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“Not yet out of sight, not yet out of reach” Chagos themed poetry live in London this Tuesday

Posted in Benjamin Zephaniah, Cultural, Environment, events, MPA on July 31st, 2015 by Warren Paull – Be the first to comment

 

You can hear a reading of the poem from 7PM at Market Bar in Dalston

You can hear a reading of the poem from 7PM at Market Bar in Dalston

Saradha Soobrayen’s poem ‘Their homecoming is not yet out of reach, not yet out of sight,’ has won 1st Prize in the Pacuare Poetry Competition. The poem itself looks at the connection between environmentalism and the Chagossian fight for return, emphasising the positive and intrinsic relationship between Chagossians and their homeland.

As part of the celebrations, you can hear a live reading of the poem on Tuesday 14thJune at 7pm at the Ridley Market Bar, Dalston London. All are welcome to the event. There is a voluntary £5 suggested donation for attendance, which goes towards maintenance of the Pacure Nature Reserve.

The Judges awarded the title of Poet Laureate of the Pacure Nature Reserve for 2016 to Saradha who was born in London of Mauritian heritage. Commenting on their decision the judges praised the poem’s key winning qualities: clear and wise communication, responsiveness, and specificity in the poem’s attention. to detail and the way it linked the Chagossians deportation, the military base which replaced their society and the establishment of the controversial Marine Protected Area in 2010 especially impressed the judges:

 

Snippet of text from 'Not yet out of sight, not yet out of reach'

Snippet of text from ‘Not yet out of sight, not yet out of reach’

 

The below extract from ‘Not yet out of sight, not yet out of reach’ , considers the experience of many Chagossians who were forced from their homeland as children and into lifelong exile, leaving a legacy of displacement for future generations.

 

Every time he slides out a memory, a child slips back,

and boards the boat. The man considers what the child

 

knew then—the forced removal—the longing to return.

The Archipelago remembers him as a boy and each generation

 

is charged to remember the Archipelago. The past is tidal

in their minds or shall I say in their souls while the land waits

 

to recover the older selves, tonton, tantinn, gran-per, gran-mer,

a dying community, separated by unseen things, spirit from sea,

 

hope from land and yet united by wishful thinking, mouth

by mouth, their communal truths told in one continuous breath.

 

The winning poem is part of a book-length sequence written to raise awareness of the depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago and to attract funds to benefit the Chagossian community living in extreme difficulty in exile. Saradha plans to write 2000 lines of poetry to represent not only the 2000 islanders forcibly removed from the Chagos Archipelago but to also commemorate the lives of ancestors and those who have recently departed. Future poems will draw upon the experiences of the various Chagossian groups and their supporters, as well as on the vital contribution from historians, conservationists, anthropologists, law academics and politicians.

Through literature, art and collaborartive work, Saradha will also be exploring ways of engaging, celebrating Chagossian cultural heritage to enhance the lives of the current and future generations of Chagossians currently living in exile in Crawley, London, Manchester, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

To find out more, or to get involved you can contact us at ukchagos@gmail.com

Visit saradhasoobrayen.com to read the latest Chagos poems, or follow Saradha on twitter soundslikeroootshoc @saradharootschoc for news of forthcoming performances.

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!).

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

"Why Chagos Islanders Should Be Hailed as Heroes" Irish Times on Chagos Marine Reserve Verdict

Posted in coverage, Mauritius, MPA, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 16th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

irishWriting in the Irish Times, journalist Eamon McCann today (16th April) published an article assessing the potential impact of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) verdict that the UK had acted illegally in creating a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands in 2010. The article primarily focuses on the impact for exiled Chagossians.

Much of the piece details the decades of abuse, depiction and suffering underwent by Chagossians in exile. The controversial circumstances of the creation of the Marine Protected Area, as analysed by the PCA judges, are also noted.

Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Edna Kenny: Calls for Ireland to stand up for Chagossian rights

Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Edna Kenny: Calls for Ireland to stand up for Chagossian rights

The article concludes with Mr McCann urging the Irish Government to join with other nations to pressure the UK and US into finally end decades human rights abuse. These are certainly the type of sentiments we’d like to see more of from journalists across the world.

Our own view is that it is as-of-yet unclear what impact the PCA verdict will have on Chagossians’ fight to return home.A Government- commissioned feasibility study in return has found that Chagossian return could be successful with little or no alteration to the Marine Protected Area (MPA). The future of the Marine Protected Area should not then have a direct impact on Chagossian return. As noted in the feasibility study, Chagossians are in any case “very committed” to protecting the environment of their homeland.

We would though urge the incoming UK Government to finally deal with the nation’s long-neglected responsibilities to Chagossians and the Chagos Islands fully, transparently and honestly.

