September 2013 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group will hold its 38th meeting at the beginning of October.  MP’s did return from their summer recess for a brief eleven day window prior to the party conference season, and the Islanders campaign was back on the political agenda thanks to several Chagos-related parliamentary questions.  Long standing friend of the Chagossians and Labour MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn wasted little time in bringing the matter back into focus with three questions on the 2nd September:

 

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the scope of the Chagossian feasibility study is restricted to resettlement on the Outer Islands.”

 

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness, Conservative)

“The scope of the feasibility study has not yet been determined, but will be agreed by Ministers in due course.”

 

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he plans to seek funding from non-UK government sources so that the cost of Chagossian resettlement is not a heavy ongoing contingent liability for the UK taxpayer.”

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness, Conservative)

“We will not seek to pre-empt the conclusions of the feasibility study, though the funding of any resettlement is clearly an important issue that will need to be considered as part of the process.”

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will ensure that the Chagossian feasibility study is conducted by independent and objective consultants with the necessary scientific, economic and social science background.”

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness, Conservative)

“The Terms of Reference for the feasibility study have not yet been written. Our objective is for an open and transparent process that commissions the most suitable consultants to carry out the study.”

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s timely questions followed contact between Association chair Sabrina Jean and Sangeeta Ahuja from the BIOT Policy Review Team earlier this month.  Sangeeta has assured Sabrina that an update will be provided at the end of September but currently has nothing else to report back on.  We can only take such a pledge in good faith, but according to the parliamentary questions answered by the Ministers for the Overseas Territories it does appear to suggest that not much progress has been made at all.

 

Other related questions raised on the 2nd September included:

 

Matthew Offord (Hendon, Conservative)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment his Department has made as to whether exemplary environmental management with regard to biodiversity conservation is being achieved in the three uninhabited British Overseas Territories.”

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness, Conservative)

“The principles of environmental protection and sustainable ecosystem management are enshrined in our activities, in the uninhabited territories.

British Antarctic Territory (BAT) is covered by the Antarctic Treaty System, whose signatories meet annually to ensure continued effective environmental management of Antarctica as a whole. In addition, the Government of BAT has developed an ambitious rolling five year strategy which has environmental protection at its core.

The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands commissions a detailed report every few years that measures the biodiversity on and around the islands. It also makes recommendations for future policy, and reports on the effectiveness that previous measures have had.

In the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) we are committed to working with our American partners to ensure the on-going protection of this unique environment. The BIOT Administration has developed a legislative framework which underpins the protection of sites and species of particular importance, and has also designated special reserves.”

 

Matthew Offord (Hendon, Conservative)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps his Department initiated to foster (a) terrestrial and (b) protected area networks in each of the British Overseas Territories.”

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness, Conservative)

“Territory Governments are constitutionally responsible for the protection and conservation of their natural environments, including the designation of any marine or terrestrial protected areas. The UK Government works in partnership to provide Territory Governments with the technical advice and support they need to fulfil their environmental commitments.

In the uninhabited Territories and those directly governed by the UK Government, the principles of environmental protection and sustainable ecosystem management are enshrined in our activities. This can, if there is sufficient evidence to warrant so, involve the designation of marine and terrestrial protected areas.”

 

Matthew Offord (Hendon, Conservative)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proportion of the total Exclusive Economic Zone covered by marine protected areas designated for biodiversity conservation is in (a) the three uninhabited British Overseas Territories, (b) the four British Overseas Territories to which the Convention on Biological Diversity has been extended and (c) the other seven British Overseas Territories.”

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness, Conservative)

“Responsibility for the designation of marine protected areas (MPAs) is devolved to Territory Governments. We do not therefore hold a central record of what proportion of the total exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the inhabited Territories are covered by MPAs.

In the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) the UK in right of the BIOT did not establish a full EEZ. Instead we have claimed a 200 nautical miles zone in which it exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction under international law concerning fisheries and living resources (the FCMZ) and protection and preservation of the marine environment (the EPPZ). The area of the FCMZ/EPPZ has been designated as an MPA, excluding only the island of Diego Garcia and its waters out to 3 nautical miles. The MPA covers an area of 640,000sq km.

The MPA around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands covers its entire Maritime Zone (equivalent to an EEZ) north of 60 degrees south. This covers an area of 1.07 million sq km.

British Antarctic Territory has no exclusive economic zone. However, in 2009, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources agreed a marine protected area of 94,000 km sq on the southern shelf of the South Orkney Islands.”

 

 

And finally, on the 3rd September Andrew George the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives asked the Minister for Overseas Territories:

 

“what recent discussions he has had with the expatriate Chagossian community about his policy on the future of the Chagos Islands”

 

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness, Conservative)

“I announced a new feasibility study for the resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory on 8 July. Since then, my officials have consulted  over 400 members of the Chagossian community in the UK, in Mauritius and the Seychelles, to ensure the study is informed by their views.”

 

It is expected that the Minister for OT’s will make a statement to Parliament on the progress of the Review after it returns on 8th October.

