September 2005 update

Minutes of meeting, 24 September 2005

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

2. Chairman’s Report

After nearly five years as Chair, I have now made the decision to step down from this post. It has been an exciting and rewarding time, tempered by many set-backs along the way. My main reasons for taking a break are that, having retired, my income has fallen considerably, and I am not able to afford to carry out the role as it should be done, being so far from London where all the action is played out. It is crucial for a new Chair to reside in or near the capital to be really effective. The final reason is that after so many years in one position, the fire within starts to ebb away, and a type of fatigue sets in making your role less and less effective.

This decision could prove well timed, due to the imminent involvement of Mark Curtis in Chagos affairs. He is the author of Web of Deceit, a book about the UK’s, in many ways devious, foreign policy over many years. There was a chapter in this book on the Chagos expulsions, which we have all now read. Mark has vast experience through holding senior positions with various major charities, and now works freelance. It is the intention that Mark will set aside four or five days per month to spend on Chagos issues and strategy, and with his vast media experience this should have a dramatic effect on the future direction of Chagos support activities.

With this development in mind, a new Chair residing in or near London would be able to liase closely with Mark Curtis and the legal team, as well as building close links with the growing Chagossian community around Crawley. He or she could also be available to liase with visits by Chagossians from Mauritius and the Seychelles, especially joining them for visits to MPs, and Foreign &Commonwealth Office personnel.

Moving on to recent developments: as mentioned we welcome Mark Curtis on board the Chagos support wagon and wish him every success. We have had some interesting contacts via our website which I will mention briefly: these contacts included one from a Canadian international law student wishing to set up a support group in Canada, another from two ex US service personnel, suing the US government for damages, as they state that they have serious health problems brought on by them coming into contact with the defoliant Agent Orange whilst based on Diego Garcia. This was being used to clear vegetation for the new base area. Finally we have just had contact from an Australian Yacht Master, to advise of a visit by about twenty boats to all the main islands in the Indian Ocean including the Chagos. They are offering to use this voyage to publicise the Chagos issue. The date for this event is 2008.

I recently wrote to Dr. Charles Sheppard, of Warwick University, a member of the Chagos Conservation Trust, who is organising next year’s scientific expedition to the Chagos, asking him to give very serious consideration to Chagossian involvement on this trip. Obviously this venture has been sewn up personnel-wise for some time, with no contact from the CCT to the Chagossian community in Crawley at any stage. I’m afraid it’s the old collusion at work again.

As I near the close of my report I mention some interesting points from the Chair’s address to the recent Chagos Conservation Trust’s AGM. It’s thrust, as usual for this pro-BIOT body, was to push for yet more environmental protection for the Chagos Archipelago, so as to gradually lock out meaningful resettlement on environmental grounds. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have studied the CCT requests for higher levels of protection, and have agreed in principle to apply for RAMSAR standard protection for the Northern islands of the group, making resettlement extremely difficult on environment grounds alone. Their Chair also advises of the opening of a branch in the US with, you guessed it, a retired ex-Diego Garcia military officer as its head.

To close, we all look forward with anticipation to the December High Court appeal ruling.

Finally I pass on my deepest appreciation to other members of our committee and supporters, (not forgetting our superb webmaster, Robert, who has made such an impact and engineered such quality contacts to our website), for your tremendous achievement in raising awareness and substantial funding towards the Chagos cause. The support has remained solid even when events were going so badly for us, as I suppose they still are. Success will come as this issue gets more and more coverage, around the globe. It has been humbling to have worked so closely with you all, and I will not be going away, but will remain as a senior back bencher. Finally it is hoped that the replanned trip to the Chagos for a party of older Chagossians does go ahead soon. This at least will have been a small victory along the road to winning the main battle.

3. Treasurer’s Report

There has been a healthy flow of money in and out of the account to the various groups since our last meeting and, at present, there is a balance of £310 which will be added to and used to defray expenses for Chagossians during the Hearing in December.

4. Secretary’s report

I am pleased to report that the update is now issued monthly and supporters learn more quickly what is happening.
Olivier Bancoult, leader of the CRG in Mauritius, telephoned from London earlier this month. He was stopping overnight en route to the United States where he was due to talk to a number of NGO groups and to have a meeting with Senator Edward Kennedy. He will be coming back to the UK for the Court to hear an appeal against the Orders in Council in December. He asked about accommodation for himself and the CRG Committee while they are over here so an email was sent to supporters who were extremely helpful. A truly heartwarming response.

The repeat of the award-winning Pilger programme “Stealing A Nation” brought a few more contacts via the website. All supporters are welcomed and valued.

We have had some worrying correspondence about the use of Agent Orange (a very strong defoliant) on Diego Garcia during the early years of US occupation. One wonders if the Chagos Conservation Group (which interests itself in flora, fauna etc.) is aware of this.

Gerald G Wong has set up an excellent Chagos Support Forum / message board for interested parties to discuss and share their thoughts and ideas: chagos.wongnow.com

Gerald spent some time in Mauritius but has now returned to Canada.

Fr. Diarmuid O’Peicin fought a great and successful campaign to keep the inhabitants of Tory Island on their home ground in Ireland and we are studying that case. The huge advantage they had over the Chagossians is that they found out in time what was being planned.

