September 2011 update


The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 23rd meeting on 7 September.
The Group reviewed developments during the recess. Members were pleased that FCO officials had held a meeting on 27 July with Chagossian Leaders but noted that the agenda had been restricted to visits, restoration and environmental work while the right of return, resettlement and the proposal for a scientific station supported by Chagossians living in a nearby village (put forward at the RGS Conference on 19 May) were excluded by the FCO on grounds that these were ‘political’ issues. While welcoming these on-going projects the APPG took the view that they could not be a substitute for resolving the underlying issues. The Group also noted that recent press briefing by the FCO had described these ‘initiatives’ as part of  an ongoing ‘strategy’ for BIOT. It was particularly important, in the run-up to the consideration of the Chagos islanders’ case by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), that this strategy did not distract attention from the human rights fundamental issues before the Court.
The meeting discussed the correspondence concerning the defence security of Diego Garcia between the Chairman, Jeremy Corbyn and the US Ambassador, and the Vice Chairman, Andrew Rosindell and the Foreign Secretary, noting that replies from both the US Ambassador and Mr Hague were outstanding. The Group looked forward to a meeting with the Foreign Secretary which the Chairman had first requested in early February. It was understood that Mr Hague was keen to meet the Group and that a date would be fixed. In June the Group had asked for a meeting with the US Ambassador.
The Group learnt that the case before the ECtHR had been delayed, once again at the request of the FCO, by a further month. The date for final submissions on the implications of the Al-Skeini case was now 30 September. In view of the continuing delays to the case, first lodged 7 years ago, the Chagossian lawyers had re-activated the application for a judicial review of the MPA.
The next meeting of the APPG is 19 October
David Snoxell



House of Commons
Chagos Islands
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his (a) US and (b) Mauritius counterpart on the Chagos Islands.
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) and I have had no recent discussions on the British Indian Ocean Territory with their US or Mauritian counterparts.



Richard Gifford, solicitor to the Chagossians, tells us:

Final submissions to Strasbourg, following the Al-Skeini case, were directed by 2nd September 2011, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sought and obtained an extension until 30.9.11.




I was recently in The Seychelles where I met Mr. Pierre Prosper and Mrs. Anne-Marie Gendron, Chairman and Secretary, respectively, of the Seychelles Committée to discuss ways in which the Committée could be more proactive in light of the forthcoming European Court judgement.

Mr. Prosper phoned and organised a meeting with Ms.Amy Bowers, Deputy High Commissioner for Seychelles, and I was invited. On arrival, to our big surprise, Ms. Bowers informed us that Mr.Matthew Forbes OBE, British High Commissioner, will chair the meeting. It was agreed that the BHC

a) will continue to meet with members of the Executive Committee regularly,

b) some funds will be made available, where possible, for the training of a couple of Chagossians,

c) will assist the Association in setting up a website where we will archive our history.

Before I returned to London I had another meeting with Mr. Prosper where we agreed that the Chagossians’ leaders should be given the right to nominate and select their members for any visit to the Chagos rather than BIOT.

Roch Evenor.


The Independent (UK), 5th September 2011. ‘The abuse of power and cruelty is very familiar’

In the Monday Interview, Cahal Milmo spoke to the best-selling novelist, Philippa Gregory (and patron of UKChSA) about why she is fighting to get justice for the displaced islanders. Here are two extracts:

‘When it comes to the treatment of the Chagossians, it’s as if the democratic revolution never happened. It is totally tyrannical. I cannot understand why successive British governments would act against their own subjects so consistently over so many years using so many underhand techniques.
‘The Privy Council was an institution created by the Tudor monarchs to get what they wanted done quickly, without having to consult very much. The administration of the Crown used it in exactly that
way with the Chagossians. It was using the Privy Council to endorse Foreign Office-made policy and change the lives of 4,000 people. The abuse of power and cruelty to people who can’t fight for themselves is very familiar to me as someone who has studied the Tudors and the Plantagenets…..’

