October 2005 update

The Chagossians in Mauritius are busy raising funds to bring some of them to the UK at the beginning of December for the court hearing. This will be about the 5th or 6th, and if any supporters would like to attend the hearing and meet the delegation they will be more than welcome. More details next month.

We have received an email from Mark Spalding PhD, an eminent marine scientist at The Conservancy Board, which we print in full:

“Visitors to Chagos over the last 30 years can be divided into 5 classes – workers (military and civilian), government officials, fishermen, travellers (mostly in yachts) and scientists. The latter group, of whom I am one, is perhaps the smallest, but it is also very well informed on many fronts. We scientists don’t just count fish or birds, we talk and think and debate and, just as with the travellers, most are deeply moved by the sorry plight of the Chagossians. Its impossible not to be when you walk into the old Manager’s house on Ile de Coin and see the sad writing of a terrified, innocent people daubed in red on the wall, ending with the saddest “Adios, 4:15 pm” by the door. So I’m writing because I want to dispel two or three very important myths that seem widespread among the Chagossian human rights activists.

1 – We’re not government stooges. We’re independent thinkers. There has been government funding for some scientific work on Chagos, thank goodness. That’s not a bad thing at all as its urgent to know what state the environment is in. And subsidising science does not buy opinions, at least not among independent academics (working in the full employ of the government could be different I suppose).

2 – Chagos, and perhaps the Chagossians, can only benefit from this science. It was scientists who first noted the collapse of shark stocks in Chagos in 1996 and that led to significant increases in patrolling (though illegal fishing is still having an impact).

3 – Conservation is not a bad thing either. I was saddened to read your former chairman’s speech suggesting that designation under Ramsar would be used as a block to future resettlement. Hundreds of Ramsar sites world-wide are occupied by people carrying on their normal lives. Excluding and expelling people from protected areas is largely a thing of the past – and pay a visit to the North Norfolk coast if you want to see a Ramsar site full of people.

It is very dangerous for human rights groups to assume that environmental protection should not be undertaken until the people are returned. Surely the destruction of Chagos by illegal fishers or thoughtless yachties will undermine the arguments for resettlement? I would argue that keeping the Chagos healthy will strengthen the ongoing debate about resettlement as it will mean there is still a healthy environment out there for the Chagossians to make a living.

I’ve also been surprised by the apparent labelling of the Chagos Conservation Trust as a government puppet. Wrong. There are quite a number of groups fighting for the Chagossians. The CCT is the only group focussed on environmental issues and officially has completely steered clear of human rights activities. You may think “how could we?”, but many of our members feel VERY strongly on these issues too and there is nothing to stop any of us supporting human rights activities in other fora. With this approach we are able to discuss with the government, argue with the government and occassionally niggle them like a dripping tap to foster change in environmental protection and monitoring. Chagos now stands out as being one of the last healthy natural reef and island archipelagos anywhere on the planet.

If the Chagossians are ever allowed to return they will find a very beautiful, remote, but highly environmentally sensitive place. I’d like to think that we’ve helped to keep it that way for them, and more importantly perhaps, that they will engage with this willing and sympathetic group of experts to help plan for its continued healthy future.”

We are still waiting for news of the official trip to visit ancestral graves which keeps being cancelled and postponed. However, it seems that anyone CAN get to the Chagos area if they can afford it. We have been told about a 75 foot Italian sloop based in the Maldives that can be hired for such a trip!

Chagossians have never been employed on the base at Diego Garcia although many other nationalities are. Seventeen applications are now being made, for various jobs, by the members of the Chagos community in Mauritius and their progress will be carefully followed.

If you would like to complain directly to the Foreign Office, try complaints@fco.gov.uk or write to Lord Triesman at:
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street

Could you also, please, continue to badger your MP to approach the Foreign Affairs Committee for a review of the treatment received by the Chagossians over the last few decades? (as mentioned in last month’s update).

Reminder: http://chagos.wongnow.com is well worth visiting.

Here is a figure worth repeating : £25,000 per islander per year is spent to keep each Falklander safely ON their Islands. If each Chagossian received that for each year they have been kept off theirs…

Quiz sales seem to be going well. Please sell as many as you can then send a cheque to me (made payable to the UK Chagos Support Association) at 77, Western Drive, Leyland, Lancs. PR25 1YE

Best wishes

Celia Whittaker