October 2011 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group will hold its next meeting on 19th October.

 

HOUSE OF COMMONS
Written Ministerial Statement by William Hague (Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Richmond (Yorks), Conservative)
14 September 2011
In my statement to the House of 10 March I set out this Government’s overall vision for our overseas territories and explained that we were working with Departments across Government on a new strategy to deliver this. The National Security Council (NSC) agreed the main principles of a new strategy in July.
The UK Government’s fundamental responsibility and objective are to ensure the security and good governance of the territories and their peoples. The strategy recognises that our 14 overseas territories are remarkably diverse. Policies to meet these objectives need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of each territory. The strategy is designed to provide a framework in which these policies can be developed and implemented consistently and effectively.
Much of the Government’s work on the territories is rightly concerned with meeting our responsibilities to the territories with settled populations. Our new strategy aims to ensure that proper attention is also given to the UK’s extensive sovereign territory where there is no settled population. We want to ensure that the significance and value of this territory is better understood………

And, UKChSA hopes, the rights of the Chagossians!

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE
UK opens consultation period on new strategy for Overseas Territories
From their website:
Thank you for your interest in the UK Government’s strategy for the Overseas Territories. The UK Government’s overall vision is for the Overseas Territories to be vibrant and flourishing communities, proudly retaining aspects of their British identity and generating wider opportunities for their people.

We recognise that the Overseas Territories are remarkably diverse and that the policies needed to meet our goals need to be tailored to each Territory. We therefore want your views on priorities for each relationship and invite you to respond, in particular, to six key questions. If you are responding from the UK, then your views can cover the Territories as a whole.

We will publish a White Paper on the Territories in 2012 that will set out in detail this Government’s approach to the Overseas Territories.

Any responses will need to take into account current global economic challenges which are likely to impose constraints on public expenditure in the UK and the Territories for the foreseeable future.

You can respond online, by private email to the FCO in London or by post to the Overseas Territories Directorate (Consultation), FCO, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH.

UKChSA hopes that all supporters will respond with specific points relating to the Chagos Islands.

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION

House of Lords. Written Answer
Lord Luce (Crossbench)
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they propose to discuss with the United States State Department the terms on which they would be prepared to renew the Exchange of Letters (due in 2016) between the United Kingdom and the United States Government on the British Indian Ocean Territory; and, if so, when they propose to commence those negotiations.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Conservative)
The 1966 Exchange of Notes between the UK and US Governments concerning the availability for defence purposes of the British Indian Ocean Territory is valid for 50 years and shall continue in force for a further 20 years unless, not more than two years before the end of the initial period, either government shall have given notice of termination to the other, in which case the agreement shall terminate two years from the date of such notice. No formal negotiations have commenced.

 

(Note: there is no ‘lease’ as such between UK and USA regarding the Chagos Islands, just an agreement.)

 

EUROPE

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg.

Richard Gifford, solicitor for the Chagossians writes:

We filed our final submissions on the effect of Al-Skeini by the extended deadline of 30 September. I expect to receive the Govt’s version from the Court shortly. The main issue in the case is whether the European Convention applies to the territory of BIOT, given the mechanism in it for extension to overseas territories, which the UK says it never followed.

As to when the case may be decided, the Court has no schedule and may look at the case at any time now.

 

Catherine Ashton, High Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission, wrote to two Members of the European Parliament in response to information they had sent her on the Chagos Islanders: I am aware  of the claims presented by the Chagossian population to return to the Chagos Archipelago, and of various legal actions undertaken. I look forward to a fair resolution to this issue.

Regarding the issues put forward in your letter, as the competent Commission services have already confirmed, no suspected infringement of EU law has been found.

Nevertheless, should the UK Government decide in favour of a return of the Chagos islanders to their islands, the EU will closely examine all possibilities for support, if such a request for support is made by the UK Government.

UKChSA understands from this that the whole cost of resettlement will not fall on the UK Government.

 

UNITED NATIONS

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has issued its concluding observations on the UK regarding compliance with the Convention on Racial Discrimination. The Minority Rights Group (good friends of the Chagossians) submitted a shadow report and alerted us to the outcome. The passage relevant to the Islanders is:

12. The Committee is deeply concerned at the State party’s position that the Convention does not apply to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The Committee further regrets that the BIOT (Immigration) Order 2004 not only bans Chagossians (Ilois) from entering Diego Garcia but also bans them from entering the outlying islands located over one hundred miles away, on the grounds of national security (articles 2 and 5(d)(i)).

