September 2010 update

Message from the Chair of UKCSA, Roch Evenor

As we are patiently awaiting the outcome from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and any consequent feedback from the British Government, I have put together a few points we can all agree on:
“The Chagos Declaration.
We, as representatives of the Chagossian people solemnly declare and affirm the following:
– We are united in our call for the UK government to restore the right to return for us, the Chagossian people to our homeland.
– We call upon the UK government to restore as a matter of urgency the right to return to the outer islands.
– We call upon the UK government to work with the Chagossians from Diego Garcia to restore the right to return to their island as soon as it is reasonably practicable to so.
– Recognising the grave injustices that have been inflicted upon us, we call upon the UK government not only to restore to us, the Chagossian people the right of abode but also to work with the us, the people of the Chagos islands to facilitate our return.
– Without prejudice to any of the discussions as regard to the future sovereignty of our homeland, we call upon the Governments of Mauritius and the United Kingdom to consult us, the Chagossian people in any eventual decision as to the sovereignty of our homeland.
Roch Evenor, Chagossian.

European Parliament, from Sajjad Karim MEP:

As you may be aware, the Conservative Group’s Spokesman on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament, Charles Tannock MEP, recently asked a Parliamentary question (for a written answer) to the European Commission on the matter and asked as to how the Commission would be working to ensure the resettlement of the Chagossian Islanders. “What does the Commission intend to do to take forward this work with respect to the Chagos Islands and resettlement? Does the Commission intend to work with Member State representatives in the Council?”

The question was asked in relation to the aims outlined in the EU interim agreement on establishing a framework for an Economic Partnership Agreement between Eastern and Southern Africa States on the one part and the European Community and its Member States on the other, which in its text called for the European Union to ‘work towards trying to find a solution for the Chagossians to allow them to return to their rightful homeland islands’.

The reply given by Mr. Piebalgs on behalf of the Commission:

The Commission thanks the Honourable Member for the question and has taken note of the Resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 25 March 2009.

In that respect, the Commission wishes to recall that being an Overseas Country and Territory (OCT) associated with the European Union, the British Indian Ocean Territory falls under the Council decision 2001/822/EC of 27 November 2001 on the association of the Overseas Countries and Territories with the European Union (Overseas Association Decision). Furthermore, pursuant to Article 355.2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the TFEU and the detailed rules and procedures adopted in application thereof. These rules do not make provision for the free movement of persons between the Member States and the OCTs.

Moreover, it should be noted that the British OCTs are under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. If the Government of the UK decides in favour of a return of the Chagos Islanders in their islands, the EU will closely examine all the possibilities contained in the Overseas Association Decision 2001/822/EC in order to contribute to eligible requests. EU institutions and all relevant partners will be involved according to and in conformity with the Treaty and the Regulatory obligations.

(Could someone kindly explain this in a simple way please? Compiler)

Kieran Roberts tells us it has been a busy month for Labour Friends of Chagos Islanders:

Our open letter to the Labour Party leadership candidates was published with a full list of co-signatories including 6 MPs, an MEP and a member of the House of Lords. Diane Abbott was the first candidate to reply. Her campaign team encouragingly said this:

‘Thank you for emailing us regarding the situation surrounding the right of return for native Chagossians.

As you may know, Diane is a massive campaigner on human rights. On hearing about the Chagossians plight Diane was not hesitant to criticise her own Government, including the then Foreign  Secretary  David Miliband about the dishonest and deceitful way they and the US authorities had treated the Chagossians. Diane was in fact the only one of the current leadership candidates to speak out and challenge her Government, in public or private, about the injustices surrounding the Chagos Islands and its indigenous people.

Diane has written many times to Ministers on this issue and attended a debate in April to question the then Foreign Minister for Europe Chris Bryant. Diane is also a member of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group and tabled an EDM in March, which read:

“That this House believes that the interests of the Chagossian people and of Mauritius must be fully protected in the proposed Marine Protected Area; urges the Government to withdraw its case from the European Court of Human Rights and to settle out of court, as already suggested by the Court; and requests the Prime Minister to engage with Mauritius and the Chagossians, before the general election, in order to initiate discussion on an overall settlement of the issues, including timetable for eventual transfer of sovereignty of the Outer Islands to Mauritius and provision for a limited settlement on the Outer Islands.”

Andy Burnham expressed sympathy for “the historic plight of the Chagossians and (I) believe that their eviction is a source of shame for our Foreign Office.”

(The result of the leadership election, of course, is now known.)

