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University of Greenwich Chagos Socio-Legal Conference

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Cultural, Environment, Exile, FCO, Legal, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Supreme Court, UN, Uncategorized on July 1st, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
University of Greenwich, host of Monday's Chagos conference

University of Greenwich, host of Monday’s Chagos conference

On Monday a host of academics, legal experts and Chagossians came together to discuss a broad range of legal and social issues related to Chagossians enforced exile. Hosted by the Law School of the University of Greenwich, it featured prominent lawyer Phillipe Sands as keynote speaker.

Mr Sands QC has recently worked with the Mauritian Government to successfully convince an international tribunal that the UK-Government’s establishment of a Marine Protected Area in 2010 breached international law.  Analysing how race inevitably played a part in legal processes in the UK involving Chagossians, Mr Sands quoted Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird:

“in our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.”

A range of other speakers also delivered powerful addresses. Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group Coordinator David Snoxell spoke about the interplay of Parliament and the courts in the Chagossian fight for the right to return to the islands. He begins his talk by describing three “myths” of the Chagossian deportation. Later dealing with the 2004 use of Orders-in-Council (Royal Perogative) to forbid Chagossian return to the islands, he brands the move a “short sighted ploy.” Mr Snoxell’s full remarks can be read here.

Elsewhere, University of Greenwich Post-Graduate student Kinnari Bhatt presented a equally insightful address on the concept of Chagossians status as an “indigenous” people. Apologists for Chagossians’ forced exile have often argued they did not qualify for indigenous status as the islands were first populated in the 1700s. Ms Bhatt contends this idea that only a people living in a land from “time immemorial” can be called ‘indigenous’ is a flawed, eurocentric concept. A summary of her full paper of Chagossian indigenous identity can be read here.

As well as new pieces of writing, the conference was an opportunity to discuss previously published legal and political documents relating to Chagossians’ exile. As well the infamous Wikileaks revelations that the 2010 creation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area was at least in part an attempt to prevent Chagossian resettlement of their homeland, an African Union resolution from earlier this month which reiterated the group’s support for Mauritian sovereignty over the Islands.

As we get more written notes and summaries we plan to update this page so do check back for more detail in a week or so. We’ll let you know via Facebook and Twitter, so make sure you’re following us (click on the links to do so if you are not!).

Letter to the Telegraph: End "distressing" exile of Chagossians

Posted in coverage, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Supreme Court, Uncategorized on June 29th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Mr Davies letter was published in 26th June 2015

Mr Davies letter was published in 26th June 2015

One of our long-term supporters Sid Davies last week had a letter published in The Daily Telegraph calling for a definitive end to the shameful UK-enforced exile of Chagossians.

Mr Davies’s letter is a beautifully written, poignant and personal account of his encounter with the islands. He visited the islands as part of yachting journey in the 1980s and describes the “distressing” sight of abandoned houses and churches. You can read it in full below.

Letter to the Telegraph by Sid Davies

SIR – I am pleased that Amal Clooney is to represent the Chagos islanders, who were forcibly evicted from their homes when the island of Diego Garcia was leased to the Americans as an airbase.

In 1985, I called at Saloman Atoll, which is about 100 miles north of Diego, when crossing by yacht from Darwin to Aden. The abandoned houses and roofless church, together with the overgrown pathways were distressing to see. It is to our shame that we treated these islanders so cruelly and it is high time we made amends and repatriated them.

While I was there, a yacht arrived from the Maldives, crewed by a French couple. They had called previously and found that the abandoned hens had no cock among them, so they brought one across the ocean to bring joy to the lonely poultry.

Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire

Chagossians appeal to Supreme Court: All the action and reaction

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Exile, Supreme Court on June 25th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

sc1On Monday 22nd June another important chapter in history of the Chagossian people’s fight for justice may just have been written. Led by Chagos Refugee Group founder and President Oliver Bancoult, Chagossians’ lawyers, including long-time Chagossian supporter Richard Gifford and counsel Ed Fitzgerald QC, Paul Harris SC and Amal Clooney from Doughty Street Chambers, challenged a 2008 decision by the Law Lords which upheld a Government ban on their right to return home.

 

The Background of the Case

Oliver Bancoult after High Court victory in 2000

Oliver Bancoult after High Court victory in 2000

Although the challenge relates to a 2008 decision by the Law Lords (officially the Appellate Committee of The House of Lords), the genesis of the case stretches back to a historic High Court decision in 2000. This adjudged the expulsion of the Chagossian people unlawful and supported their right to return to their homeland. The Foreign Secretary at the time, Robin Cook, and the Government accepted the court’s ruling. But in 2004 on the day of the European elections, the Government quietly passed new law using Orders-in-Council (under the Royal Prerogative which allows Parliament to be bypassed)- making it illegal for anyone to set foot on the islands without a permit. Needless to say, permits for Chagossian return were not forthcoming.

