CCT

Chagos Islands: The ‘point of return’ beckons for Chagosians

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, Benjamin Zephaniah, CCT, CRG, Diego Garcia, EU, FCO, Feasability Study, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, Phillip Hammond, resettlement, UN, USA, William Hague on February 9th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

chagos

 

Over four decades ago, citizens of the picturesque Indian Ocean archipelago of Chagos were tricked or forcibly removed from their land by the UK to make way for a US military base following a secret deal between the two countries. The suffering of the forcibly exiled Chagossians, and their fight to return home is well documented. Now a new report brings hope their ordeal could soon be over. Dr Sean Carey finds out how.

44th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, CCT, Diego Garcia, FCO, Parliament, Phillip Hammond, resettlement, USA on October 16th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 44th meeting on 15 October.

As the new Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister for Overseas Territories (OTs), James Duddridge, had felt that he was not yet ready to meet the Group Prof. Charles Sheppard, Chairman of the Chagos Conservation Trust and his colleagues Alistair Gammell and John Turner, who had requested a meeting in July, attended the first part of the meeting.

The Vice Chairman (Henry Smith MP standing in for Jeremy Corbyn MP) welcomed the representatives of the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) and looked forward to hearing about its work. The conservation and environmental aspects of resettlement were discussed. Members were pleased to note that while the CCT mandate was to protect the unique environment of the Chagos Islands, CCT was not opposed to resettlement. Prof. Sheppard and his colleagues thought that Diego Garcia was well suited and ecologically sensible, given the available facilities and infrastructure there, though this was a decision for politicians. Members drew attention to the benefits of resettlement for conservation and the types of employment that Chagossians could undertake, especially on Diego Garcia. They agreed to keep in touch with CCT.

The Group then went on to discuss the Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and Questions since the last meeting on 15 July. Members noted that on 4 September Mr Duddridge had said in reply to a PQ that “he expected officials to begin substantive discussions with US colleagues about post-2016 arrangements later this year, as the conclusions of the feasibility study on resettlement of Chagossians begin to become clear”. It was also noted that in a letter in mid August to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) Mr Duddridge had stated that “The 1966 Exchange of Notes provides for a two-year window (December 2014-December 2016) during which we can decide whether and on what terms to extend the agreement with the US for a further 20 years. We are clear that we will consider all aspects of US presence in any discussions on this, and the Government will of course reinforce our expectations on permitted US use of the territory.” The Group felt that US co-operation and assistance in resettlement was necessary and an obvious condition for extending the agreement. The Group would engage the FAC on the renewal of the 1966 agreement.

As KPMG’s September report was received just prior to the meeting it was not possible to consider it in detail. However the Group was pleased to learn that KPMG would submit a first draft of their study to the FCO in mid November which would be circulated to “stakeholders” the following week. Members reiterated that they expected Parliament to debate the study before Ministers made decisions on it.

Members considered the Chairman’s letters, on behalf of the APPG, to the new Foreign Secretary and to Mark Simmonds, then Minister for OTs. It was decided to renew the invitation to Mr Duddridge (successor to Mr Simmonds) to meet the Group at its next meeting.

Legal developments were considered. It was noted that the decision of the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) that Environmental Information Regulations applied to BIOT by virtue of the extension of English law to BIOT in 1983, had not been appealed by the FCO. The Group saw this as significant progress for freedom of information. This would facilitate the work of researchers making requests for environmental information held by FCO/BIOT. The Group was also informed of the decision to grant legal aid to the Chagos Refugees Group in pursuit of their claim to the Supreme Court that the House of Lords majority verdict in 2008 had resulted from an apparent breach of the duty of candour by officials.

The next meeting will be on 3 December.

