European court says it has 'no jurisdiction' on Chagos case

Posted in CRG, ECHR, Legal on December 20th, 2012 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

The Chagossians and their supporters throughout the world are saddened and shocked that a seven-judge chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has after eight years, by a majority ruling, decided that it does not have jurisdiction to give judgment on the case of the Chagos Islanders and that the case is therefore inadmissible. The Court concluded that the Chagossians had no right of individual petition.

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights guarantees that no one shall be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment. It is obvious to all right-thinking people that depriving the Chagossian people, for whom Britain was responsible, of their homes, livelihoods and homeland and deporting them 40 years ago, was a grievous violation of their fundamental human rights. This was compounded as late as 2004 by Privy Council Orders, a means by which Parliament was bypassed. The Orders overturned a November 2000 High Court judgment and the decision by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to restore the right to return to the Outer Chagos Islands. It is inconceivable that parliament would have agreed to deprive the Chagossians of this fundamental birthright.

What happened has been described by English courts as shameful, an abuse of power, repugnant, deplorable and unlawful. Strasbourg also concluded that this was “the callous and shameful treatment which they… suffered from 1967 to 1973, when being expelled from, or barred from return to, their homes on the islands and the hardships which immediately flowed from that”. In 2008 two of the five Law Lords held that without the authority of parliament these Orders were unlawful, anachronistic and against the principles of democracy. Lord Bingham, presiding, said that there was “no (other) instance in which the royal prerogative had been exercised to exile an indigenous population from its homeland”.

Now that the European Court of Human Rights has decided that it does not have jurisdiction we appeal to the coalition government to stand by their pre-election promises to bring about a just and fair settlement to one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century, perpetrated by the UK on the defenceless – the brutal removal of an entire people from their homeland and their way of life, into a life of exile, poverty and hardship. We expect our Government to reflect the British sense of fair play and to ensure that the same basic human rights apply to Chagossians, who are British, as apply to the people in the UK. As the Foreign Secretary himself has said, “The British public expects its Government to act with moral integrity.”

Charlezia Alexis dies aged 79

Posted in Crawley, CRG, personal on December 16th, 2012 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Charlézia Alexis (Photo: L’Express)

Charlezia Alexis, the passionate Chagossian campaigner and singer, died this morning aged 79.

Illegally evicted from her homeland along with hundreds of others by the British authorities in the 1960s, Charlezia was one of the founders of the Chagos Refugees Group, campaigning to be allowed to return. She died in the UK having spent half her life in exile.

Her death follows that of Lisette Talate, who died aged 70 last year.

Charlezia’s funeral will take place in the UK, and a special mass will be held by the CRG in Mauritius.

If the British government continues to stand in the way of resettlement, more like Charlezia and Lisette will die without being able to see their home again.

Read L’Express’ coverage here.

FCO officials face cross-examination on Wikileaks cable

Posted in coverage, CRG, FCO, Legal, MPA on July 29th, 2012 by Robert Bain – 2 Comments
Royal Courts of Justice (Photo: Ell Brown, via Flickr)

Royal Courts of Justice (Photo: Ell Brown, via Flickr)

The Independent reports that Foreign Office officials will be cross-examined on the content of a US diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks, as part of the Chagossians’ application for a judicial review of the Chagos Marine Protected Area.

The cable, one of many leaked by Wikileaks in 2010, summarised a conversation in which BIOT Commissioner Colin Roberts claimed that “establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the (Chagos) archipelago’s former residents”. Roberts also reportedly said that the Foreign Office had no regrets about the eviction of the islanders.

Our patron Ben Fogle wrote angrily at the time about having been duped into supporting a marine reserve created under ‘false pretences’, as a way to keep the Chagos islanders from returning to their rightful home.

Answering questions about this might be uncomfortable for the government, but we believe it will be good for transparency.

Chagos MPA ‘unenforceable’

Posted in conservation, CRG, FCO, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Uncategorized on February 27th, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

So contends Peter Sand, a leading environment lawyer who has written extensively on Chagos legal issues. In an article recently published in the Journal of Environment and Development, Sand comments that the unilateral enactment of the MPA disregarded “the legitimate interests both of other states and of the people directly concerned” and that it “remains unenforceable under UNCLOS article 73”.

Lisette Talate dies aged 70

Posted in CRG, Mauritius, personal on January 6th, 2012 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

We are saddened to learn of the death of Lisette Talate, who died on Wednesday at the age of 70.

