Letusreturn

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

"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.

"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

Ben Fogle Hands in Petition for Chagossian Return

Posted in Ben Fogle, Letusreturn, Parliament, Petition, Protest, Return, Return 2015 on May 22nd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

BEN & SABRINALong-time Chagossian supporter and TV personality today handed in a petition (still available to sign) calling on the UK Government to finally support Chagossian return to their homeland. Chagossians have fought for their right to return for decades since their forced deportation, conducted under UK orders so a US military base could be built.

An independent report last year confirmed return was possible. The Government committed to making a decision on return before the election but failed to so.

Today Chagossians called on David Cameron to live up to finally deliver justice. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Fogle branded the UK’s treatment of Chagossians a “terrible injustice” and called for immediate resolution, before adding optimistically he believed the “future would be bright” for Chagossians.

Watch Ben Fogle speak about his belief Chagossians will finally win the right to return

IMG_0028Sabrina Jean (pictured above), Chairperson of Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch, handed in the protest with Ben and thanked him for his consistent support over many years. Mrs Jean herself deserves much credit for organising the event and ensuring it was well attended by Chagossians.

Speaking to the BBC, Ben added “For me, being a Brit, it was probably one of the things I’m most ashamed about, that I’m part of a country that forcibly evicted these people and is now refusing their right to return.”

Today must represent the beginning of making a return a reality. The Prime Minister can now be under no illusions Chagossians want the right to return and the UK public back them.

House of Commons Library Briefing on the Chagos Islands

Posted in APPG, Feasability Study, House of Commons Library, Letusreturn, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 14th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

hoclThe House of Commons Library, an independent research body based in Parliament which aims to provide unbaised information to MPs and peers, has published an updated briefing on policy issues affecting the Chagos Islands. The briefing covers the period since the publication of the previous Houses of Commons Library Report on the Chagos Islands in mid-2013.

Following the delay of the decision on supporting return, promised by the Government prior to the election, the current Parliament will now take the decision on whether to support Chagossian return to their homeland. Ensuring MPs have accurate information about the situation is then vital and Parliamentarians are likely to consult this document. We will of course also be briefing MPs about how they can deliver Chagossian justice.

The document covers a range of issues including the feasibility report and decision on return, the international legal action on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area and the sovereignty dispute with Mauritius. It is well worth a read but you can find some of the key quotes from it below.

 

On Return and the recent KPMG feasibility study:

The report notes it is “significant” that Diego Garcia was included in the study as it had previously been “believed that the US would not want the island, where it has a military base, included.” It is worth noting the US has not expressed this desire and has always maintained the issue was a matter for the UK, which retains sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. In any case with the conditions of the UK-US agreement on the use of Diego Garcia being re-negotiated, it is incumbent upon the UK to insist that support for Chagossian return is a fundamental condition of any renewed agreement to allow continued US military presence.

“Because of its position on sovereignty, the Mauritian Government declined to engage with the new feasibility study on resettlement, although it supports the Chagossians on the issue.”

The Government claim that “was not a clear indication of likely demand for resettlement, and costs and liabilities to the UK taxpayer” are referenced, as our Chair’s critique of this decision. 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands’ proposal of a small-scale “pilot return” which could be begin in 2016 is also noted.

“But it is possible that the incoming UK Government will ultimately reject all the resettlement options put forward in the KPMG study.” This could, but need not, mean denying support for return. The KPMG study focused on three fairly arbitrary resettlement models. Return could also be feasible following a range of other models.

On the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Verdict on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area

“an Arbitral Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea unanimously ruled that the Marine Protected Area (MPA) declared by the UK [around the Chagos Islands in 2010] is not compatible with obligations under the Convention to give proper regard to the rights of Mauritius and is therefore not lawful. The unanimous ruling was issued on 18 March. It is final and binding.”