The Committee reminds the State party that it has an obligation to ensure that the Convention is applicable in all territories under its control. In this regard, the Committee urges the State party to include information on the implementation of the Convention in the British Indian Ocean Territory in its next periodic report. The Committee recommends that all discriminatory restrictions on Chagossians

(Ilois) from entering Diego Garcia or other Islands on the BIOT are withdrawn.

In a speech on 8th September speech, William Hague criticised “the flouting of international norms and laws by other states”. Perhaps he should set a good example, not ignore CERN but carry out its recommendations.

 

UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY

September 24th, H.E. Mr.Navinchandra Ramgoolam, P.M. of Mauritius addressed the General Assembly on four areas of security: economic, environmental, human and legal.  This section from the UN website is where he refers to the Chagos Archipelago:

Legal security required an appropriate legal framework for the redress of grievances or the settlement of disputes, he said, citing a dispute involving his country and the United Kingdom over the Chagos Archipelago. Prior to independence, that archipelago was excised from Mauritius in disregard of United Nations resolutions and declared the so-called British Indian Ocean Territory. When Mauritius had announced in 2004 that it would refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice, the United Kingdom amended its earlier declaration, in order to oust the jurisdiction of the Court with respect to certain disputes with a member or former member of the Commonwealth. It illustrated the kinds of problems a State could have in settling a claim under international law. He called on the United Nations to keep under review the whole issue of dispute settlements and to set standards of conduct for all States. He was pleased that the General Assembly had taken mediation as its current session’s theme. He said the United Nations should lead by example and must, among other things, give the sincere and strong support required to implement reform at the United Nations, the Security Council and the General Assembly.

 

Statement of the delegation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in exercise of the right of reply to the remarks made by the Prime Minister of Mauritius in the general debate on 24 September 2011.                                                                                                                                 The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland maintains that the British Indian Ocean Territory is British and has been since 1814. It does not recognise the sovereignty claim of the Mauritian Government. However, the British Government has recognised Mauritius as the only State which has a right to assert a claim of sovereignty when the United Kingdom relinquishes its own sovereignty. Successive British Governments have given undertakings to the Government of Mauritius that the Territory will be ceded when no longer required for defence purposes. The British Government believes that the Marine Protected Area (MPA), established in the British Indian Ocean Territory on 1 April2010, is the right way ahead for furthering the environmental protection of the Territory and encouraging others to do the same in important and. vulnerable areas under their sovereign control. As has previously been made clear, the decision to establish the MPA is without prejudice to the outcome of the current pending proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights.

DATE FOR YOUR DIARY:

The United Nations Association Canterbury Branch

The Shame and the Spirit of Chagos.

Monday 7th. Nov. 2011. 7.30pm in the Friends Meeting House, Canterbury.

The speaker will be Hengride Permal, Chair of the the Chagos Islands Community in Crawley, and by kind permission of John Pilger an edited version of his classic film “Stealing a Nation” will be shown.

 

PRESS COVERAGE

Bermuda Sun carried an interesting article by Raymond Hainey and here is an extract:

Mr Bellingham (UK Under Secretary of State, FCO) said the Lottery Good Causes Fund — which raises  a staggering $44 million a week — should be extended to cover Overseas Territories like Bermuda.
At present, strict laws governing the Lottery forbid donations outside the UK.
But Mr Bellingham said he had been in talks with the UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which oversees charity donations from the Lottery.
He said: “I’ve made it clear to my fellow Ministers that this is something we need to sort out. It’s completely illogical that money is not available to the people of the Overseas Territories.
“It seems wrong and anomalous they don’t enjoy the benefits of the Lottery Fund.”
He added that he hoped to have the law changed to allow charities and community groups in the Overseas Territories to submit bids for Lottery funding.
Mr Bellingham said: “I can’t tell you when, but for me this is a priority.”
The UK lottery helps fund organizations all over the country, from sports groups to community-based and green initiatives.