Opponents of Chagos Islands resettlement again honoured in Queen's Birthday Honours list

Posted in APPG, CCT, conservation, FCO, Legal, MPA, resettlement, Uncategorized on June 30th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

The new Chairman of the Chagos Islands Conservation Trust (CCT), Professor Charles Sheppard, has been awarded an OBE in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours list. In the Mandrake column published by The Daily Telegraph journalist Tim Walker suggested that this would be unwelcome news to most Chagossians and their supporters, as the CCT and Charles Sheppard have been opponents of resettlement (although it now takes a “neutral” position with regard to resettlement).
Prof Sheppard is not the first opponent of Chagossian resettlement to receive a national honour from the Queen in the recent past. Last year fellow Chagos Island Conservation Trust member Simon Hughes received an MBE whilst a Foreign Office Legal Adviser, Dereck Walton, received an OBE.
Commenting in the Daily Telegraph article, Chagos Islands APPG Coordinator David Snoxell stated that

“Three honours lists in a row have honoured individuals – nominees of the FCO – who, in their different capacities, opposed resettlement. At a time when progress is being made on a resettlement feasibility study commissioned by the FCO, this sends the wrong signal. Acknowledging conservation is important, but not when it trumps the human rights of an exiled people.”

42nd Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, CCT, conservation, Crawley, CRG, FCO, resettlement, Uncategorized, William Hague on June 5th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its postponed 42nd meeting on 4 June. The Group sent their best wishes to Lord Avebury for a speedy recovery.

The Group considered the Parliamentary Questions and Answers, tabled since the last meeting, by Lord Avebury and Andrew Rosindell concerning the latest scientific evidence on sea levels (“Contemporary sea level in the Chagos Archipelago, Central Indian Ocean” published in Global and Planetary Change, 2012, volumes 82-83, pages 25-37), on the applicability of FOI and EIRs to BIOT and on the Feasibility Study. They also took note of the Chairman’s intervention on BIOT in the Overseas Territories (Sustainability) debate on 8 May and his follow-up letter to the Minister concerned.

Members discussed the progress of the feasibility study as described in KPMG’s April Report and the preparations for the consultation with the Chagossians this month. They were concerned that Chagossians should be properly assisted in these consultations and were pleased to note the help already provided by Richard Dunne. They paid tribute to Mr Dunne for all the legal and scientific work he had done over the last 4 years on behalf of the Chagossians and conservation. While noting that the study seemed to be moving ahead with momentum in an open and transparent way the Group reiterated their wish to have the report by January in order for it to be considered and debated by Parliament before Ministers made decisions. They looked forward to discussions with Mark Simmonds, the FCO Minster responsible, at their next meeting on 15 July. The last such discussions were with the Foreign Secretary in December 2011.

The Group was updated on the Court of Appeal judgment (23 May) which had upheld the judgment of the High Court except in regard to the admissibility of the wikileak evidence which the Court did not find was in conflict with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. An appeal to the Supreme Court was under consideration. Members were also informed that the Mauritian case at an international Arbitral Tribunal in Istanbul (22 April-6 May) would not announce its findings until later this year. They took note that the judgment of the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) of a case concerning the applicability of FOI/EIRs to BIOT would not be available for several weeks.The Group asked what the cost to the tax payer of this continuing litigation was. There was also the possibility that the Law Lords 2008 judgment could be referred to the Supreme Court because of an alleged miscarriage of justice.

The Group considered a letter which Olivier Bancoult had received from the Chief Executive of the Passport Office concerning eligibility for British citizenship. They were pleased to note that the Passport Office accepted that there had been an error over Jean Hilare’s passport which should have been granted for ten not five years, and that this would be rectified.

A letter from Prof Charles Sheppard, Chairman of CCT, to members was discussed. They were pleased to note that the official position of CCT was now “strictly neutral” on the issue of resettlement. They hoped that CCT’s excellent conservation work would no longer be seen as in conflict with the aspiration of all Chagossians to return to the Islands for residence or visits.

It was noted that the tenth anniversary of the Orders in Council, banning the Chagossians from returning to their homeland, was on 10 June. The Group hoped that the result of the Feasibility Study would be the withdrawal of those Orders which had led to so much distress, litigation and cost.

The next meeting and sixth AGM will be on 15 July 2014.

