Henry Smith on Chagossian return and Magna Carta

Posted in Uncategorized on June 2nd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

henry smithThe recently re-elected Conservative MP for Crawley Henry Smith has made the first mention of Chagossians fight for justice in this Parliament. Speaking in a debate on the Britain in the World section of the Queen’s Speech debate, Mr Smith praises the Government’s commitment to existing British Overseas Territories and calls for the Government to “start to put right” the wrongs of Chagossians forced deportation and neglect in exile.

Noting the upcoming 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, he adds that “article 39 [of the Magna Carta] states no person shall be exiled without due process. I fear though this is what happened to the British citizens of the Chagos Islands.”

 

You can read Mr Smith’s full speech below, or online via theyworkforyou.com

 

Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, speaking at 8:19pm 1st June in the House of Commons

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for focusing on

the importance of the Commonwealth and the British overseas territories. It is very pleasing

to see the flags of the British overseas territories flying in Parliament Square today and I am

very proud to have been part of a Conservative-led Government in the last Parliament that put

the overseas territories at the forefront of our policy. The Government will, I hope, continue

to do so, whether that means ensuring that the people of Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands who

wish to remain British have that right defended, or investing in infrastructure such as the new

airstrip on St Helena.

This evening, I want to address some unfinished business with the overseas territories—that

is, the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory. About a decade ago, many Chagos

islanders came to Gatwick airport in the Crawley constituency and, I am pleased to say,

settled in Crawley. Crawley now has the largest Chagossian community anywhere in the

world. As the House will know, the Chagos islanders, British citizens, were exiled from their

homeland in 1968 by Orders in Council and by royal prerogative. The decision did not come

through Parliament. A great injustice was done at that time. Of course, we cannot turn back

time but we can start to right those wrongs.

I am delighted that the last Government initiated a feasibility study into the resettlement of

the British Indian Ocean Territory and I call on the Government to implement that study.

There are a number of pilots for the possibility of the Chagos islanders returning. The Chagos

islanders were removed from Diego Garcia and some of the outer islands, such as Salomon

and Peros Banhos, to make way for a US airbase. That airbase is and has been important for the security

of the democratic western world, both in the Soviet era and today with uncertainty in the

middle east, but that should not preclude those islanders being able to return to their

homeland should they so wish.

I am struck by the fact that in a fortnight’s time we will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the

signing of Magna Carta just a few miles upstream along the Thames. Article 39 states that no

person should be imprisoned or exiled without due process, yet I fear that that is what has

happened to the British citizens of the Chagos islands. Much has been said about why they

should not be able to return, including much about the environmental reasons, and on the

22nd of this month the Supreme Court will determine a case on their right of return. I do not

see any issue, however, with allowing subsistence living by a modest number of Chagos

islanders back on Diego Garcia and some of the outer islands if possible. I am pleased that

my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is in the Chamber

because I believe that we can use some of that budget to facilitate the return of the Chagos

islanders.

In this 800th year of Magna Carta I hope that the Government’s feasibility study on the right

of return to the Chagos islands can finally be implemented so we can right a wrong of almost

half a century.

"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.

Annual General Meeting Invitation

Posted in AGM on May 19th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – 1 Comment

 

Our AGM is now confirmed for 13th June 2015. It will begin at 1.45PM at The Rising Sun bar in Victoria, London. Hope to see you there and then!

UK Chagos Support Association would like to invite you to our Annual General Meeting on 13th June. The meeting will begin a 2:00PM and should be completed within 2 hours. Space is limited at the venue so please let us know if you want to come along.

The venue will a function room at The Rising Sun pub, a 10 minute walk from Victoria station. Detailed directions are below.

The meeting will be an opportunity to discuss what UK Chagos Support Association has done in the past year and plans to do in the next year. If there is anything you would like to discuss, please let us know and we may be able to add it to the formal agenda. Otherwise, feel free to come along and ask questions.

As you may know, several committee members are resigning this year so please do consider standing for the committee. It is not necessarily a time-consuming role, rather committee members decide upon major spending decisions and the general direction of our work.

If you have any questions about the role of the committee or anything else about the AGM, do ask at any point. Contact details are below. Hope to see you there!