Gregory’s MP is by “wonderful coincidence” William Hague. Quite whether the Foreign Secretary sees it that way is unclear since he now receives regular visits to his constituency surgeries from the author to seek face-to-face updates on his efforts to resolve a dispute which Whitehall has successfully brushed under the carpet for nearly 50 years.
With a hint of mischief in her voice, she says: “I like to go along every few months to ask him about the Chagossians. I know William Hague is sympathetic and would like to find a way out. But he is very, very constrained by many years of government policy and is advised by some of the people who made that policy.” She adds: “This is about how Britain stops being an imperial
power. What happened was absolutely morally wrong.”

Also, by Cahal Milmo on the same page, ‘Secret talks to return islanders after 40 years.’


On the 6th September, The Independent printed this letter from David Snoxell (Coordinator of the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group and former High Commissioner to Mauritius):

Islanders’ long, unjust exile

Your headline “Secret talks to return islanders to Chagos” (5 September) is slightly misleading since discussions about increasing the number of Chagossians working on the US airbase at Diego Garcia have been going on for a decade. The wages are low, and workers cannot be accompanied by their families. Why should Chagossians have to make such a sacrifice to work in their homeland?

Visits and jobs cannot be a substitute for the right of return which was restored by Robin Cook, in 2000, following a High Court judgment, and withdrawn by Jack Straw in 2004 by Privy Council Orders. Philippa Gregory describes this Tudor device for bypassing Parliament as tyrannical and an abuse of power (the Monday Interview). As High Commissioner to Mauritius in 2004 I advised strongly against such an undemocratic procedure, which would only compound the human rights violations and deceptions of the past.

In the courts, judges have described the orders as unlawful and shameful. In his 2008 judgment Lord Bingham said that there was “no instance in which the Royal Prerogative had been exercised to exile an indigenous population from its homeland”. Even Mr. Straw admitted in a 2009 Radio 4 programme that by not consulting Parliament he had “sacrificed legitimacy for speed”. It is to be hoped that the European Court of Human Rights will endorse the widely held view of parliamentarians and the public that the Chagossian exile, one of the longest in history, should be ended. In 2010, William Hague said: “If elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement to this long-standing dispute.” In 16 months what progress has the Government made?

Last month, Update included an article by Dr. Sean Carey for the Mauritius Times: ‘Clock is ticking for the UK over Chagos’. Feedback Sean received included a question about censuring UK Foreign Secretaries and this is his response, which was also in the Mauritius Times.

Return to Chagos: No, Minister

In response to my article, “Clock is ticking for the UK over Chagos”, (22 July) Professor J. Manrakhan (29 July) raised this question: should two former British Foreign Secretaries, Jack Straw and David Miliband, be permitted to escape censure for their decisions regarding the Chagos Archipelago made while they held office? The answer is simple: considering that both have been party to sustaining one of the most shameful episodes in modern British colonial history, it is obvious that they should and must be held to account.

But the big point I was attempting to make is that the policy blocking the Chagos Islanders’ right of return in 2004, as well as the unilateral declaration of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos Archipelago/British Indian Ocean Territory in 2010, has been driven more by civil servants in Whitehall keen to protect the decisions of their forebears rather than because of any initiatives by Foreign and Commonwealth Office ministers taking a fresh look at the facts and coming up with imaginative solutions.

That said, there are important differences in the public position of the two former British Foreign Secretaries over Chagos that are worth exploring. Jack Straw famously said in a 2009 interview on a BBC Radio 4 programme on the role of the Privy Council that in retrospect he should not have used Orders in Council to prevent anyone having the “right of abode” in the Chagos Archipelago, but instead should have consulted Parliament, which surely would not have agreed.

Of course, we don’t know what influenced Straw to confess that he had, as he put it, “exchanged speed for legitimacy”. Perhaps as a qualified barrister and his post-FCO stints as Leader of the House of Commons and then Secretary of State for Justice he had had second thoughts about the profoundly undemocratic nature of the Royal Prerogative. If this really was the case, then Straw should be commended for changing his mind. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that the declaration was made after his ability to shape FCO policy on Chagos had ended.