 

FIFTEEN CHAGOSSIANS TO VISIT ISLANDS IN OCTOBER

We are delighted to confirm that fifteen Chagossians from Seychelles, Mauritius and the UK will be visiting the islands from the 27th October until the 7th November.  The full list of attendees is as follows:

 

Marie Orange JACQUES born Salomon Island, travelling from the UK
Marie Liline PAULINE born Peros Banhos, travelling from the UK
Daisy SULTAN born Boddam Iot, travelling from Mauritius
Aima MOUZA born Peros Banhos, travelling from the UK
Marie Lucienne POCHE born Salomon Island, travelling from Mauritius
Marie Louise FRANCE born Diego Garcia, travelling from the UK
Marie Onine JEAN born Peros Banhos, travelling from Mauritius
Marie Marqueline DOMINGUE born Diego Garcia, travelling from the UK
Celine AUGUSTIN born Diego Garcia, travelling from the UK
Solange VOLFRIN born Peros Banhos, travelling from Mauritius
Claude ALEXIS born Diego Garcia, travelling from the UK
Marie Raymonde DESIRE born Salomon Island, travelling from the UK

 

The group are all natives (first generation islanders) who were born between 1922 and 1948.  We wish everyone attending a safe and pleasant journey.

 

 

 

 

CRG CONFERENCE MAURITIUS

The 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) will be marked with an international conference in Mauritius between 29th and 31st October.  Confirmed speakers include APPG coordinator David Snoxell, campaign solicitor Richard Gifford, the former President of Mauritius Caseem Uteem, the writer and researcher David Vine, the coral reef expert and barrister Richard Dunne, the Emeritus professor of marine sciences at York University Professor Barbara Brown and Dr Laura Jeffrey.  Representatives from the British and Mauritian Governments are also expected to address the conference, which will also be addressed by the UKChSA chair Sabrina Jean as well CRG leader Olivier Bancoult.  A full programme of topics to be covered during the event can be found here.

 

PETER HARRIS

Following on from his thought provoking piece last month, long time supporter and researcher Peter Harris shifted his focus to the environmental issues surrounding the creation of the controversial MPA.  Writing in Green Futures magazine, he reached out to those who had an interest in preserving the islands for conservationist reasons and raised significant questions about the long term viability of retaining a military base in the region.  As always Peter’s uncompromising view on the future of the base on the islands do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association:

 

“One way forward would be to integrate Diego Garcia into the MPA framework. However, while environmental regulation and monitoring of the base should be increased, this would do nothing to guard against the creeping militarisation of the rest of Chagos. A more far-reaching settlement would be to separate Diego Garcia from the rest of BIOT, creating two distinct jurisdictions.

 

In the past, British officials always have urged the Pentagon to declare the entirety of BIOT necessary for military purposes, partly as a pretext for not resettling the Chagossians and perhaps also to delay ceding Chagos to the government of Mauritius, which claims sovereignty over the entire archipelago, and to whom Britain has promised the islands once they are no longer needed for military purposes. Yet the fact is only Diego Garcia is of any military value. The political architecture should reflect this, confining military activity to Diego Garcia and releasing the Outer Chagos Islands—and the Chagos MPA along with them—from relying upon the goodwill of a US military that cannot commit to making environmental protection a priority.

 

At first glance, this solution might appear to risk antagonizing Mauritius. But divorcing the Outer Chagos Islands from Diego Garcia would pave the way for the transfer of these non-militarised islands to Mauritius within the foreseeable future – a marked improvement on the status quo. Port Louis could immediately become engaged in the management of the MPA as part of a gradual handover.

 

Emancipating the Outer Chagos Islands would also make conciliation with the exiled Chagossians, now long overdue, much easier to attain. Islanders could resettle the atolls of Salomon and Peros Banhos, whether under British, Mauritian or joint supervision, without ever interfering with operations on Diego Garcia. Of course, the right to resettle Diego Garcia should never be conceded; rather, a successful and sustainable return to the outer islands would prove that a Chagossian presence on Diego Garcia is nothing to fear.”

 

CHAGOS WORKSHOP

Back in June forty-five Chagossians took part in Mark Gonzales’ “The beautiful who have survived the tragic- a workshop on resiliency”.  It was described as an opportunity for victims who have survived tragedies to attain knowledge in four key areas.

 

 

 

The first dealt with how individuals can write and tell a story about their experiences.  A second looked at the methods involved to identify the resiliency within the collective storyline of the participants.

 

 

 

The third addressed the root causes of the “doubts and demons” which became associated with the shared stories of the group.  While the fourth focused on how strategies can be used to amplify experience based stories and how they can be utilised in the wider fight for justice.

 

 

 

The sessions were greatly appreciated by all involved and fulfilled an aim to empower Chagossians with skills to defend their culture and right to return to the islands.

 

CHAGOS WIKILEAKS CABLES

One of our wonderful supporters from Twitter has very kindly put together a comprehensive page of cables associated to the wikileaks scandal which made worldwide news almost three years ago.  Abu Veliki has been a very vocal supporter of our work and we are very grateful for his taking the time to put this together.  It is a fantastic reference point for both supporters and for anyone wishing to research on the subject.

 

FROM THE EDITOR

There will be no edition of the newsletter in October with our monthly update returning in early November.  The newsletter will revert back to its regular cycle at the end of December.