Exile

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!).

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.

"No man shall be exiled" Chagossians & Magna Carta

Posted in APPG, Campaign, Exile, Feasability Study, Jeremy Corbyn, Letusreturn, Magna Carta, Parliament, Return, Return 2015 on June 15th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
This letter, published in The Times, was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

This letter, published in The Times, was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

“No man shall be exiled except by the lawful judgement of his equals or the law.”

On the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, some clauses in the document are particularly poignant when considering the heartless deportation of the Chagossian people just over 40 years ago. Chagossians’ expulsion from their homeland never went through Parliament nor did it go before a jury. Rather the Government used Royal Prerogative to force Chagossians from their homes; precisely the sort of unchecked power the Magna Carta is intended to prevent. Such measures were used again in 2004 to effectively nullify a High Court decision to permit return.

The Magna Carta is celebrated as laying the foundation for the most basic human rights. Celebrations, however, must be tempered by the fact that 800 years after the document was signed in Runnymede, Chagossians -British citizens- do not enjoy its protections.

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn was amongst the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands which wrote a letter to this effect in The Times several days ago. A copy of the letter can be downloaded here or viewed above.

There is no legal or climatic reason why the Chagos Islanders should not return home – so why won't the UK Government act?

Posted in APPG, Exile, Feasability Study, Jeremy Corbyn, Lord Prescott, Mauritius, resettlement, Seychelles, Uncategorized on June 11th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

parliamentThis was the title of a letter from the British Indian Ocean Territories All Party Parliamentary Group published in the Times on 9th June 2015. A copy of the letter can be downloaded here or viewed below.

 

 

 

This letter was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

This letter was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

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.

NPR on Chagossian fight for return

Posted in coverage, Exile, Feasability Study, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, USA on April 17th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – 1 Comment

grave pictureNPR, a major radio broadcaster in the USA, has released a major feature on the exile of the Chagossian people and their fight to return home. Broadcast today (Friday 17th April), the piece, put together by London-based Ari Shapiro, was split across two separate programmes.

The first section was broadcast on Morning Edition, and can be heard here. (see below if audio link has stopped working) It is an excellent, short summary of both the history and recent struggles of the Chagossian people. With the radio interview comes a full and similarly excellent text article written by Mr Shapiro.

The second part of the feature was broadcast later on All Things Considered, and can be heard here. This section focuses more on Chagossians’ hopes for the future.

Both are worth listening to and reading, featuring interviews with native-born Chagossians Bernard Nourrice and Louis Clifford Volfrin. Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch Chairperson Sabrina Jean also speaks eloquently about her brief time on Diego Garcia, whilst All-Party Parliamentary Group Chairperson Jeremy Corbyn and former High Commissioner to Mauritius David Snoxell analyse the strange, often dark political realities of Chagossians’ exile and their fight for return.

Just in case NPR cease to host the audio files after a few days/weeks/years, we’ve saved them here.

Listen to Part 1 here

And Part 2 Here!

Story of Chagossian Exile in The Independent

Posted in coverage, Crawley, Exile, Welfare on April 11th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

chagosMuralUC_5The cold, hard reality of life in exile for Chagossians is laid bare in a new article published by UK newspaper The Independent.  Bernard and Willie Nourrice provide real testimony of the struggle Chagossians have faced to survive since their forced expulsion from their homeland in the late sixties and early seventies.

Bernard recalls how he was “left on the dock” in The Seychelles, forced to find a new life almost 2000KM from the land of his birth. Sadly coming to the UK in 2008, after losing his hotel job in the financial crisis, he found no end to the pain of exile.

“Reaching here, the situation is not what I was told. It’s so painful; we go through so many difficulties….the stress is killing people. On Diego Garcia we were free. Here we are not.” Bernard Norrice

 

Later in the article Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch Chairperson Sabrina Jean expands upon the difficulties facing the UK Chagossian community in exile. She recounts her own experience, separated from her family and working 17-hour days when she first arrived in the UK. The older, native born Chagossians, dying without a chance to see their homeland again, are also mentioned as a source of sadness. The practical, financial difficulties of finding funds for funerals are another real concern and mentioned in the article.

“When one of our people passes away it’s very difficult for us.” Sabrina Jean

 

We consider all requests from UK Chagossians experiencing hardship in exile, including helping with funeral costs. See here for how to ask for help.