By contrast, David Miliband has said nothing about his decisions concerning Chagos when he was Foreign Secretary in the last Labour government. Nevertheless, it is widely known that despite, in his presence, the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, giving an explicit assurance to the Mauritius Prime Minister, Dr Navin Ramgoolam, and Foreign Minister, Dr Arvin Boolell, at the Commonwealth summit held in Trinidad in November 2009 that he would not proceed with the proposed marine park, the FCO decided unilaterally to declare the MPA on 1 April, 2010. Little wonder, then, that Miliband was accused of bad faith by the Mauritius Prime Minister. And no surprise either, that Miliband’s failure to keep his promise has led to Mauritius initiating proceedings last December against the UK under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

I suppose in due course David Miliband, especially now that he has agreed to undertake question-and-answer sessions at more than 20 UK universities in his new role as the Labour Party’s student ambassador, will reveal why both he and Gordon Brown thought that the very laudable aim of creating a marine reserve in the Chagos Archipelago should be at the expense of rather than in partnership with the exiled Chagossians and Mauritius.

In the meantime, there is the evidence from the Wikileaks US Embassy cable of 15 May 2009 that the MPA was specifically designed by senior foreign office officials, including Colin Roberts, the current BIOT Commissioner, to prevent those Chagossians who wish to return to their homeland from doing so. But surely one of the most interesting events in recent years concerns the timing of the MPA announcement on Maundy Thursday afternoon, a few hours after the Mauritius National Assembly had been dissolved for the general election on 5 May 2010. This meant that there was no time for a parliamentary debate or statement. A coincidence? No chance. Moreover, Miliband had much bigger fish to fry, which means that he would not have been aware that the UK might expect to gain a political advantage on the basis of a forthcoming election in Mauritius, but officials would have been and advised him accordingly.

Which brings us to the present. Despite pre-election promises that a future Conservative government would ensure a “fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”, William Hague has so far not endorsed any substantive change on policy regarding Chagos although he continues to make sympathetic noises, and recently directed his officials to meet with representatives of different Chagossian groups on 27 July.

It’s a familiar pattern of British government ministers appearing well-meaning without conceding the right of return. So who is behind the inaction? No prizes for guessing the answer. Furthermore, as the clock ticks towards a decision on the Islanders’ right of return by the panel of judges at the European Court of Human Rights, expect FCO officials to initiate all sorts of welcome but insignificant policy moves on Chagos (no doubt with the explicit approval of the Foreign Secretary so yes, Hague is also culpable) — more visits by first-generation Chagos exiles to their homeland, more tidying up and repairs to graveyards and churches, and more field trips for young, hand-picked Chagossians with approved conservation groups — in order to demonstrate that FCO officials are not only eminently fair and reasonable people, but doing their best in the face of a very difficult situation. The last thing these civil servants want is for the court in Strasbourg to think that they are the “bad guys”.

Sorry, but it’s too late — you’ve been rumbled.


More from the Mauritius Times: On 12th August it published ‘Return to Chagos: Yes Minister but not yet’, by David  Snoxell.

