Footage of life on Diego Garcia: “A few war-time memories”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28th, 2015 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Watch this amazing footage of Chagossians enjoying life in their homeland back in 1945. Decorated Second World War veteran John Loader, who witnessed their thriving society first hand, narrates and delivers a powerful rallying call for us all to back Chagossians’ right to go home. Right now is the best chance to make this a reality in decades: support the campaign by donating, signing the petition, writing to your MP or sharing this on social media (see below).

John spent time stationed on Diego Garcia back in 1945, long before a military base was established on the island.  During his time there he developed a great respect for Chagossian society and watched with horror twenty years later as Chagossians were, as he puts it, “forced from their idyllic island into abject poverty and squalor in a foreign land.”

dg 45 dg 45We’ll be uploading John’s full film over the weekend. It is an utterly fascinating and compelling reminder of the distinct and vibrant society that existed on the Chagos Islands before it was brutally dismantled by the UK and US Governments. Many thanks to John, now in his nineties but still a committed Chagossian campaigner, and his son-in-law Alan Donaldson for their permission to use his work.

Until then, as John notes in the above clip, Chagossians are fellow British citizens and it is our duty to stand up for their right to return home. Please consider making a donation to support our campaign. You can also sign the petition, write to your MP or see our ‘Return 2015′ section for more details.

Ocean 71 Article: “Heaven in Chagos Hell”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 24th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

house dgOcean 71, an online investigative magazine specialising in the marine environment has published a major piece on the Chagossian fight for justice. Entitled “Hell in the Chagos Heaven,” It can be read here.

The work weaves beautifully the personal story of Chagossian activist Bernadette Dugasse’s brief visit back to her island home several years ago, the dreadful history of human rights abuse suffered by Chagossians and the current fight for permanent resettlement.

At the conclusion of the work, the author describes the current battle as a “David against Goliath” struggle. Perhaps this sounds overly pessimistic, but let’s remember who won that fight.

 

More calls for a full debate on report into Chagossian Resettlement

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

henry smithHenry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, has called for a full Parliamentary debate on a report due to be published next week into Chagossian resettlement. This follows a similar intervention from Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Chair Jeremy Corbyn earlier this week.

In his answer Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire confirms the report will be published “by the end of the month” and will be released by the Government “shortly thereafter.” On the question of a debate, he states that “if the Speaker agrees to a debate, the Government will be pleased to participate.”

You can watch their short exchange below via Mr Smith’s Youtube channel.

 

‘Returning Home’ Photography Competition

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

We are delighted to officially announce the opening of  our Return 2015 Photography Competition, which will both raise awareness of the Chagossian fight for justice and showcase the talents of our supporters. The theme is, naturally enough, “Returning Home.” We are happy for you to be as liberal as you like interpreting this; it may be something directly inspired by the Chagossians people’s struggle or a more personal reflection on the nature of ‘going home’ in everyday life.

photoSo we can use the material as part of our campaign, we are going to set a fairly short deadline on this of February 16th. This gives you just under a month to submit something to us at ukchagos@gmail.com.  Please include a short explanation of your work with your submission.

Entry is free, though we would appreciate a small donation of £5 for our campaign and community work (whether you pay or not will though be irrelevant to our decision on winners).  All are welcome to enter, from professionals to enthusiastic point-and-clickers.

Owing to our lack of resources, we can’t I’m afraid offer a cash prize. We are though tentatively planning an event for February at which you would be presented with a certificate. We will also of course be very vocal in promoting your piece to our supporters, the media and wider world.

Looking forward to seeing your submissions and please do share this around; let’s get as many people thinking, talking and snapping about the Chagossian fight for return as possible!

In Parliament: Jeremy Corbyn on Feasability Study and Chagos Trip

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Last week Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Chair Jeremy Corbyn brought two issues Chagossians care deeply about to the floor of the House of Commons; the feasibility study into return and trips back to the islands for Chagossians. Little hint was offered on how the Government will react to the study. Confirmation was though provided regarding the cancellation of a Government funded trip for Chagossians to the islands. The full text of these questions can be found below our summary, or in the links. Do please comment with your thoughts.