Lisette, who was born on Chagos, was a prominent and inspirational figure in the Chagossian community in Mauritius and in the campaign to be allowed to return to the islands. She was able to take part in a short visit to the islands in 2006 – the first time she had been back since she and hundreds of others were evicted 33 years earlier. Sadly she did not live long enough to see justice done.

Olivier Bancoult, chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group, sent this statement:

“It’s with great sadness that we announce the death of Mrs Lisette Talate, our vice president and elected members of Chagossian Welfare Fund Board.

Mrs Talate had been involved in the struggle since her arrival in Mauritius in 1973. Together with Charlesia Alexis and others, she has been a famous example, having participated in several hunger strikes, demonstrations and been arrested by police.

Our community has lost one of our unforgotten personalities who has contributed to the struggle of the Chagossians. She was nominated among one thousand women for the Peace Nobel Prize, and had been decorated by the Prime Minister last year as Members of Star and Key of the Indian Ocean.

Our condolences to all members of her family together with our Chagos Refugees Group members and our Chagossian community.”

Lisette’s funeral was held yesterday in Cassis, Mauritius.

Read L’Express’s reports here and here, the Chagos Refugees Group’s report here and Le Mauricien’s report here.

The longer the British government delays in bringing justice to the Chagossians, the fewer will be left to see their homeland again.

“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 2006 visit on film

Posted in CRG, FCO, video on November 13th, 2011 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Videos from the 2006 visit to the Chagos islands can now be seen on YouTube:
Part one
Part two
Part three

A hundred Chagossians took part in the ten-day trip, organised by the Foreign Office, to Diego Garcia and several of the outer islands. CRG leader Olivier Bancoult said at the time: “We maintain our objective of returning to live in our birthplace. We think justice must be done but this first visit was very successful.”

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group: Co-ordinator's Summary of 23rd Meeting

Posted in APPG, ConDem, CRG, FCO on September 8th, 2011 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) held its 23rd meeting on 7th September 2011.

The Group reviewed developments during the parliamentary recess. Members were pleased that Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials had held a meeting on 27th July 2011 with Chagossian Leaders, but noted that the agenda had been restricted to visits, restoration and environmental work; the right of return, resettlement and the proposal for a scientific station supported by Chagossians living in a nearby village (put forward at the Chagos Regagné Conference held at the Royal Geographical Society, London, on 19th May 2011) 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 briefings by the FCO had described these ‘initiatives’ as part of 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, that this strategy did not distract attention from the 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 William Hague, noting that both the US Ambassador and Mr Hague had not replied. The Group looked forward to a meeting with the Foreign Secretary which the Chairman had first requested in early February 2011. It was understood that Mr Hague was keen to meet the Group and that a date would be fixed. In June 2011 the Group had asked for a meeting with the US Ambassador.

The Group learnt that the case before the European Court of Human Rights 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 30th September 2011. 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 Marine Protected Area.

The next meeting of the APPG is 19th October 2011.

Pew Environmental Group repeats untruths in support of MPA

Posted in conservation, CRG, MPA, Wikileaks on June 14th, 2011 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

A recent article in the Guardian by Josh Reichert (Pew Environmental Group) in support of the Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA) contained a number of untruths.

For example, in the second paragraph he states that since their expulsion, “the UK has maintained that the Chagossians have no right of abode on the islands.”  This is untrue as the right of return, which implies abode, was restored between Nov 2000 and June 2004 by Robin Cook (then Foreign Secretary), and overturned by Orders-in-Council.

In paragraph four, Reichert states that the “Pew Environment Group worked with a range of organisations and individuals – including Chagossians – to advocate its establishment as a highly protected marine reserve.” In fact, the Pew Environment Group worked with only one small group of UK-based Chagossians, the Diego Garcia Society, and made no contact with the Chagos Refugees Group. The latter is the largest group of islanders, based in Mauritius and led by Olivier Bancoult, who brought the case against the UK government to establish the right of return.

Later in the article he states that the “provisional government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands support protected status for the Archipelago”. In fact, all Chagossians support an MPA but not one which excludes them from their homeland.

It is extermely disappointing that the Pew Group continues to peddle untruths to defend their position, particularly  now that the UK government’s cynical motivation for the creation of the Chagos MPA has been exposed.

'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.”