Sean Carey’s two recent articles – “Clock is ticking for UK over Chagos” (22 July) and “Return to Chagos: No Minister” (5 August) make interesting reading. Perhaps I could offer a perspective, drawn from my own experience of dealing with the issues, first as Deputy Commissioner of BIOT, 1995-97, then as High Commissioner to Mauritius, 2000-04 and currently as Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All Party Parliamentary Group. This is not exactly an insider’s view but more that of a ringside seat,
for indeed the image of both circus and boxing contest come to mind. The interplay of the artful, deceitful and labyrinthine characterises the handling of Chagos issues since 1965 when the Archipelago was detached from Mauritius to become the British Indian Ocean Territory.
I agree with Sean Carey that UK Ministers (Robin Cook excepted) are rarely in the driving seat of policy towards Chagos. They are more often unwilling passengers, gagged and bound in the backseat. The duty of officials is to brief Ministers, provide advice and recommendations and then to carry out their decisions. The problem is that with highly diverse and complex historical issues new Ministers are not in a position to challenge that advice. They may instinctively feel that a proposed policy or defence of existing policy is not in the UK’s interest, is not compatible with the UK’s human rights stance, or the right way of
dealing with a situation but without a detailed knowledge of the issues and the resources to confront legal advice, which to the uninitiated may appear unassailable, they can do little.
And with rapid staff turnover officials can find themselves in the same position, briefing ministers from a low knowledge base, inherited from their predecessors. Bureaucratic inertia and the revolving door are important factors. No wonder then that Chagos policy remains static. This is why Parliamentarians can play an important role in bringing to bear different perspectives derived from their own experience, public opinion, NGOs and the media, and from the views of academics, lawyers and scientists, outside government inner circles. But it is up to Ministers to reach out and harness that support in standing up for principles and challenging officials. Unfortunately there is an ingrained suspicion of Parliament amongst officials and new Ministers can quickly absorb the culture of their departments so that parliamentary debate and Questions and Answers become an eternal game of ping-pong.
No more so than when it comes to Chagos. Why is it that, in recent years, most major decisions and developments on Chagos have been held over to the start of a parliamentary recess? Here are two recent examples – the Marine Protected Area was designated the day after the 2010 Easter recess though it sparked unprecedented emergency debates in both Houses when Parliament returned the following week. Parliamentarians were indignant at the way the MPA was rushed through at the start of the recess and before a general election.
On behalf of the Conservatives Keith Simpson said: “There is a great deal of sympathy from both sides of the House for the plight of the Chagossians, and their interests must be placed at the heart of any decisions made about their homeland”. In the House of Lords debate, Lord Howell (now an FCO Minister leading on Chagos in the Lords) asked the Minister “Is she aware of the considerable anger and dismay that has been expressed by the Mauritian Government about how they were not consulted and
not involved in the whole process that the Minister described?”
The Coalition came to power in May 2010 committed to bringing about a just and fair settlement of the Chagos issues. Dr Ramgoolam and the Foreign Secretary had an encouraging meeting on 4 June 2010 in London in which Mr Hague seemed to indicate that he would not be taking the MPA forward. But Coalition commitments were gradually eroded during the summer recess last August, notwithstanding the Foreign Secretary’s expressed intention to review policy towards Chagos, the outcome of which has
never been announced to Parliament. Ministers now say that Chagos policies are constantly under review. My advice to Chagos watchers is never take leave in August!
It is not so long ago that William Hague was writing to constituents that “if elected to serve as the next British Government we will work to ensure a fair settlement to this long-standing dispute” and quoting Keith Simpson MP, then shadow foreign affairs minister, in a parliamentary debate that “this was clearly a moral issue and the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognised”.
And we should not forget that Mr Hague’s Cabinet colleague, Vince Cable, announced in a letter to a constituent last September that the Coalition Government was dropping the case in Strasbourg, opting instead for a friendly settlement and that steps had been taken to ensure the return of the Chagossians. He was quickly whipped into line, presumably by the Foreign Office.
It is clear that Ministers do want to bring about a resolution of these difficult issues including resettlement, the MPA and sovereignty but they are being held back by a handful of officials who fear that any move towards a resolution of the issues could prejudice their defence at the European Court of Human Rights in the impending Chagos Islanders case.
From a bureaucratic point of view I can understand their desire to defend and vindicate the policies of their predecessors and to maintain the status quo, but from a moral, ethical and democratic standpoint I cannot. This is more a case of “Yes Minister but not yet” than a straight “No Minister”.
David Snoxell.


Le Defi Media Group carried this snippet on 12th August:

Bribe and rule?
For long the British have been known as a nation of shopkeepers who divide in order to rule. They seem to be a little tired of this method now as they feel it is outdated. So they have invented a new approach to reach the same end: Bribe and rule. While the whole world is anxiously waiting for the Maritime Court of Hamburg to start hearing the case entered by Mauritius against Great Britain on the unilateral declaration of a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos archipelago, the British Government is
trying to bribe the poor natives they kicked out of the Chagos five decades ago by inviting them to visit the tombs of their dear departed on the occasion of All Souls Day in November. This proposed visit, however, is not free of strings. Those who want to make the short trip back home, a home from which they have been so brutally uprooted and dumped into the ocean, must first obtain a visa from the British Government. Some natives are willing, most are not.