Winners and losers

Posted in CCT, conservation, ECHR, FCO, USA on June 18th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

Today’s Telegraph Mandrake column highlights awards given to those who have worked against the just resettlement of the Chagossians in their homeland:

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

The Queen’s birthday honours require time to appreciate all the black humour. Simon Hughes, secretary of the Chagos Conservation Trust, got an MBE for “services to environmental conservation,” just five days after the Chagossians lost their judicial review of the Chagos Marine Protected Area.

Hughes was not keen on the islanders returning to resume fishing after they had been exiled in the Seventies to make way for a US air base. “We want to conserve the fish, coral, flora and fauna and humans are not compatible with that,” he had noted. Other experts felt that involving indigenous populations in conservation projects was the key to making them work.

In January, Derek Walton, the FCO’s legal adviser, got an OBE for “human rights and diplomacy,” just 12 days after he had seen off the islanders’ last hope of returning home at the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

The question is when will a supporter of Chagossian human rights and conservation of the Archipelago be honoured?

“With political will and compromise, solutions could be found”

Posted in APPG, CCT, ConDem, conservation, CRG, FCO, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Wikileaks, William Hague on December 23rd, 2011 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

So explains David Snoxell, co-ordinator of the British All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Chagos, in an interview with L’Express Weekly, Mauritius. The piece covers issues ranging from De L’Estrac’s English translation of his book ‘Next Year in Diego Garcia’ to a recent meeting of the APPG with William Hague, and how people can get more involved in supporting the Chagossians. The article is available here.

'The fight for justice will go on until justice is won'

Posted in Ben Fogle, CCT, CICA, conservation, CRG, events, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory on May 22nd, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

The Chagos Regagné conference, held at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 19 May, was a landmark event that brought together conservationists, scientists, supporters, anthropologists, charities, academics, politicians and media, for the first time in the long history of campaigning.

It felt as if everyone with an interest in Chagos was there; the historian David Vine had flown in from the US just for the conference, and Chagos researcher Laura Jeffery came in from Mauritius for the day. Historic campaigner Olivier Bancoult came from Mauritius to speak and the Prime Minister of Mauritius authorised his legal representative to make a powerful public statement. For the first time Chagos people attended a conference about their future in force – about 150 people came in the coaches laid on from Crawley and from Manchester. An attentive and noisy group, they raised issues that were not on the agenda but were welcomed by the organisers. The issue of passports and compensation, and the passionate sense of urgency for the cause of return were powerfully expressed.

The conference was arranged so that every session with speakers was followed with comment, debate and questions from the floor. Chairs Sue MacGregor (of the BBC) and Professor Rebecca Stott (from Royal Holloway College, London) made sure there was as much debate as possible. Chagos people insisted on translation into Creole; Laura Jeffery served as a generous and friendly interpreter for two of the sessions.

The first debate was entitled ‘Reef Health Now’ – and scientists Mark Spalding and John Turner explained their research. Dr Spalding concluded that the reefs were a precious and delicately balanced environmental haven, but he thought that a carefully managed presence of Chagos people would not cause damage. Dr Turner presented research from Dr Charles Shepherd as well as his own work, and emphasised the importance of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) as the best preserved coral reef in the world — with others under threat from climate change, overfishing and pollution.

The second debate looked at the human presence in the MPA. David Vine reported on the history of the Chagos islands and the reasons for the expulsion of the people. He reported that the architect of the American base concept believed before he died that the indigenous people could live near the base. William Marsden of the Chagos Conservation Trust spoke in favour of the conservation work and training done. John Howell, author of a previous plan to return, reminded the conference of the practical proposal agreed by Chagos people for their return to the islands.

Before lunch, a Guardian photographer recorded the historic coming together of so many Chagos people. Paul Gardiner of the Mantis Group of Resorts opened the afternoon’s debates by talking about how he and his family and the indigenous people of the Cape area of South Africa had found the motivation and the way to reintroduce animals into a desolate area. His example suggested that indigenous people can learn and work as guardians of their own heritage. Sean Carey talked about the history of the diaspora of the Chagos people. Laura Jeffery spoke about her work to consult the Chagos people and establish their views and hopes for the future. She invited people to contact her to make sure that her work – funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council – reaches a wider audience so that people really know what the Chagos people hope and fear. Richard Dunne presented a stunning report on what a science station with a green eco-village might be like, what it might do and, importantly, what it might cost. In line with the best scientific advice, Richard Dunne advised the establishment of a small settlement, of perhaps 100 people, and argued that trained and motivated Chagossians might protect the valuable Chagos coral reefs better than they are being protected now.