Directions

(follow the blue dotted line for the simplest route)

Victoria is the closest rail and underground station. The Rising Sun is a 10 minute walk from Victoria Station. Walk straight up Buckingham Palace Bridge Road, then cross the road to continue onto Ebury Bridge Road. You should pass Victoria Place Shopping Centre and Victoria Coach Station on the way. The pub will be on the right side of the road.

If you need help finding the place on the day, give us a ring on 07474385386.

The 2015 Election: What impact for Chagossians?

Posted in APPG, Conservative, Election 2015, Labour, Parliament, SDLP, SNP on May 17th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

electionWhat does the election mean for the Chagossian fight for justice?

In the many hours of media reaction to the recent UK election, this is probably not a question you have heard answered, or even asked.

The fight for Chagossian justice is of course beyond narrow party politics. It is a simple question of right and wrong which any Parliamentarian from UKIP to Green, DUP to Plaid Cymru, should be able to see requires immediate resolution. Remember to write to your newly elected or re-elected MP asking them to do so.

UK Chagos Support Association does not have any party political allegiance. We will work with anyone to finally see justice done and a stain on the nation’s character removed.

With a decision on return due in the near future, however, it is important who is Parliament to fight for justice, and indeed who will be making the decisions. So let’s see how things are shaping up.

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Foreign Office Ministers

There haven’t been many changes in the Foreign Office, which will make a final decision on whether to support Chagossian return. Even prior to the election, the Foreign Office was entirely populated by Conservative Party Ministers.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond remains in his post, as does the Junior Minister with responsibility for Overseas Territories (including the Chagos Islands) James Duddridge MP. Hugo Swire MP, who has also dealt with Chagos related issues in Parliament, also retains his role in the Foreign Office.

With no changes in personnel, there can be no excuse for any delay on delivering a positive decision on return in the very near future.

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

Shadow Foreign Office Ministers

With the Labour Party about to conduct a leadership election, their Shadow Cabinet is subject to change in the immediate future.

Previous Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander lost his seat at the election. Under Acting Party Leader Harriet Harman, Mr Alexander has been replaced by Hiliary Benn. Mr Benn has made no public comment on the Chagossian situation that we are aware of, although as a former Department for International Development Minister he has extensive experience supporting projects in Overseas Territories.

It is also worth remembering Ms Harman, in a letter to one of our supporters shortly prior to the election, struck a positive note about the potential to resolve the decades of injustice suffered by Chagossians. We hope she can use her time as head of Her Majesty’s Opposition to ensure the UK finally lives up to its legal and moral obligations to the Chagossian people. Labour Party supporters might even consider asking the various candidates what they would do to deliver justice.

SNP Annual ConferenceOther Parties and the Chagossian Cause

One of the big stories of the election was the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), with the party gaining almost 50 seats and becoming the third largest party in Parliament. At their last conference, the SNP pledged to act to support Chagossian return, so we are look forward to working with them to make this a reality.

The new SNP spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, high-profile former leader Alex Salmond, has spoken eloquently in Parliament previously about the injustices suffered across decades by Chagossians. We certainly hope in this new role he can finally give the Chagossian cause the national attention it deserves.

The other parties which have formally offered support to the Chagossian cause-the Green Party and the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) have retained their MPs (one and three respectively).

portThe All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands

Thankfully the Chagossian cause has supporters across all political parties in Westminster. Since 2008 some of the most strident advocates for justice have worked in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands.

Most members of the Group retained their seats in the election. Liberal Democrat Andrew George, the group’s Treasurer and Secretary, was not however returned to Parliament. Nor was former Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz who was a member of the group. We thank both for their years of support for the Chagossian cause.

The APPG is likely to formally meet for the first time in early June. If any MPs are interested in joining they can contact voluntary Group Coordinator David Snoxell at drsnoxell@gmail.com.

On any other issues MPs are welcome to contact ourselves for further information on how they can help make history in the next Parliament by delivering Chagossian justice.

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

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

Click to read Hersh’s full essay containing the allegations

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

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

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

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

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

Let Us Return: New Short Film on Chagossian Exile

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – 3 Comments

Let Us Return is a fantastic new film by UK film-maker Andy Marsh. In fifteen minutes, a range of Chagossian voices tell their story in their own words. Watch it below and tell us what you think.