer, 2002, in Mauritius (her dissertation was on the displaced Chagossians) has achieved a 2:1 and wrote us a lovely thank you note. Well done, Kate! She now has a job in London and we wish her every success with that. She will continue to take an active interest in Chagossian affairs.

10. The Diego Garcia Island Council now has its own web site : www.diegogarciaislandcouncil.org.uk

11. Ben Fogle (of “Castaway” fame on television) has written a book called “The TeaTime Islands” published by Penguin/Michael Joseph. This is a very interesting read and has a big section on British Indian Ocean Territories. It seems a very accurate summary of the situation and can be recommended to all members and interested parties. Two little points that interested us: a) it costs £25,000 per islander, per year to protect the Falklands from Argentina! Wouldn’t it be good if the government spent something like that on re-settling the Chagossians?

b) The Falklands earn £20 million in fishing licenses. How much, exactly, is collected around BIOT and what happens to it?

ANY OTHER BUSINESS

Margaret told us her grandson has taken an interest in the Chagossian cause – he is a journalist in the Bahamas and is hoping to do a feature on it. Wonderful!

It was mentioned by Judge Ouseley that £4million was paid out to the Chagossians in the early eighties. This was paid into a Trust Fund which was administered by the Mauritian Government. £2,500 was paid out to families or individuals to buy a small plot of land and erect a shack to live in. The land was the size of small gardens so not enough to subsist on. The rest was used to build two culture centres and to staff and maintain them.

We shall continue with our work despite the set back of 9th.October. Money will be raised to help in Mauritius and Crawley. But, more importantly, perhaps, we must write to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, M.P’s and MEP’s pushing for a visit to the islands (before the older people die), asking when a pilot re-settlement can be started and asking when this government are going to start implementing their much-vaunted “moral dimension.”

Foreign and Commonwealth Minister, Bill Rammell’s address is : Foreign and Commonwealth Office, LONDON, SW1A 2AH Fax: 0207202148.

We need to encourage all members to do this and to spread the word. Please help us to keep up the pressure.