 

Chagossians on "shaky ground": Seychelles News Agency

Posted in coverage, Diego Garcia, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory, resettlement, Return, Seychelles, UN on March 27th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Diego_Garcia_Abandoned_PlantationA new report from Seychelles News Agency highlights the uncertainty felt by Chagossians after a turbulent week. On Wednesday the UK Government refused to live up to their promise to decide on supporting Chagossian return before the election. Earlier in the week the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) judged that the UK had acted illegally in creating a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands in 2010.

Although the PCA decision has been reported as a positive development for Chagossians, the Seychelles News Agency quotes Chairperson of the Chagossian Committee in the Seychelles Gilberte Grendron arguing it remains “quite unclear” what the consequences are for Chagossians.

The PCA case was really about Mauritian sovereignty, not Chagossian rights, she notes. Ms Grendron also adds there are concerns about what would happen to Chagossians’ UK citizenship if their homeland became Mauritian territory. Although she acknowledges the verdict of the PCA was probably correct, Ms Grendron adds that there are worries that with significant alteration to the MPA the environment of their homeland could be damaged.

Ms Grendron is entirely right to raise these concerns. If we did not already know already, one thing we should have learned in recent weeks is that Chagossian politics is extremely complex.

Elsewhere in the article our reaction to the Government’s failure to support Chagossian return is referenced, with a quote from our Patron and Secretary Philippa Gregory.

Chagos: An overall settlement closer than ever

Posted in APPG, FCO, Feasability Study, ITLOS, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, resettlement, UN, USA on March 26th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment
An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

In an article, published today in Weekly, the Mauritian equivalent of Express. David Snoxell, former high Commissioner for Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the All Party Parliamentary Group, gives his reactions to the Tribunal Award in favour of Mauritius. Explaining the basis of the case brought to the Arbitral Tribunal, established under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, by Mauritius as a result of the UK’s unilateral declaration of a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands, he finishes the article with the hope that an overall settlement could soon be reached:

An overall settlement of the issues could be closer than it has ever been, thanks to the KPMG feasibility report published in February, which found that there were no obstacles to resettlement, and to this Tribunal which obliges the UK to negotiate with Mauritius. 2015, the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the 50th anniversary of the creation of BIOT and the renegotiation of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of the Archipelago for defence purposes, could indeed be an auspicious year for Mauritius, the future of the Chagos Islands and its former inhabitants. The log jam seems at last to have broken.

The article was written before Tuesday’s FCO statement announcing a delay on reviewing the policy on resettlement.

Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Meeting: Coordinators Summary & Offical Statement

Posted in APPG, MPA, Parliament, resettlement on March 23rd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – 1 Comment

Big BenThe Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group have  agreed a statement on the prospects of Chagossian resettlement of their homeland. Please find the statement below a brief summary of this evening’s meeting. Thanks as ever to voluntary co-ordinator of the APPG David Snoxell for providing both the summary and the statement.

Coordinator’s Summary of the 48th Meeting of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

The Chagos Islands APPG held its 48th and final meeting of this Parliament on 23 March. The Group discussed the PQs tabled (not yet answered) and exchanges in the Commons with the Leader of the House and the Prime Minster since the last meeting on 23 February. 

Members noted that  their letter of 24 February to the Prime Minister had not yet been answered and nor had the Government’s anticipated statement to Parliament on the KPMG report been made.

The Group noted the progress that had been achieved since 2008 and agreed a statement on prospects for Chagossian resettlement and the future of the Chagos Islands (below) for release to the media and interested parties. It was decided that the Group would be re-established in the next Parliament and meet in early June.

Statement on 23 March 2015 issued by the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG on prospects for Chagossian resettlement and the future of the Chagos Islands.

portThe Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group was established in December 2008 to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and of the Chagossian people. Considerable progress has been made towards this aim.

The KPMG report on the feasibility of resettlement, published last month, concluded that there were no legal obstacles to resettlement.

The Group held its 48th and final meeting of this Parliament on Monday 23 March 2015. In the absence so far of a statement by the Government on the KPMG report members concluded that:

  1. 1: Notwithstanding the period of purdah, between the dissolution of Parliament and the general election, the Government should consult and agree with the main political parties a statement on the future of the exiled Chagossian people to be made before the election, setting out the intentions of parties likely to form the next government.

  1. 2: The APPG believes that, following the KPMG study, there should be agreement to a pilot resettlement on Diego Garcia, work on which should begin immediately when the next government comes to office, with a view to the first settlers arriving in early 2016.

  1. 3: The APPG urges the political parties to seize this opportunity, during the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the 50th anniversary of the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory, to bring about a fair and just settlement to which Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were committed before the 2010 election, and rectify one of the worst violations of fundamental human rights perpetrated by the United Kingdom in the twentieth century.