The next session was given over to the lawyers. Philippe Sands QC delivered a statement  approved by the Prime Minister of Mauritius, presenting strong legal arguments against the creation of the MPA. He accused the UK and the US of behaving illegally, and the conservation charities who supported the MPA of being “aiders and abettors”. Sands promised a hearing at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and further action at the United Nations. This was a speech which challenged the conservationists and warned them that future decisions about the Chagos marine reserve will have to be taken in consultation with the Chagos people.

However there was a strong feeling from the floor of the conference that the Mauritian government had not supported the Chagos people historically, and some Chagos people made clear they did not want Mauritian sovereignty over Chagos. Allen Vincatassin expressed his commitment to the UK and his distrust of Mauritian motives. The High Commissioner of Mauritius, who attended the conference for the whole day, was interested and engaged by the discussion and reassured the organisers that he welcomed the open debate.

Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagos Refugees Group, spoke next outlining the long campaign which brought the Chagos cause to the European Court of Human Rights. He got a stormy response from the floor when people demanded swifter action, and complained bitterly about the situation regarding British passports — which some Chagossian family members have had trouble obtaining (this, of course, is not Richard Gifford’s responsibility, but the Government’s).

The final session was about agreeing the way forward. Olivier Bancoult gave a powerful speech and contributions from the floor were passionate and sustained. Conservationists reminded the conference of the importance of the natural environment. Ben Fogle, patron of this association, closed the conference with an appeal for unity and his certainty that the cause would be won. The room was then filled with the moving music of the choir of Ifield Community College singing ‘Calling my Children Home’, a fitting end to an emotional day.

Conference organiser Philippa Gregory said: “We didn’t get to an agreed conclusion but the important issues were powerfully raised in a public forum in a way which cannot be mistaken. The Chagos people spoke up and demanded compensation, fair acknowledgement of their British subject status, and the right to return. Many conservation groups represented at the conference confirmed that they had no problem with the return of a limited population to the islands and that they had no intention that the Marine Protected Status of the area would exclude Chagos people. We have a clear message to take to the Foreign Office, and I am very very pleased that even while the conference was in progress, we were offered a date to meet the Foreign Secretary. Roch Evenor, Ben and I will tell him clearly that the Chagos people will not accept the current situation and that the fight for justice will go on until justice is won.”

Hope for a return

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, CCT, CICA, conservation, CRG, events, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory on May 17th, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

Great piece in the Telegraph at the weekend about this Thursday’s conference on the future of the Chagos islands.

 

The people of Chagos have faced secrecy and deceit from successive governments. Thursday will be a great opportunity to have a proper open discussion and learn how conservation can go hand in hand with the rights of the Chagossians.

The Chagos marine reserve: One year on

Posted in CCT, conservation, Labour, MPA on April 17th, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Lagoon, Egmont Island (Photo: Karin Sinniger)

Lagoon, Egmont Island (Photo: Karin Sinniger)

This month the Chagos Environment Network is marking the first anniversary of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Chagos. But while we celebrate the preservation of a wonderful natural habitat, let us not forget that the exclusion of the population and the prohibition on fishing have left the marine reserve vulnerable.

Conceived in haste, and declared in the dying throes of the last government, the MPA was almost universally condemned in the House of Commons and House of Lords within days of its birth. It is now challenged in the High Court in London by the unlawfully removed inhabitants, and at the UN tribunal on the Law of the Sea by the neighbouring state of Mauritius, which claims that the UK has no right even to act as the sovereign power.

Two senior FCO officials admitted that the MPA plan was a device to exclude the residents, according to documents released by Wikileaks. But scientists, sadly, have played along, while failing to protest against the environmental damage caused by the US base.

This ill-conceived, ethnically-cleansed marine reserve is more fragile than it need be, and it may not last long.