Mauritius Times, 16th September carried an article by David Snoxell in response to William Hague’s speech entitled ‘The Best Diplomatic Service in the World’. (Links to speech and David’s article are available via e-mail).

Mr. Hague said that ‘we cannot ride roughshod over international opinion or neglect to ensure that our actions are seen to be as legitimate as possible in the eyes of the world’ and ‘we have set ourselves the goal of excellence in every crucial area of our work.’ David Snoxell wondered whether Mr. Hague had the handling of Chagos issues in mind and suggests ‘…to avoid the accusation of hypocrisy and double standards, the FCO needs to get on with negotiating an overall settlement with all parties – Mauritius, the US, and the Chagossians…’

 

There have been two interesting articles on the website of the Challenger Society. The first, ‘Protecting the Chagos Archipelago – a last chance for Indian ocean Reefs?’ is by Charles Sheppard which is a re-run of his usual arguments for conservation without proper resettlement. He grossly exaggerates various plans that have been proposed over the years to enable the exiled islanders to settle and become self-sufficient.  How often does it need to be said that the Islanders are not against conservation? How often does he need to be told that resettlement and conservation are not mutually exclusive? Fortunately, Richard Dunne and Dr. Magnus Johnson redress the balance with their article ‘Return to Chagos – conservation and humanity can go hand-in-hand.’

 

NEWS FROM THE GROUPS

Sabrina Jean, CRG (UK), tells us that, sadly, Marienoelle Tiatous who lived in Crawley passed away in hospital on the 19th September aged 42 leaving two children aged 18 and 12. We in UKChSA send our deepest sympathy to her family and friends.

On 27th October, sixteen Chagossians from Mauritius and the UK will visit Diego Garcia.

November 3rd is Chagos Day and Chagossians are planning a commemoration. This is the day that the first court case was won in the UK.

Bernadette Dugasse,  Seychelles Committee, London, has made a short visit to the Seychelles where she learnt of the death of a seventeen year old student who had been stabbed to death. He was of Chagossian descent. This is sad news and UKChSA extends sympathy to his grieving family.

 

CRG in Mauritius reports several events this month:

1) Retreat for senior citizens

A senior citizens residential retreat for 116 Chagossians was held from 01-03 September at the Recreation Centre for Senior Citizens at Pointe aux Sables.

2) Youth gathering

85 young Chagossians gathered at the CRG Training and Resource Centre at Pointe aux Sables on 18 September. Lunch, film show (Sit-in on the sea) and discussion were on the programme.

3) Tuck shop

Good news… ‘Chagos Paradise Shop’, the tuck shop located on the premises of the CRG Training and Resource Centre at Pointe aux Sables was opened on 28 September. The main objectives of the tuck shop are to:

a) Help cover the running costs of the Training and Resource Centre.

b) Help the Chagos Refugees Group to become self-sufficient

c) Preserve and promote the heritage and cultural resources of the Chagossians through traditional meals and other articles.

 

 

 

FEEDBACK

First a plea for help from Mariefrance in Crawley:

Hi Celia
We Chagossians are still struggling with all our problems.
Housing problems, visa problems – families are still divided and are still in Mauritius as most of us don`t speak English.
They can`t come to join their family as the government has a new rule now that they have to learn English before coming to the UK.
We had someone who had passed away in the community. Someone has ask for a little help and I don`t know if this has been heard or not. We have a football team which has been created in the name of Chagossian federation all these don`t stand a chance of helping hand …We have to depend on ourselves…but we need help.
Can you pass the message to the people concerned that what we are suffering lately is really frustrating.
Houses and visas are our main issues and when we want to do activities we need help financially.

Following this letter from Marie France, Committé Chagos (a meeting of the leaders of the three largest Chagossian groups in the UK) had a meeting and Roch Evenor (Chair of UKChSA) sent us this:            We had a meeting on Saturday and the following was agreed (Olivier Bancoult CRG Mauritius was also present): that we should go ahead with registering the Chagos Sport Association. It came out that a Chagossian won a bronze medal in the last Indian Ocean Games. The football team is under the auspices of Gianny Augustin and Hengride Permal and they have been mandated by the Committee to be the contact persons.

Should you wish to send a contribution towards the football team (equipment etc can be pricey) UKChSA can put you in contact with the relevant people.