  1. 4: The APPG 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 resettlement.

  1. 5: The Group welcomes the Arbitral Tribunal’s conclusion of the international arbitration between the UK and Mauritius and its finding that the undertakings given by the UK in 1965 are legally binding in international law. It calls upon the Government to open discussions with Mauritius concerning fishing rights which until the declaration of the MPA were operated by Chagossian owned and operated vessels.

  1. 6: In consequence of the above finding which gives Mauritius an “interest in significant decisions that bear upon the possible use of the Archipelago” the APPG urges the Government to consult Mauritius over future arrangements both for the MPA and for the US base on Diego Garcia, and also on plans for the resettlement of Chagossians, in view of the facilities available on Diego Garcia. The Government should also draw on expertise and experience available in Mauritius.

  1. 7: The APPG will be re-established after the election and continue to promote its aim of an overall settlement of the issues.

Permanent Court of Arbitration rules on Chagos Islands

Posted in conservation, coverage, Diego Garcia, MPA, resettlement on March 20th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled that the UK breached its international obligations in creating a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands in 2010. Guardian correspondent Owen Bowcott  reports that the UK “acted illegally” and suggests the ruling offers “hope of return” to exiled pcaChagossians. In the verdict, the court notes that the MPA was created in “haste…dictated by the electoral timetable.” Read our reaction in the below statement.

The court ruled, by a vote of three to two, that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on what amounted a challenge to the UK’s sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. Two judges did though issue a dissenting comment, saying that the UK “showed complete disregard for the territorial integrity of Mauritius”and had used the “language of intimidation.” The full details of the case and the final judgement can be read here.

Chagossians in the UK, Mauritius and The Seychelles were not properly consulted about the creation of the Marine Protected Area. As we stated at the time, the failure to work with all relevant stakeholders, Chagossians included, meant that the decision ultimately lacked moral and legal legitimacy. Diplomatic documents released by Wikileaks later revealed that the creation of the Marine Protected Area was, at least in part, an attempt to prevent Chagossians from returning to their homeland.

Environmentalists, including our Patron Ben Fogle and Greenpeace, who had initially supported the measure condemned the manner of the creation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area when the full facts came to light.

 

Our Statement

This must draw a line under the failures of the past, and the UK Government must now focus on supporting Chagossians’ right to return to their homeland.

The Marine Protected Area, whatever its intention, does not prevent Chagossian return home. It does not apply to Diego Garcia at all and only starts three miles from land. An artisan fishing industry could then be sustained without significant alteration to the MPA.

More importantly, a Government-commissioned feasibility study has already found that return is entirely feasible in environmental, defence, social and economic terms. Notably it emphaised that Chagossians are deeply passionate about protecting the environment of their homeland and wished to be actively involved in conservation efforts upon their return.

The Government committed to making a decision on Chagossians’ right to return before the 2015 election and time is running out. We urge Parliamentarians to engage fully with all stakeholders to end decades of human rights abuse and remove a terrible stain on the UK’s character. This administration has a unique opportunity to deliver justice for Chagossians by ending over forty years of enforced exile and supporting return.

 

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.

46th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, CRG, Diego Garcia, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, USA, William Hague on January 15th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 46th meeting on 14 January.  Members considered the parliamentary questions and Answers since the last meeting on 2 December. They noted that the Leader of the House, William Hague, had been encouraging about the prospect of a debate following the publication of the final  KPMG feasibility study, which was expected on 30 January. It was agreed that the Chairman would write to Mr Hague to ask for a date for the debate in the first half of February.

The Group discussed progress on KPMG’s consultations with the Chagossians which had been concluded on 12 January. They looked forward to seeing the final report which was expected to take account of the Group’s meeting with KPMG on 15 December, the various submissions from stakeholders, commenting on the draft report, and the consultations with Chagossians in Mauritius, Seychelles, Manchester and Crawley.

Members discussed the UK/US discussions on the extension of the 1966 Agreement which had begun in December and stressed the importance of including resettlement in any new agreement. As discussed at their October meeting members felt that US cooperation and assistance was necessary and an obvious condition for extending the US presence on Diego Garcia. The Group agreed that the Chairman should write again to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee to request the FAC urgently to consider the KPMG report and conditions and modalities for extending the agreement, before the dissolution of Parliament on 30 March.

The Group considered legal developments. They noted that an application to the Supreme Court to review the 2008 House of Lords majority verdict had been made on 9 January, on behalf of CRG. They also noted that a request to appeal to the Supreme Court on the MPA case was imminent.  The Mauritian case against the MPA to an international Arbitral Tribunal was expected to be concluded by the end of February.

The next meeting will be on 25 February.