Chagossians’ and their lawyers challenged this measure in the High Court and won, with the court finding in 2006 that the section of the 2004 Order-in-Council which had abolished the Chagossian right of abode law was not lawful. The Government appealed and lost again in 2006 in the Court of Appeal.

The final Government appeal to the Law Lords (since replaced by the Supreme Court) in 2008 was narrowly successful with a 3:2 verdict that the Government’s actions in 2004 had been legal, and that the abolition of the right of abode was not unreasonable given the findings of a 2002 feasibility study that had shown resettlement to be precarious and too costly.

That brings us to Monday’s action. The 2008 verdict was challenged on the basis that key documents were withheld from lawyers for the Chagossians and the judges, which would have impacted significantly on the case.

Specifically these documents included a copy of the draft of the 2002 feasibility study, correspondence, and the comments of an FCO scientific adviser, Charles Sheppard. Lawyers for the Chagossians had suspected that these documents existed and had been asking for them since 2005 but the FCO and the Government lawyers (Treasury Solicitor) had claimed that they had all been destroyed. This was untrue and they were finally disclosed in May 2012. The documents show that FCO officials were highly critical and doubtful about the quality of the draft report in areas which supported resettlement, and called for a strengthening of the report in other areas. These criticisms then led the consultants to alter the report so that the final version appeared more robust and the faults were hidden. The manner in which this was done has brought into question the so called “independence” of the report, with suggestions of political interference. In addition the documents also showed that the FCO’s scientific adviser was in fact unqualified to comment on the key areas of the report concerning present and future storms and wave-overtopping and flooding of the islands. As a result he endorsed a report whose science was fundamentally flawed and whose final conclusion, on which the Government’s case in the House of Lords was based, was also wrong.

New and up-to-date scientific evidence also demonstrates just how wrong the conclusions of the 2002 study also were.

The fact that such important documents which completely undermine the Government’s case in the House of Lords were not disclosed at the time is a very serious matter. In law this is called a breach of the “Duty of Candour”. As a result, counsel for the Chagossians in the Supreme Court, Ed Fitzgerlad QC, told the court that a serious injustice had occurred and invited the judges to overturn the 2008 decision and to restore the right of abode.

Government lawyers tried to argue that the new 2015 feasibility study into Chagossian resettlement, by consultants from KPMG, had overtaken events and demonstrated that the Government was willing to reconsider the matter and that accordingly there is no need to correct the injustice. Their arguments however fail to recognise that the real reason for the new study may in fact be the widespread cynicism about the 2002 report. The Supreme Court judges clearly accepted that if the 2008 decision is allowed to stand then Chagossians effectively remain banned from their homeland.

Judgment was reserved. We hope to have judgment in 1-2 months.

The Media Coverage

Even we were pleasantly surprised by the media interest in the Supreme Court case which we hope was not solely because Amal Clooney was present. Whilst it may be slightly galling the likes of the Daily Express chose to focus more of Mrs Clooney’s dress than the acute legal analysis of the terrible injustice suffered by Chagossians, other outlets provided genuinely informative coverage.

http://archive.chagossupport.org.uk/wp-admin/post-new.php

The BBC reported that lead QC Edward Fitzgerald noted Chagossians had suffered a “significant injustice” which had “no alternative remedy” than revoking the 2008 Law Lords judgement which effectively banned their return home. In the Guardian, prominent lawyer Richard Gifford, who has worked with Chagossians for almost two decades, argues that “Iraq changed everything,” tracking the reluctance to support Chagossian return to the Diego Garcia US military base’s role in to the controversial 2003 US-UK led invasion of Iraq.

Poet and our own Patron Benjamin Zephaniah is quoted in The Independent calling for the Government to take decisive action, regardless of the court decision.

“I’m optimistic the court will see sense and recognise previous Government attempts to prevent Chagossian return have been totally illegitimate and undemocratic.” Benjamin Zephaniah, Patron of UK Chagos Support Association

Further video coverage of genuine quality was provided by ITV News. In an interview outside the court room, Oliver Bancoult stridently affirms that he and Chagossian people will “never give up” in their fight to return home.

Coverage of the verdict event stretched internationally. US broadcaster Fox News ran a story. Most definitely at the other end of the political spectrum, RT (Russia Today) and Press TV (Iran’s state broadcaster) also reported on the case. Surely proof the Chagossian fight for justice should transcend traditional political boundaries.

almaThere’s no escaping though that the majority of media attention was due to the presence of Amal Clooney. Although already a prominent human rights lawyer, much of the attention sadly focused on what she wore rather than the case itself where she had joined the legal team earlier this year, offering her services for free. If headlines in E!, Hello and the Daily Express though win even one more supporter to the Chagossian cause it will all be worthwhile.