We have also posted our petition on GoPetition.com, a site recognised by the British government. It reads:
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to revoke the Orders in Council and make provision in the current MPA proposal that will allow the Chagos Islanders to return to their homeland.”

The petition can be found online here

PARLIAMENT

Government departments still sent out letters which brought little cheer whilst parliament was in recess.

Henry Bellingham MP (Conservative, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Africa and United Nations, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) took three months to reply to a letter from Olivier Bancoult (Leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, Mauritius) which had requested a review of Government policy towards the Chagos Islanders. In his reply, Mr. Bellingham  repeated all the specious  arguments against resettlement trotted out by the previous government.

Incredibly, it would seem that he did not hear William Hague, now Foreign Secretary, say

“I can assure you that if elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute.”

It also took the Foreign and Commonwealth Office three months to reply to the United Nations Association of the United Kingdom. That Association wrote to the Foreign Minister urging Her Majesty’s Government to work with the Chagos Islanders and the Government of Mauritius to devise a Marine Protection Area solution that makes provision for resettlement and that protects Mauritius’ legitimate interests  (through, for example, zonation which would permit the sustainable use of marine resources in specific reef, lagoon and open ocean areas.) The UNA-UK also urged the government to recognise the Chagos  islanders’ right to return to their homeland and to facilitate this by all necessary means.

Although the letter was written to the Minister and came from a most prestigious association, the reply came from the most junior officer responsible for Chagos and again trotted out the old specious arguments about defence, security and feasibility studies which no longer hold water.

With no shame whatsoever, part of the reply says:

You also mentioned the UK’s obligations under the International Covenant of  Civil and Political Rights.  The ICCPR does not apply to BIOT since the UK’s ratification of it has never been extended to the Territory.  Were there to be a resident population in the Territory, this would obviously have to be reconsidered.

Another line in the letter says I can assure you that the Government will continue to look at the issues and

will want to engage with those with an interest. So far they have not attempted any meaningful engagement with the major stakeholders.

House of Commons, 16th September, 2010
Henry Smith (Crawley, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his policy is on the (a) assisted returns of and (b) the right of permanent return by Chagos islanders to the islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
As my Right Hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 8 September 2010, the Government will continue to defend their position in the proceedings brought by the Chagos Islanders to the European Court of Human Rights. This is because we believe that the arguments against allowing resettlement on the grounds of defence security and feasibility are clear and compelling.

House of Lords

Lord Bingham, sadly, died earlier this month and the Chagossians lost a good friend. He was considered by many to be the greatest English judge since the Second World War and a tireless champion of human rights.  There were many tributes in the press and David Snoxell (Co-ordinator of the Chagos All party Parliamentary group) wrote to the Guardian:

“Your extensive obituary (13 September) of Lord Bingham does not mention his last and searing minority Opinion in the case of the Chagos Islanders, delivered after his retirement, by the Law Lords, in October 2008 . Having lost at each stage in the lower courts the FCO had appealed to the Lords on grounds of defence, feasibility and cost of resettlement. While all five Law Lords agreed that the Royal Prerogative was subject to judicial review three decided that the Order in Council of June 2004 banning the Chagossians from returning to their homeland was lawful.

Lord Bingham’s Opinion was a model of brevity, succinctness and clarity. The Prerogative had never been exercised to exile an indigenous people from its homeland. This could not be done without debate in Parliament and democratic decision. Lord Bingham dismissed the defence argument, characterising the letters written by American officials as “highly imaginative”. In 30 years the US had not exercised its treaty right to extend its base to the outer islands, 140 miles from its base on Diego Garcia. In 1968 US officials had expressly said that they had no objection to resettlement and in 2000 this was not perceived to threaten security, otherwise time and money would not have been devoted to exploring the feasibility of resettlement. It could not be doubted that this right was of intangible value, and the smaller its practical value the less reason to take it away.

It is to be hoped that when it hears the case later this year the European Court of Human Rights will uphold the principles of human rights and parliamentary democracy enunciated by Lord Bingham. He will long be remembered as a champion of the Chagossian cause.”

Peter Bottomley MP also wrote to the Guardian saying:

Lord Bingham’s words illuminate the letter (14 September) by David Snoxell:”In accepting the high court judgment in November 2000 the government had made it clear that it would not persist in treating the Chagossians as it had reprehensibly done since 1971.”

PRESS COVERAGE.