Spear’s Wealth Management Survey website carries an interview with Ernesto Bertarelli whose foundation is helping the UK government ‘police’ the Marine Preservation Area. (New supporters – this was the hastily applied wheeze of the last Labour government, applied to prevent the Chagossians from returning to their homeland. See relevant WikiLeaks)

Laetitia Cash: How did your contribution to the creation of the Chagos Marine Reserve area come about?

Ernesto Bertarelli: The Chagos Project is a good example of when the stars were aligned — it’s a question of individuals coming together for something greater, better, exciting and interesting……

LC: Could you comment on the controversy over the indigenous Chagossian people?
EB: The Chagos Marine Reserve is being protected as an asset — the wealth of the natural environment. It will be there for us, for them, for their kids and for our kids, for future generations to come. It should be viewed as an investment which is beneficial to everyone who visits or lives in that area.


UKChSA would like to point out that, unfortunately, all the stars were not aligned – neighbouring countries were not consulted and the Chagossians were not included, with the exception of the smallest group in the UK.

Richard Dunne (Barrister and Coral Reef Scientist) has sent us the following:

As a result of a freedom of information request, it has been possible to a certain extent to evaluate the enforcement of the BIOT Environment (Protection & Preservation) Zone over the last 5 years.
The BIOT Patrol Vessel, the Pacific Marlin, operated by the Swire Pacific Offshore group out of Singapore, under contract to the BIOT Administration is the sole enforcement asset in the area. Each year it has spent an average of 200 days (55%) on fisheries patrol duties; 68 days (19%) on Brit Ops Patrols which includes periodical patrols to the northern and other atolls of the territory for waste collection, security, patrol of the yacht anchorages and permit enforcement, and conservation work; 27 days or 7% on BIOT Administration tasks which have largely involved support for scientific expeditions and visits to the islands by Chagossian groups. BIOT has also pointed out that it can do an element of multi-tasking (ie enforcement when Chagossians embarked).
A full breakdown of use of the Pacific Marlin appears below.

Overall, in each year there is no effective enforcement presence in the 544,000 sq km of the BIOT EPPZ for about 27% of the time (98 days). The new MPA proclaimed by the BIOT Commissioner on 1 April 2010, although not yet defined in geographical extend, occupies the majority of the EPPZ. The above tasking includes the first year of operation of the MPA.
The total time recorded as being in maintenance is surprisingly low (1.6%) particularly for a vessel which is now the oldest (33 years) in the Swire Pacific Offshore fleet. Any ‘deep maintenance’ has to take place overseas (in the past Dubai and Singapore have been used) and there would be time in transit to add to the actual time in maintenance. It is not known if the contract (presently from 1 Jan 2011 – 1 Jan 2014) requires a substitute vessel to be provided during any unforeseen downtime.
You will recall that the inadequacy of the enforcement regime has been the subject of criticism by the Chagos Conservation Trust, and by the 2003 Chagos Conservation Management Plan. It would appear that this is justified in view of the above figures. I also drew attention to this inadequacy at the Chagos Regagne Meeting in May this year but without the benefit of these figures which the BIOT have only released with reluctance and after considerable pressure. The realistic running costs of an MPA of the size of the Chagos is £12.8M, whereas the BIOT Administration have, and continue to spend a mere £1.6M.
One thing that will only become clear with time is how the Pacific Marlin is to be tasked in the future. The old style fishery patrols will have changed in nature since the last commercial licence expired on 1 November last year. There will still be the need for enforcement patrols to detect and arrest illegal fishing boats but whether the proportion of time allocated to this and or to Brit Ops changes is not yet clear.



For French readers: ‘Le Silence des Chagos’ by the Mauritian writer Shenaz Patel was published by L’Ovier in 2005 as a paperback.