 

“There is evidence that, when it was established, FCO officials saw the MPA as a means of preventing Chagossian resettlement. To date, there has been no official British response to the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling.” Perhaps it does not qualify as an ‘offical response’ but a Foreign Office Spokesperson did respond to the judgement speaking to a Guardian journalist. In fact the spokesperson, rather baselessly, claimed the judgement proved there was ‘no improper motive’ for establishing the MPA so it is good to have independent acknowledgement this was not what the judgement stated.

On Sovereignty

“It has been argued in the past that, even if sovereignty over the entire BIOT is unlikely to be on the agenda in the near to medium-term, there may be more room for flexibility on the outer islands, which are not required for defence purposes. But the previous UK Government gave no indication that it might be thinking along those lines.”

 

On the future of US military facilities on Diego Garcia

“Under the 1966 Exchange of Notes between the UK and the US, a decision on whether to extend the arrangement for a further 20 years must be made by 31 December 2016.”

“The All Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands considers that any renewal next year of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT for defence purposes should be conditional on a commitment by both parties to facilitate and support [Chagossian] resettlement.”

 

On upcoming legal action

“Chagossians living in both Mauritius and the UK have also been seeking to challenge the establishment of the MPA. The original ground was that the public consultation process was flawed because it failed to acknowledge that resettlement was feasible. An additional ground was that the consultation failed to mention Mauritian or Chagossian fishing rights.”

“Finally, an application to the Supreme Court to set aside the 2008 House of Lords verdict – which ruled 3:2 that the use of Orders in Council in 2004 to prevent the Chagossians from returning was lawful ….was made in January 2015. The grounds for the application are that the 2008 judgment was partly based on the 2002 feasibility study, which has now been shown to be flawed, and that documents which demonstrated this were not disclosed…. The Supreme Court is expected to consider both applications by the end of June 2015.” Now scheduled for 22nd June

Protest Fundraising Update: still £125 to go!

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Letusreturn, Protest, Return, Return 2015 on April 26th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

chagos protest 1So many thanks to everyone who donated to our recent crowdsourcing campaign to support Chagossians’ 22nd May protest in Westminster. Sadly we didn’t quite make our £500 target, although the £375 we raised will be really useful.

If we were able to get that final £125 though it would be absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately we could not extend our Indiegogo campaign, but you can still make a donation by clicking on the button on the right. If you like, leave a note stating your donation is specifically to support the protest.

Your donations will ensure as many Chagossians are able to come to the protest as possible, as well as producing leaflets and materials to distribute on the day, spreading the word about this terrible injustice and the opportunity to set it right. If you can’t donate, do still consider coming along!

 

 

 

Our Committee Chair's Open Democracy Article on Chance for Return

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Uncategorized on April 20th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Our Committee Chair Stefan Donnelly has had an article published on Open Democracy analysing the previous Government’s failure to deliver a decision on Chagossian return and the unique opportunity the next Government has to rectify that failure. You can read the piece below, or on the Open Democracy website.

 

dg boat‘Regret’ and ‘delay’: when will Britain end the exile of the Chagossian people?

Britain, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains stubbornly centre-stage in the growing UK election campaign rhetoric. Announcing the budget, the Chancellor told us Britain could again “walk tall in the world.” Ed Miliband frequently suggests “Britain can do better.” The other parties have their own variations on pledges to make the nation fair, respected and honourable.

And yet just before parliament concluded at the end of March, an opportunity to end decades of continuing human rights abuse, which mars Britain’s reputation globally, was quietly missed. To put it more starkly, a choice was made to continue enforcing the exile of the Chagossian people.

A lengthy, dark chapter

Chagossians, UK citizens were forced from their homeland in late sixties and early seventies under UK orders. Deportation of the native population was a condition of a deal which gave the US military use of Diego Garcia, the largest Chagos Island, for a fifty year period.

Various government ministers have expressed “regret” over the deportation, the deliberate attempt to mischaracterise native Chagossians as migrant workers and their appalling neglect in exile. Very little though has actually been done to address Chagossians’ key demand: the right to return home.