Guardian, 30th August, carried an article “Islanders  urge candidates to oppose Miliband decision.”  And, on 3rd September, a letter from Baroness Whittaker:

The important point to note about Marine Protection Areas (Islanders urge candidates to oppose Miliband decision, 30 August) is that, unlike what the Foreign Office seems to have in mind for the Chagos Islands, they usually keep the residents living there, where they help maintain the conservation area. This is as true of the Galapagos Islands as it is of the most recent one, the American MPA off Western Hawaii. The all-party parliamentary group on the Chagos Islands has consistently called on the government to follow this tried and tested model, which would allow the exiled Chagossians to return to their birthplace and put right an acknowledged tragic injustice.

The Sunday Times, 12th Sep, had an article “Tycoon sends £3.5 m patrol boat to save Serengeti of sea”

which The Scotsman (Joe Churcher) also covered this the following day:
A Swiss billionaire has stepped in to save plans to create the world’s largest marine reserve from public spending cuts. Ministers are in talks over a £3.5 million deal for America’s Cup-winning yachtsman Ernesto Bertarelli to fund the policing of the zone around the British-owned Chagos Islands.
The Marine Protected Area (MPA) will cover some quarter of a million square miles of the Indian Ocean and include a “no-take” reserve banning commercial fishing. It was approved by then foreign secretary David Miliband in April amid complaints that the Government failed to heed the needs of the territory’s exiled inhabitants.

Italian-born Mr Bertarelli and his British wife Kirsty – a former Miss UK – share a £6 billion fortune based on pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

UKCSA Chair, Roch, said “We would like a rich benefactor as well. We are not opposed to the preservation of the islands but we are against anything that will delay our return.”

How ironic that funding can be found for the protection of the marine environment whilst ignoring the plight of the Chagossians who wish to return home. If the same generosity were applied to resettlement in the Outer Islands the FCO would not be able to shelter behind the argument that the cost of resettlement is too high for the taxpayer. If FCO can identify private sector funding for conservation in Chagos, they can also identify funding for resettlement.

Many papers covered William Hague’s pledge to strengthen the role of human rights in British foreign policy, 15th Sep, quoting him: Our standing is directly linked to the belief of others that we will do what we say and that we will not apply double standards. Where problems have arisen that have affected the UK’s moral standing we will deal with them patiently and clearly.

He also said he would continue to keep policies under review.

David Snoxell was not the only one to write to the papers about this but his letter got published!

It is good to see that the foreign secretary is ‘committed to reconciling the pursuit of human rights abroad with Britain’s moral standing (Report, 15 September). The plight of the Chagos Islanders and the denial of their right to return to their homeland is an obvious situation where theory can be translated into practice. William Hague should start by withdrawing from the case before the European court of human rights and opting for a friendly out-of-court settlement. This suggestion was made by the court to the

previous government but it was rejected.

A casual mention in The Economist is interesting: in an editorial comment about David Kelly, the expulsions from Diego Garcia were cited as an example of commonplace HMG malice aforethought.

BBC Radio 4

“From Our own Correspondent” on 16th September included an article by Lorraine Mallinder about the Chagossian community in Mauritius. If you have iplayer, it is worth trying to hear it – it is not flagged up at the beginning of the programme but comes about three-quarters of the way through.

Olivier Bancoult, Leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, Mauritius, visited the UK at the end of August  for talks before flying to Geneva and plans  more meetings with government officials at the end of September.

Marking the United Nation’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous People in August, Mauritius Express published the following:

Olivier Bancoult: My son was in standard IV. One day he came up with a map of Mauritius and a question. He wanted to know the district I was born in. And I said to him:
– Son, I wasn’t born in any of the nine districts you see on the map. I was born in Peros Banhos.
Then he asked me:

– But you never took us there, why?
– Son, I was only four when I came here to Mauritius in 1968. All the family came because my sister had her foot crushed by a cart-wheel and it couldn’t be treated in the Chagos.
– What happened to her?
– She died a few months later, so we decided to go back home. It was then that we learned we couldn’t go back home.
– Why?
– They told us the islands had been closed down and Diego would be turned into a military base.
– Islands aren’t shops! How can you close them down?
– It’s a long story, son! So we stayed. Life was hard for my dad and mum.
– But you went to school…
– Yes, I did. But we also had to help the family. With my brothers and sisters, we alternated: one day in class, the next day off to work!
– How did you pass your exams then?
– Oh boy, I worked real hard, read my books and learned my lessons! That’s the only way to do it, see? Got my grades right, went to college, did my S.C. and stopped there for lack of money.
– How did you learn about the islands? At school?
– No, son. From the family and the elders. They told us about life in the coconut fields and the sea, about
fishing-swimming-and-rowing, about food and drinks we liked, about singing, sega-dancing and story-telling…
– How long will the islands remain closed?
– Only the Prime Minister of UK and the President of USA can tell! But they did organize short open days in Chagos for us some time back. It was in March 2006, together with the government of Mauritius. They called it a pilgrimage. But we knew deep inside it was more than that: it was the beginning of our long return journey to the homeland.
– So, when will you take me there?
– I don’t know when but it’ll come.