 

We should take this opportunity to thank the entire legal team for their extensive efforts to win justice for Chagossians in the face of powerful, often unreasonable opposition. That the case has returned to the Supreme Court is also a testament to the relentless efforts of Richard Gifford over many years to discover the true facts and reveal what appear to be attempts to conceal information.

 

The full case can now be watched online here.

Supreme Court hears Chagossian calls to back their right to return

Posted in coverage, Legal, Supreme Court on June 23rd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Supreme-Court-of-UK-001The Supreme Court will hear evidence on Monday in a major new case related to the UK-ordered deportation of the Chagossian people in the early 1970s. Chagossians were forced from their Chagos Islands homeland so a US military base could be built on Diego Garcia, as part of a deal which saw the UK receive a discount on the Polaris nuclear weapons system.

This new case appeals the 2008 Law Lords decision which supported the legitimacy of the Government’s use of Royal Prerogative in 2004 to ban Chagossians from returning to their homeland. This effectively nullified a High Court verdict several years previously which condemned the deportation as illegal and restored Chagossians right to return. You can watch the case live via the Supreme Court website.

In the case before the Supreme Court on Monday, however, Chagossians, led by Chagos Refugee Group President Oliver Bancoult, will argue the 2008 verdict must be declared invalid.

Two major factors undermine the legitimacy of the 2008 verdict, Chagossian representatives will argue. Firstly Chagossians’ lawyers have claimed that it has since emerged that appropriate documents were not disclosed to them in the 2008 House of Lords Appellate Committee case.

The use of a 2002 feasibility study into Chagossian return in the 2008 case has also called the verdict into question, as this study has since been widely discredited as highly flawed.

A significant number of UK-based Chagossians are expected to accompany Oliver Bancoult to the Supreme Court on Monday. A verdict in favour of the Chagossians’ appeal would be a huge
milestone in their decades-long struggle to win the right to return home.

Similarly, a defeat for the Government could have a major impact on Government policy. A Government-commissioned feasibility study into Chagossian return reported last year. Despite reporting their were no fundamental obstacles to return, the Government failed to respond fully to the report before the election as Ministers had indicated they would.

Commenting on the historic case, our Patron Benjamin Zephaniah stated that “”I’m optimistic the court will see sense and recognise previous Government attempts to prevent Chagossian return have been totally illegitimate and undemocratic.”

“Regardless of the verdict though, the Government has a great opportunity to deliver a measure of justice by supporting Chagossians right to return home. Not only is it the obviously right thing to do, a Government-commissioned feasibility study has just this year confirmed it is possible.”

Jermey Corbyn Interview on UK's "disgraceful" treatment of Chagossians

Posted in APPG, coverage, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour on June 4th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Just before the election we completed an in-depth interview with Jeremy Corbyn MP, the Chair of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group since its creation in 2008.  Jeremy has long been been a strident campaigner for the rights of the Chagossian people.

Jeremy Corbyn on “lies and deception” that surrounded Chagossian expulsion from their homeland

“Deportation forced Chagossians into a marginalised existence”

 

We’ve a full 20 minute plus interview to come with the Labour leadership candidate but in the meantime enjoy these further taster clips

 

Jeremy Corbyn on his hopes for the future

“For me what’s really important is that right to go back”

 

On working with Chagossians in the fight for justice over the last decade

You feel, at last the British Establishment, for all its arrogance will finally have to face up to what it did to these people who it thought were expendable. All the racist comments, branding them “Man Fridays,” all these things eventually come home to roost.

 

On Government claims Chagossians received “generous compensation”

You take away someone’s right to live and way of living, you can’t just ‘buy it out’ of them”

Coverage & Pictures from Chagossians' recent trip home

Posted in Chagos visit, coverage, Environment, Exile, Seychelles on June 2nd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

 

Rubbish left behind by yachtspersons, who regularly visit the islands

Rubbish left behind by yachtspersons, who regularly visit the islands

A small selection of Chagossians’ recently took part in the  annual Government-supported brief trip to their homeland. This trip has been covered and photographed in excellent detail by Seychelles News Agency.

The article naturally focuses on the Seychelles-based Chagossians who made the return journey, but Chagossians living in the UK and Mauritius were also involved. Most were native-born Chagossians.

???????????????????????????????Members of the group commented that they were “impressed by the beauty of the islands.” Concerns were raised though at the pollution left by visiting yachtspersons, as was “dismay” at the general principle Chagossians were only permitted to return on strictly controlled visits whilst wealthy pleasure-sailors were frequent visitors.

