October 2012 update

PARLIAMENT

 

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 31st meeting on 17 October 2012.

 

The Group considered legal developments since its last meeting on 12 July. It was hoped that the ECHR in Strasbourg would take the Chagos case this month. If so judgment was likely before Christmas. Members noted that the FCO had suffered three legal reverses:

1.  The decision in July that Wikileaks was admissible evidence and that two FCO officials (the Commissioner and former Administrator of BIOT) would be required to give evidence under oath to the Judicial Review of the MPA (set for 21-23 November in the High Court) on the Wikileaks (US cables) in which they were quoted,

2.  The judgment of the First-Tier Information Tribunal (FTT) in September that two submissions in 2002 to FCO Ministers from their officials, concerning the Feasibility Study, must be disclosed,

3.  A recent decision by the Information Commissioner that FOIA and EIRs apply to BIOT.

 

Regarding the Mauritius case against the MPA it was understood that Mauritius had submitted its memorial to the ITLOS Tribunal and that the FCO had until the end of October to submit their response.  This case would therefore continue until well into 2013. The Group felt that the FCO ought to be settling these cases quickly out of court rather than spending time and taxpayers’ money fighting them through the courts.

 

Members discussed the answer on 18 September to a PQ from Andrew George MP about the proposed MPA Management and Conservation Plan. They were pleased to note that the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) had amended its website to make clear that this was not a final plan. They also noted that the answer from the new FCO Minister, Mark Simmonds (the 9th incumbent of the post since 2000) had welcomed constructive comment from all stakeholders on the drafting of the Management Plan.  The Group thought that it would be sensible to hold off submitting comments until the two cases against the MPA had been decided.

 

It was noted that Mr Simmonds would give evidence on the FCO White Paper (The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability, June 2012) to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 20 November. This was an opportunity for FAC members to raise issues concerning BIOT, arising from the report and also the omission of Overseas Territories, governed exclusively from the FCO in London, from scrutiny of the Parliamentary Commissioner, on which the Chairman of the Group had submitted evidence to the FAC in June 2011.

 

The Group discussed Anglo-Mauritian relations in the wake of the meeting between the two prime ministers on 8 June 2012. It was noted that both sides had had different understandings of the outcome, leading to a contradiction in what was reported to the two Parliaments and the media. Four months later it was disappointing that nothing tangible on Chagos had emerged from this, the first prime ministerial meeting since 1994. It was felt that relations between the two countries were bound to suffer as a consequence. The Group would wish to discuss the future of Anglo-Mauritian relations with ministers.

 

The Group agreed to a request from Philippa Gregory for the Comite Chagos to meet them before the next meeting. This will take place on 5 December.

 

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the APPG

 

Just the one parliamentary question this month, which was from the Conservative’s Zac Goldsmith which was afforded a written answer by party colleague Mark Simmonds.

 

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his policy is on the establishment of marine protected areas in the Overseas Territories.”

 

To which Simmonds, the Junior Foreign Office minister replied:

 

“The Government’s recent White Paper on the Overseas Territories set out
our approach to develop a shared agenda for sustainable environmental
management with the Territories. We are committed to working with
Territories governments to preserve their rich environmental heritage
and have been developing with them a strategic approach to large-scale
marine management. Two of the largest marine protected areas (MPAs) in
the world have been established in British Overseas Territories; in the
British Indian Ocean Territory a no-fishing MPA has been declared, while
in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands a sustainable use MPA
has been declared that allows fishing activity, subject to tight
controls, that has led to Marine Stewardship Council certification.
These, and other marine protection measures across the Territories, have
been based on scientific research and evidence, and further work is
under way to input into their future management. We will continue to
work closely with the Territories to guide the sustainable management of
their marine areas, whether this be through the use of MPAs, or other
appropriate management tools, and where a Territory permits fishing or
other economic activities to take place as part of their management
approach we will encourage this to happen in the most sustainable manner.”

 

To use a cricketing analogy, this was a slow gentle delivery from Goldsmith to his newly appointed Conservative party colleague, which could at best be described as meaningless.

 

 

 

 

GREENPEACE IN MAURITIUS

Some intriguing developments in Port Louis where the Greenpeace ship SY Rainbow Warrior was in the region and was initially blocked from making a scheduled stopover at the harbour earlier this month.  This followed the role that Greenpeace played in the creation of the highly controversial marine protection zone around the Chagos Islands, which drew such strong condemnation from the Mauritian government.  Africa Review takes up the story:

 

Mauritius media on Sunday noted the change of route by the ship, which is currently touring the Indian Ocean, citing government sources.

The media reported that the government refused access to its port because of the positions taken by the NGO against the interests of the Mauritius Republic.

The first reason for the refusal is the unconditional support that Greenpeace has given the British authorities in the controversial project of a protected marine park in the Chagos archipelago.

Port-Louis has officially denounced the “hypocritical” position of Greenpeace on this matter.