Olivier Bancoult

Mass Observation Communities on Line, with Dr. Philippa Gregory, ran an event at Crawley Library on 4th September.  This was a really interesting day and was well-attended. It was a good opportunity to meet up with old friends and to meet some new ones. Henry Smith MP, Ben Fogle and UKCSA (Chair, Webmaster and Update Compiler) were there but, most importantly, many Chagossians who shared their memories with Philippa, her son Adam and Jenna Bailey, project manager of Mass Observation Communities Online. There will be a rich archive for all to read in the future.

More news from Crawley, courtesy of “This is Sussex”

Two students have returned to Crawley after a month-long marine conservation placement on the Caribbean island of Tobago. Pascaline Cotte and Louis Augustin, both 18, come from the town’s 2,000-strong Diego Garcian community and hope their new-found skills will help them protect the Indian Ocean island where their families once lived……Pascaline, from Langley Green, and Louis, from Maidenbower, underwent an intense marine conservation course alongside a team of international volunteers and scientists to help monitor and protect the coral reefs and wildlife in Tobago.
Louis, whom trainers called “a natural”, said: At first I thought diving was going to be complicated, but when I got into the water it was fine. Some people were struggling a little but I didn’t have any problems, maybe because I am so calm.
The pair hope their new skills will enable them to work on Diego Garcia, making them the first people from their community to live in their homeland in more than 40 years.

Date for your diary:

Friday 22nd October at Birkbeck College, University of London, “The Chagos Archipelago – What does the Future Hold” by Rachel Jones. This event is free and no booking is necessary. 6.30 to 8.30 – ring 020 7485 7903 for the precise location of the event in the vicinity of Torrington Square or e-mail Jeremy.wright@walkern.org.uk

Coma  Story by Stephen Manoj Thompson Ph.D.

Information about a book now available at Amazon.com.

“Coma Story” is about forgotten British Citizens. This alternate history novel is a fictional account of those islanders’ quest to reclaim their native islands. It is the story of coma and of the forgotten – nothing more.
The narrator, a coma survivor, along with Diego Garcia native, Tarzan, conspires to gain back the British-controlled islands without violence. Sprinkled with humor, the story centers on lucid dreaming during the coma and the subsequent plot. Coma Story is neither tragedy nor indictment but inspiration.
Talking about the inspiration for the book, Stephen says that he stumbled upon this incredible story of suffering, while researching for another book. He adds, “it was the nonviolent struggle by the Chagos Islanders that drew me to their story.”
About the Author: Stephen Manoj Thompson, Ph.D., is the author of “Land of Opportunity Forever,” a book acclaimed for its timely articulation of the reasoning and fix for our modern economic and social miscalculation. Thompson is passionate about helping people. It’s this passion that helped him to craft Coma Story – his first fiction, covering the lives of a particular geographic location and incorporating historical facts into the story. Being a natural social writer, he shows the universe how to make a fresh start with any situation. However, Thompson is not shy about unpleasant details – in fact his raw and unapologetic point of view makes Coma Story a highly captivating read.

Most of the feedback to August Update was reaction to the beautiful singing by the Ifield Community College Choir via the link with the e-mailed Updates:  Deeply moving…..I am not really a sentimental person but this one got to me…Poignant…..It was very beautiful and brought a lump to my throat…

How wonderful that there are young people who want to raise awareness of the plight of the Chagossians  through such beautiful singing.

The words are also very appropriate and could be understood as the Chagos Archipelago calling her children home….

(The words can be sent via E-mail on request.)

Supporters were also moved by the words of the Chagossian lady who wants the politicians and others fighting the right to return to stop so that the exiled islanders can have justice.

Finally, a great disappointment for the Chagossians this month.

One supporter received a letter from his MP saying that the coalition government had decided not to fight the case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, opting instead for a friendly settlement. Rejoicing all round but, sadly, it turned out to be a series of errors. So many hopes raised to be so cruelly dashed a short while later.