Recently, Antje Ziethen published a paper to demonstrate how the entanglement of literary production and reception causes fictional geographies to shift. The full paper is available by e-mail but the writer describes how Patel shows that Chagossian experience polarised into Heaven (their life on Chagos) and Hell (their life after exile to Mauritius)

Ziethen concludes: Le silence des Chagos illustrates how (imagined) space can become a projection of desires and the vehicle of ideologies. Patel uses it as a signifier inscribed with meanings, images and a clear message to the reader. Opposing Paradise to Hell is all about pragmatics: Patel reveals, accuses and asks for the reader’s compassion. However, in the case of a critical reading, the reader ceases to
be the author’s accomplice and becomes an autonomous agent, challenging auctorial authority and altering the geographies produced by the author. In this ‘contact zone’, where the author’s and the reader’s imaginative geographies collide, Paradise and Hell merge into each other. The borders of once clear-cut territories fade away. The Chagos become suddenly a more earthly place. They are no longer worlds apart from Mauritius but somehow linked to it through (colonial) history and the ‘struggle over geography’. This process shows us that spaces in literature are not simply prescribed or given but constructed during the act of reception… every single time.


A supporter has drawn our attention to an article by Ms Atkinson-Wood for the Daily Mail’s travel section.

‘Mauritius beach holidays: Life’s sweet on tropical sugar island.’ The writer was travelling in the footsteps of her grandfather, Sir Leonard Cooke, president of the Co-operative Society in the UK who was invited to visit the island on independence in 1968 by the Governor-General.

Ms. Atkinson-Wood found Mauritius almost entirely enchanting and extols its many charms. However, UKChSA is impressed that she saw another side to it: Cradled in a natural basin, the island’s capital, Port Louis, is well worth hacking through dense crowds for: an eclectic mix of colonial architecture, steamy markets, the historic Champ de Mars racecourse, Le Caudan Waterfront shopping plaza and Chinatown. Later, we visited the Chagossian slums, home to those deported to Mauritius from Diego Garcia in the Sixties and Seventies when it became a military base. It was a sweltering and sobering experience during a sudden tropical downpour. We sheltered from the rain in a former sugar factory, now an interactive museum that traces the history of sugar production on the island. Still, it’s doubtful whether the original captive workforce would have called the exhibition an Adventure In Sugar.


This play, by Dr. Jim McCarthy, was performed by the Bandwagon Theatre Company at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and several supporters were able to go and see it – including Ann Stewart, a previous Chair of UKChSA.


The play will be performed again at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre on the 27th October at 7.45


Alan Partington travelled from Keswick to see the play and said: It was a most imaginative piece of writing by Dr. McCarthy and performed by only four actors (three male and one female) but presented in a very clear way and choreographed to give a very comprehensive description of the early events that led up to the eviction of the Chagossians from their island paradise on Diego Garcia. Their theme concentrated more on the American involvement (I wondered whether that had been a deliberate ploy to get the US visitors to the Fringe more involved!) to establish the Air Base on the island and it presented a Foreign Office Official who was anxious to do a “deal” with the Americans if it could be achieved with the utmost secrecy.

Emily Balls sent us this account:

I really enjoyed the play. There was a four person cast and the actors swapped roles throughout the play and played different characters. It focused mostly on the political side of the story, with the actors playing British and American officials for the majority of the performance, and only a few scenes where they played the islanders. I thought that as non Chagossians this was probably the best way to do it, as it would have seemed like they were perhaps appropriating the Chagos island story if they had focused too much on the islanders and had acted our their parts. Although it did make me and my boyfriend wonder what kind of piece might emerge if Chagos Islanders created a play or performance, and how they would approach it. There are quite a lot of different elements to choose from in the history of the Chagos Islanders and it was interesting to see what this play focused on. The play basically told the story of the sale of the islands, the eviction of the Chagos Islanders and the document they signed that allowed them to gain compensation but also had hidden clauses. It focused mostly on Diego Garcia and I don’t actually think the word ‘Chagos’ was used at all in the play. I thought this piece was quite powerfully done and served to educate the audience as to the behaviour of the British Government, and to inform them about this hidden piece of history. They made a couple of comparisons with the Falkland Islands as well. It was very satirical in the way the British and Americans were portrayed and there were a few jokes (even if it was more like wincing in shock/disgust at the attitude of our government!). My only criticism would be that I thought the ending was not very optimistic and the play made it seem as though the story of the islanders was now over.