 

George Beckmann wrote: I wrote thrice to Ed Miliband, Leader of HM Opposition, namely on 1 March, 24 April, and 22 July 2011, but have not received a reply. I reminded him that whilst his Party was in power it vigorously opposed repatriation. I asked him whether his Party had changed its policy since the General Election. In my last letter I said that if I still did not get a response from him I would assume the default position, namely that the Labour Party still opposes repatriation of the Chagossians.

 

Most feedback this month has been to the article by Philippa Gregory (UKChSA Patron) in The Independent (UK).

Gerald Morgan wrote:

I welcome the interview with Philippa Gregory in The Independent on 5 September 2011. She is right to point out (as many have pointed out) that the British expulsion of the Chagossians from their homeland is contrary to natural justice and inimical to democracy. If the British government can champion the cause of freedom in Libya (for which it has no mandate) surely it can champion the freedom of its own British subjects such as the Chagos Islanders. Hypocrisy on this scale is easy to perceive and the British are doing themselves immense damage by persisting in it. The decline of Britain in the late twentieth century is a story above all of moral decline and of the obsequious facilitation of dictators such as Gaddafi and of American interests in Diego Garcia. If the British press were serious about freedom and democracy (matters on which it is wont to pontificate at inordinate length) it would begin to mount a serious and irrefutable case for the restoration of the rights of the Chagossians. The time to do so is now.

 

Emily Balls wrote:

I have recently returned from a year living in the Marshall Islands, in which islanders from various atolls including Bikini Atoll have been displaced from their homes. Unfortunately for many displaced Marshallese there is no possibility of returning home as islands are now contaminated with nuclear waste. Having seen and gained a sense of the heartache that displaced Marshallese people feel, and the way this has affected future generations, I feel especially strongly about the situation of the Chagossians. It is possible for Chagossians to return to their islands and to live there once again; this is something that can and should be remedied.
Connections to land and home are often stronger in non Western cultures and for both Chagossians and Marshallese it is not a relationship of ownership but instead deep familial connections to land and a strong sense of shared memories/experiences. Removing people from their land and placing them elsewhere therefore has consequences and cultural repercussions that we may not easily relate to but that must be taken into account.
Having spent a year living on a coral atoll with limited resources, I have personal experience of this physical environment and I know that people can live in this environment – living conditions should not be a barrier to the Chagossians’ return home. Of course the British government would need to provide support in terms of building and providing infrastructure – surely this would need to happen anyway since the British government destroyed the buildings and infrastructure that the Chagossians themselves had built.
In terms of principle, I think all Chagossians certainly do have the right to return; in terms of practicality this may not be possible. I agree that in terms of practically organising any kind of resettlement it will be very difficult and complex and will require time, planning and money – but in terms of ethics and human rights this is something the British Government has an obligation to work on. I also find it dubious to have the planned MPA beside a military base and extremely unfair that the Diego Garcia base would be exempt from MPA restrictions…

Another supporter wrote:

An excellent article by Cahal Milmo on Dr. Philippa Gregory and the Chagossians whom she supports so wonderfully. The comparison between the abuse of power and misuse of the Privy Council by the Tudors and our political leaders in the second Elizabethan age is most interesting and telling.

Recently, the Government has appeared more apologetic and conciliatory but, as David Snoxell says, the cosmetic offers they make don’t amount to a row of beans. Letters to the Foreign Office complaining about the lack of justice for the exiled islanders elicit bland, self-righteous replies which also don’t amount to a row of beans. As Dr. Gregory so astutely pointed out Hague is “…constrained by many years of government policy and is advised by some of the people who made that policy.” i.e. Foreign and Commonwealth Office civil servants!

 

DAVID VINE, author of Island of Shame has very kindly donated the royalties from his book and speaking honoraria to the Chagossians. We thank him most sincerely for this incredibly generous gesture. He has long been a good and hard-working friend to the Chagossians.

 

Thank you to all for your support – please try to get your MPs and MEP’s onside and to spread the Chagossian story far and wide. Also, as mentioned earlier in the Update, will you please give Mr. Bellingham and the Foreign Office your thoughts on how they should treat a certain Overseas territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory – known to us as the Chagos Islands?