Mauritius deeply regrets that Greenpeace International chose to close its eyes on the illegal excision of the Chagos archipelago by the UK, despite its being recognised as part of Mauritius by various international groups, Port-Louis declared.

Mauritius insisted that Greenpeace, which claims to be fighting for environmental protection, showed a hypocritical attitude by remaining silent over the proposed construction of a marine park.

However, after a series of discussions, it would appear that the stance of the Mauritian government softened, resulting in a number of concessions being made which appeared to allow the ship to dock in Port Louis after all.  Greenpeace International Executive Director of the Netherlands, Kumi Naidoo, maintained he was committed to “dispel some of those concerns”, adding that:

 

“…our support for the Marine Protected Area was, and remains, subject to the clear proviso that it should be without prejudice to the rights of the Chagossians or the sovereignty claim of Mauritius.”

 

It would appear that the propaganda machine of Greenpeace was in full swing as it successfully coaxed Port Louis eventually to allow the ship to dock as scheduled, subject to a few concessions including the statement by Naidoo.  We at the committee feel this was a missed opportunity to make a strong, bold and unequivocal statement to Greenpeace and their conduct in relation to such a critical barrier to the attempts of the Chagossian community to be allowed to return home, a fact, of course, recognised by the Foreign Office itself during the revelations of the cables via Wikileaks almost exactly two years ago.

 

MAURITIUS REITERATES SOVEREIGNTY CLAIM AT UN

Foreign Minister Arvin Boolell addressed the United Nations Assembly’s General Debate earlier this month and made an impassioned plea on behalf of small nations involved in territorial disputes.  Highlighting its own claims with London, Boolell called on the UN to facilitate processes which would enable smaller nations to negotiate with their larger and illustrious co-claimants.  Linley Bignoux from Africa Review, tells us more:

 

“Speaking on Monday at the UN General Assembly, Mauritius Foreign Affairs minister Arvin Boolell, called for respect for international law by all.

 

‘It must be supported at national and international levels, and that nations, especially small ones, must have avenues to peacefully resolve disputes with other states. The decolonisation of Africa has not been completed,’ said Mr Boolell.

 

The minister detailed the excision of the archipelago by the United Kingdom prior to Mauritian independence in 1968, saying that London had declined to enter into diplomatic talks over the dispute, while succeeding in keeping the issue out of the International Court of Justice altogether.

 

The UK says it will only hand over the disputed islands when they are no longer needed for defence and in 2010 controversially declared the territory a Marine Protected Area (MPA).

 

The largest island, Diego Garcia, is leased to the United States which operates a military base there.

 

Britain says the MPA is needed to protect the marine environment but Mauritius says the real intent is to avoid paying claims for those forcibly relocated in the 1960s and 1970s when the islands were declared British territory.

 

The African Union has backed Mauritius’ bid to re-establish sovereignty over the archipelago.”

 

BUMBLING UK SECURITY FIRM NOW OPERATING ON DIEGO GARCIA

Quite a serious news item, but one would struggle to keep a straight face when reading.  The much maligned UK security firm G4S, whose management of the London Olympics failed so spectacularly and led to soldiers being deployed instead, have secured a contract to provide their expertise on Diego Garcia.

 

September’s edition of satirical magazine Private Eye picks up on the story and appropriately commentates on the humorous nature of it all in an article entitled “Partners in grime”-

 

The G4S Olympic security cock-up may have prompted the UK government to rethink the wisdom of defence outsourcing, but the US navy has no such qualms. It is handing a new $282 million contract to run support services at its controversial base on Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands to a consortium which includes…G4S

 

G4S Parsons Pacific is supposed to provide from IT and telecoms to public safety (including firefighting) and handle “supply, morale, welfare and recreation” for naval staff on the remote island base which is leased to the US by the UK.

 

In Parsons Corporation, G4S may have found its perfect match. The contractor was blasted in the US Congress after auditors found shoddy work at 13 of the 14 US funded reconstruction projects it carried out in Iraq. A $75 million new police academy in Baghdad was so badly built that parts had to be demolished because human waste dripped through ceilings in the barracks.

 

With such a record, perhaps between them G4S and Parsons can reduce morale at the base so far that the US navy finally packs up and leaves, allowing the illegally displaced Chagos islanders to return home at last.

 

NEWS FROM CRG: OLIVIER BANCOULT & THE NON-VIOLENT STRUGGLE

On the occasion of the International Day of Non-Violence, celebrated on 2nd October to mark the anniversary of Gandhi’s birth, the UN Secretary-General reiterated the need to reflect on the struggle of the apostle of non-violence  and his message of understanding and peace.

 

On that same occasion, Olivier Bancoult was in Reunion, at the invitation of the cultural association Tamij Sangam and the town of Saint Denis, the island’s capital, to speak on the peaceful but staunch and enduring  struggle of the Chagossian people. Olivier reiterated the fundamental objective of their struggle, the  respect of their human rights, in particular their right of  return to their homeland, the Chagos Archipelago.