There has been some correspondence with Tony Humphries (Head of BIOT and Pitcairn at the Foreign Office) re a simple request for information under the Freedom of Information Act. This was turned down for various rather unconvincing catch-all excuses which can be summed up as “in the national interest”. We have asked for an internal review.

There is still no date for the promised trip to visit ancestral graves for the Chagossians although Christine Johnson (Assistant Administrator, Overseas territories) is looking forward to her trip to the islands later this year so that she can see for herself the real beauty which she has only seen in pictures. If only the Chagossians could see for themselves what they only see in their memory.

We have been asked to approach the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee with a view to seeking a review of the Government’s treatment of the Chagosians from their illegal removal to the present day. All supporters can ask their MP’s to contact members of the Select committee. Details later.

The Guardian on 13 September published an article about orphaned and underprivileged children being taken from their homes on La Réunion (near Mauritius) to rural France in the early sixties. This proved pretty disastrous and traumatic for the youngsters who are now suing the French government demanding a single Euro in damages. What they want is for the French government to admit that what they did was wrong, and to apologise. There are slight parallels with the Chagos situation but, in either case, admitting guilt and saying sorry are not enough. Restitution needs to be made.

We have heard from Allen Vincatassin in Crawley that all the Chagossians there are now working but the benefits issue upon their initial arrival in the UK has not yet been sorted. He, Allen, will be on BBC Radio as a Breakfast guest on September 30th to talk about a DVD they are producing. As yet we do not know which station but we assume it to be local radio.

An Island Quiz has been written which, hopefully, supporters will sell to raise funds – our immediate goal is to be able to help with day to day expenses when the Chagos group attend the Hearing. A cup of coffee in London is very expensive to someone from Mauritius.

I finish by thanking Robert, our webmaster, and Bryn, who make my job much easier.

b>5. Any Other Business

Thanks were extended to Paul for his four year service in office and a discussion on replacing him ensued. We agree that the Association needs to be more London-based and invite suggestions for his replacement from supporters please.
It was suggested that the Lib Dems should be encouraged to act more positively – they have certainly been the most supportive of the three major parties. This could be linked with the approach to the Foreign Affairs Committee detailed below.

One member wondered why the infamous feasibility study (with a view to resettlement) had ever been commissioned by the government at all (unless they dictated the result) since the new Assistant Administrator for BIOT wrote that, at the time of initial treaties between the UK and USA “all islands had to be available for defence purposes.”

It was pointed out by another member how readily funds seemed to be available for conservation projects in the Chagos region but not for fair and adequate compensation to the exiled islanders.

Earlier this year Don McKinnon, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, visited the Chagosian community in Port Louis and appeared deeply concerned and sympathetic. Another member suggested we publish Mr. McKinnon’s contact details again so that supporters can ask him what he’s done for those people since that caring photo opportunity: www.thecommonwealth.org/Templates/Internal.asp?NodeID=34460 then click on “Feedback” to leave a message. Or write to him c/o New Zealand High Commission, Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, Pall Mall, London. Remind him the Commonwealth rightly condemned Mugabe for ignoring the human rights of Zimbabwe citizens so what about the human rights of Chagossians?

It was agreed by all that the ideas for publicising the cause contributed by members since the last meeting should be forwarded to Mark Curtis.

A member present is collecting the special coffee beans from Nescafe labels which she is using to raise money for funds. Please post any to me for forwarding.

There is a chapter about Diego Garcia in “Only The Sun Remembers” by J Alan Thompson published in 1950 by Andrew Dakers Ltd. It is about the author’s wartime experience and not the easiest read. (Stream of consciousness meets Heart of Darkness in my humble opinion – Secretary)

Norwich and District Peace Council and United Nations Association are having a two day conference in Norwich on 8 and 9 October. Speakers include Mark Curtis, Bruce Kent and a senior lecturer from Tel Aviv University. For more information and tickets please contact Marguerite Finn on 01603 722880 or email info@startthepeace2005.org.uk. Peter Lanyon is going to be there with a display to publicise the Chagos issue and our Association. We thank him for that.

Please could all supporters ask their MP to approach the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and ask for a review of the Government’s treatment of the Chagos Islanders from their illegal removal in the early 1970s to the present day – including last year’s Orders in Council which denies the Islanders all hope of return and, undemocratically, reversed a High Court decision?

The Committee can also be contacted directly by email at: foraffcom@parliament.uk

or by surface mail at:

Foreign Affairs Committee

Committee Office

House of Commons

LONDON

SW1A 0AA

We would particularly be interested to hear from any member living in the constituency of any of the MPs listed below…

FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE : MEMBERS

Mike Gapes (Chairman), Ilford South, Lab
Fabian Hamilton, Leeds NE, Lab
John Horam, Orpington, Lab
Eric Illsley, Barnsley Central, Lab
Paul Keetch, Hereford, Lib Dem
Rt. Hon Andrew Mackay, Bracknell, Con
Andrew Mackinlay, Thurrock, Lab
John Maples, Stratford-on-Avon, Con
Sandra Osborne, Ayr, Carrisk and Cumnock, Lab
Greg Pope, Hyndburn, Lab
Ken Purchase, Wolverhampton NE, Lab
Rt. Hon Sir John Stanley, Tonbridge and Malling, Con
Gisela Stuart, Birmingham Edgbaston, Lab
Richard Younger-Ross, Teignbridge, Lib Dem

The European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, provides that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence” and that “every natural legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions”.