It is reported Chagossians were “unanimous” that return would be possible with appropriate investment. One recognised the obvious potential for tourism, considering a de facto industry already exists.

For more wonderful pictures, see the original Seychelles News Agency article.

 

An abandoned graveyard on the Chagos Islands

An abandoned graveyard on the Chagos Islands

An abandoned house on the now totally overgrown Peros Banhos

An abandoned house on the now totally overgrown Peros Banhos

"UK has a moral duty to Let Us Return" Chagossian Allen Vincatassin on Sputnik

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Exile, FCO, Feasability Study, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 30th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Chagossian Allen Vincatassin, elected President of a Chagossian Provisional Government in 2011, has called on the UK to finally deliver justice for the Chagossian people by supporting their return home. Speaking on RT current affairs programme Sputnik to George Galloway, Mr Vincatassin highlighted the “moral duty” of the UK Government to Chagossians following their forced deportation four decades previously.

AV and GGMr Vincatassin has recently published Flight to Freedom, a book about the history of the Chagossian people in exile, which you can buy here.

Citing the recent independent feasibility study completed by KPMG, Mr Vincatassin explained that there were “no obstacles” to supporting return and he called for a pilot resettlement on Diego Garcia to begin as soon as possible. Urgency was required, he added, simply because time was running out for the native-born Chagossians to see their homeland again. He also makes the point that Chagossians, as British citizens, are entitled to expect their Government to actively defend their human rights.

Analysing the prospects of winning return, Mr Vincatassin was positive and identified the next year as a great opportunity for the UK and US to end the exile of the Chagossian people. Noting constitutional changes expected in the UK and upcoming renegotiation of the  US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia, he concluded that the Government just “need to invest” a modest amount of finally deliver justice for the much abused and neglected Chagossian people.

"No reasons left not to support return" Our Chair's interview with IOO

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Exile, Feasability Study, Letusreturn, Mauritius, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Seychelles on May 26th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

chagos 22In a wide-ranging interview our Committee Chair Stefan Donnelly has discussed the campaign for Chagossian justice with Indian Ocean Observatory (IOO). The online publication focuses on geo-political and environmental issues affecting the Indian Ocean Region. In an interview conducted via email, Stefan explains the history of the Chagossian exile and where the campaign for return stands now.

The full interview can be read here.

i Newspaper Article & Other Media Coverage of Chagos Return Protest

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Letusreturn, Protest, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 24th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
See below for a detailed summary of the article

See below for a detailed summary of the article

One of the many heartening things about Friday’s (22nd May) protest and petition hand-in was the media attention it received. The latest we’ve noticed is the pictured right short article in the i newspaper.

Although not currently available online, we’ve put together a detailed summary of the article below. Credit for the piece goes to Press Association Journalist Richard Wheeler who attended the protest on Friday.

 

i Article: “Fogle: I’ll take Islanders to Chagos”

Ben Fogle says he will charter a boat and take exiled Chagossians back to their homeland if the Government refuses “to right a terrible, terrible wrong.” The presenter also suggested the Whitehall attitude to the Chagos Islands- still a British controlled Overseas Territory- struck him “as a form of racism when compared to the help that has been given to the Falkland Islands.

He led a Chagossian delegation into Downing Street to deliver a petition calling on the Prime Minister to make amends for the “crime against humanity” carried out by allowing Chagossians to resettle as soon as possible.

The British forced the Chagossians to leave the islands, in the central Indian Ocean in the late sixties and early seventies to allow a US military base to be built on Diego Garcia, the largest Chagos Island.

The media in attendance at the 22nd May protest

The media in attendance at the 22nd May protest

Other media outlets covering the protest included BBC, RT, the i newspaper, BT’s Online News Service (important as it is likely to be seen by the millions who use BT to connect to the internet or for email), Asian Image and The Argus.

If you see any further articles in the Sunday papers, do please let us know at ukchagos@gmail.com

New allegations that Diego Garcia used as a “secret prison”

Posted in coverage, Diego Garcia, Rendition on May 14th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Click to read Hersh's full essay containing the allegations

Click to read Hersh’s full essay containing the allegations

In an essay on his new book for London Review of Books, investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh quotes a retired US military official referencing “secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia.”

The oppression of Chagossians is publicly admitted, if not well-known, but there have long been allegations the UK & US have used Diego Garcia to support so-called ‘rendition’ and torture.

Other US officials, including a senior aide to former Defence Secretary Colin Powell, have recently alleged Diego Garcia was used to support “nefarious activities.”

Asides from two cases in 2003, the UK Government has continued to deny allegations Diego Garcia has played any role in supporting such practices.