 

Olivier Bancoult fittingly echoed the UN Secretary-General’s message by a timely reminder that the Chagossian people too are among “the communities and people in every corner of the world who have been inspired by Gandhi’s example”.

 

COLIN ROBERTS MOVES ON

Colin Roberts, the Director of Overseas Territories and BIOT Commissioner who came to prominence for his comments which were released in cables during the Wikileaks scandal, has been moved to another Diplomatic Service appointment.  He has been succeeded by Dr Peter Haines, the former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.  The timing is significant as it occurs just five weeks before the Judicial Review in which he will be cross-examined under oath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RARE FOOTAGE FROM DIEGO GARCIA NOW ONLINE

Supporter Alan Donaldson contacted us a few weeks ago to advise that some very rare and unique footage from Diego Garcia and the Seychelles was now available on YouTube.  This footage was captured two decades before the Chagos Islands were depopulated:

 

Many of the supporters are familiar with the DVD that John Loader and Alan Donaldson produced some years ago: “Diego Garcia and the Seychelles, A Few Wartime Memories”. They have sent out a great many and donations from this have added a useful amount to the UKChSA bank account. They are delighted to announce that the footage is now online.

 

This has made John, who is now 91, extremely happy, for it means that all their efforts to bring their plight to the attention of others will be working for the “Cause”, even if he is no longer with us, although we all hope that the matter will be resolved to the benefit of the Chagossians in his lifetime. We also hope that people in the film will be recognised and we would be very grateful if people could let us know their names so that we can compile a database of those appearing for family and friends.

 

These are the links:

 

Part 1 – the Sunderland flying boat arrival at Diego Garcia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXH4wpU2VMk&feature=plcp

 

Part 2 – the RAF base and personnel:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2t7mTS5K8Q

 

Part 3 – the islanders:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWKeGhj2_W8&feature=plcp

 

Part 4 – the Saturday Sega Dance and John’s appeal:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NomdcCBEtJA&feature=plcp

 

CHAGOSSIAN EXHIBITION FEEDBACK

The exhibition opened earlier this month and includes a selection of photographs of Chagossians including the islands themselves.  I attended the exhibition along with fellow supporter Farzana Rahmana earlier this month and got to meet the photographer Phuc Quach.  The exhibition runs until the end of the month and is free.  Another supporter, Gary See, also contacted us having also taken the opportunity attend earlier this month and described the exhibition as “very moving”.

 

CRAWLEY REDSTARS VOLLEYBALL CLUB

Earlier this year we received a funding request from the Crawley Redstars Volleyball Club and we were pleased to have been able to assist with.  Gianni Sutton has written to us to let us know how they are getting along:

 

I would like to say a big thanks for your Group by helping us to achieve some of our project. It’s very grateful and if you go on Club facebook, you will see, we are very proud of wearing the Tracksuit made. Volleyball League season already started, we are doing well so far. 

 

Their website can be found here and possibly may be joining the demonstrations planned for next month.

 

 

 

CHAGOS DAY 3rd NOVEMBER 2012

UKChSA secretary Sabrina Jean wishes to extend an invitation to Chagossians and supporters to a celebratory mass which will be taking place at the Friary Church, Haslett Avenue West in Crawley Town Centre.  This will be held on Saturday 3rd November at 3pm.  The occasion marks Chagos Day, a significant date in the calendar which coincides with the commemoration of the deportation of the Chagossians from the islands four decades ago.  It is also the date in 2000 when Olivier Bancoult emerged from the High Court in London and appeared to have successfully achieved a right of return for the displaced population.

 

BON VOYAGE!

Also from Sabrina Jean, we are delighted to announce that 15 natives (first generation Chagossians) and 3 helpers will be making a trip to the Chagos Islands on the 28th and 29th October.  We would like to wish all Chagossians making the journey a safe and pleasant trip and hope that eventually all Chagossians will be able to visit and return to their islands.

 

 

 

JUDICIAL REVIEW AT HIGH COURT, CENTRAL LONDON

A reminder to our supporters that next month a Judicial Review of the Marine Protection Authority will take place at the High Court in Central London on the 21st November.  We will be staging a demonstration outside the court and hope as many supporters as possible will be able to join us.  We will bring you news of the hearing and the protest in our December edition of our newsletter.

 

FUNDING FEEDBACK

Peri Batliwala from the UKChSA has requested that we remind those who have received funding for projects to send us a report outlining how they are currently getting on.  In doing so it allows us to highlight the stories within this monthly newsletter.  It also encourages more donors to come forward as a result too.

 

CHAGOS PETITION

Our Chagos E-Petition is closing in on 300 signatures but still a very long way to go to our ultimate target.  Our petition as always, can be found here: http://bit.ly/LLvt4P