It has been argued that the US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia expressly forbade resettlement of the island. This deal, however, expires in 2016. There is no better time than right now to offer justice to Chagossians and end a lengthy, dark chapter in both nations’ histories.

Hope was offered when the government announced it would commission a feasibility study into Chagossian resettlement. When consultants KPMG published their final report this January hopes were raised further. The report demonstrated costs and environmental impact would be minimal, whilst no serious security or legal concerns were identified.

In reaction to the report the government commissioned a “policy review.” Days prior Parliament’s dissolution, however, a “delay” was announced in a three-sentence written statement.

No timescale was given for the delay. Two “uncertainties,” of cost and demand were held up as justification, but neither stand up to serious scrutiny. Parliament in any case had no opportunity to scrutinise, whilst the media by and large chose not do to so. But let’s consider them now.

Costs

Infrastructure projects inevitably have “uncertainties” over costs, but the in-depth KPMG study found resettlement could be accomplished for as little as £60m over three years. A recent freedom of information request confirmed that, if anything, KPMG regarded these estimates as made with “pessimism.”

Even if the full amount was taken from the UK’s International Development budget, the £20m per year to support return would only amount to less than 0.002% of overall spending, from a budget protected by law. In practice though, a range of other sources would contribute.

If the US-UK agreement on using Diego Garcia as a military base is renewed, it seems obvious that support for Chagossian resettlement must be a fundamental condition. Adjusted for inflation, the £11 million discount the UK received on the Polaris Nuclear Weapon system as part of the original agreement would be worth almost £200 million today.

The EU’s European Development Fund is another likely source of funding, whilst private and third-sector investment would be a significant factor.

Demand

Claims on “uncertainty” over the numbers wishing to return seem even more bizarre. It is highly difficult for Chagossians to make an informed decision on return when the Government has given absolutely no indication of the type of resettlement they’d be willing to support.

Despite this, however, at least 100 Chagossians have already volunteered to return as part of a small-scale “pilot” resettlement project to Diego Garcia.  This is the option favoured by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands and is assessed favourably in the KPMG report.

An even greater number of Chagossians, including those based in the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles have indicated they would like to return if the initial resettlement programme proves successful.

Political uncertainties, a real opportunity

The only “uncertainties”, then, emanate from the political establishment. Does any political leader have the moral conviction and political courage to finally deliver a measure of justice for Chagossians? Will the new intake of parliamentarians be dogged enough to hold the government to account on an issue far too often neglected by administrations of all colours?

Although the delay is most unwelcome, the election does provide an opportunity to ask these questions directly and meaningfully. UK Chagos Support Association is asking everyone standing for election to sign a simple pledge card, stating their commitment to ending almost half a century of human rights abuse which should shame the nation.

It takes actions, not words, for Britain to “walk tall” or “do better.” There can be no more excuses. If rhetoric about British values is to mean anything at all, supporting Chagossians long-denied right to return home must be an absolute priority for whatever Government is formed after 7th May.

On the 22nd May Chagossians and their supporters will be protesting in Westminster and handing in a petition to whoever is the new Prime Minister. You can add your signature here and support the protest here.

Chagossian Justice Pledge Card: Ask want-to-be MPs to sign!

Posted in Campaign, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 13th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Click to see a printable version of our pledge card

Click to see a printable version of our pledge card

As the UK Election campaign proceeds apace, if you live anywhere in the UK there’s a good chance someone will be stopping you shortly and asking for your vote.

In return, you can ask them to sign this pledge card. It states that

It is a simple affair you can print off and get your perspective MPs to sign. Please do let us know if you get any responses, negative or positive. Do also keep a hold of the card so we can hold those elected to account! To find out who is standing in your constituency, check here, it just takes a second.

If you don’t have the pledge card to hand, just grab a piece of paper and scribble down something like the above phrase. What is important is simply getting on-the-record commitment from would-be Parliamentarians to support Chagossian justice.

We need to tell Parliamentarians this is an issue which matters to ordinary people, and that we will not let this human rights abuse continue in our name.