Jeremy-Corbyn-imageFirstly, Mr Corbyn questioned how the Government planned to react to the publication of the final version of KPMG’s report into Chagossian return. Specifically he queried if an official statement would be made by Government, and called for a “full debate” before the end of this Parliament.

In response, Leader of the House William Hague said it was “up to the Foreign Office” how they chose to respond to the report. He did though note the “considerable interest” in Parliament.  Mr Hague also referenced his own role is setting up the study in his previous position as Foreign Secretary.

Our Analysis: Having a full debate in Parliament is absolutely vital. Previously decisions about the Chagos Islands have been taken in a truly anti-democratic fashion, via Royal edict or deliberately obscure Government order. It would be a national disgrace if yet again Parliament was not afforded the opportunity to at least consider providing Chagossians with a long overdue measure of justice.

On a wholly different matter earlier in the week, Mr Corbyn asked in a written question why Zoological Society of London scientists had been permitted to go to the Chagos Islands.

Responding for the Government, Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire stated that ZSL scientists were conducting observations “ecology within BIOT’s marine protected area.”

In a separate question tabled the same day, Mr Corbyn asked “what steps are being taken to ensure that the Chagossians are taken to the Chagos Islands as soon as possible, since the cancellation by his Department of their scheduled annual trip in November 2014.”

Replying, the Minister attributed the cancellation of what is supposed to be an annual event to a “mechanical failure” with a ship intended to be used in the trip.  A trip for a small group of UK Chagossians would be organised, he added, in April. He also confirmed that his department was “discussing” the possibility of using funds intended for cancelled trips to support Chagossian community projects.

You can find the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s questions below.

 

Feasibility Study

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): At the end of this month, the Foreign Office will receive a copy of the consultant’s report on the feasibility of the Chagos islanders returning to their homeland from which they were disgracefully removed many decades ago. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is the case, that there will be an imminent statement from the Foreign Office shortly after the report is received and that there will be an opportunity before the end of this Parliament for a full debate on the situation facing the Chagos islanders and the assertion of their right to return to the islands from which they were so wrongly removed all those decades ago.

WilliamHague: The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing campaigner on this issue and I had discussions with him when I was Foreign Secretary. Indeed it was my decision as Foreign Secretary to set up this further feasibility study about the Chagos islands. It has always been intended that it would report at the beginning of this year; in other words, very soon. He will have to ask a Foreign Office Minister specifically about the Department’s approach. It is Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday, so he might have an opportunity to do so then, but I will remind the FCO that there is considerable interest in the House as to how the report will be handled and the FCO response to it.

 

Cancelled Chagos Trip

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what steps are being taken to ensure that the Chagossians are taken to the Chagos Islands as soon as possible, since the cancellation by his Department of their scheduled annual trip in November 2014.

 

Hugo Swire: We are committed to the Chagossians visiting the British Indian Ocean Territory in April 2015. BIOT Administration officials judge that this is the earliest time that safety concerns caused by mechanical problems on board the BIOT Administration’s vessel will be satisfactorily addressed, and the logistics of such a complex trip completed. Additionally, the community leaders are working with us to reallocate the funds set aside for the postponed 2014 visit to community projects.

ZSL Chagos Trip

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when and for what reasons permission was given to representatives of the Zoological Society of London to travel to the Chagos Islands.
Hugo Swire: On 14 October 2014, the Administration of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) granted permission for a consortium of scientists, led by representatives of the Zoological Society of London, to undertake an expedition to BIOT (which includes the Chagos Archipelago) in January 2015. The purpose of this expedition, now underway, is to conduct observations on the pelagic ecology within BIOT’s marine protected area. The BIOT Administration is committed to promoting research that increases scientific understanding and informs global conservation efforts, and has identified the documentation of pelagic ecosystems as a priority.

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.

Now is the Government’s chance to keep its Chagossian promise

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, Diego Garcia, FCO, Feasability Study, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, UN, USA, William Hague on January 7th, 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 for conservativehome David Snoxell, Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, reviews progress on the pre-election commitment given by William Hague in a letter to a member of the public in March 2010

“I can assure you that if elected to serve as the next British Government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long standing dispute”.

A feasibility study on resettlement of the Chagos Islands is due to be published at the end of January 2015 and Snoxell acknowledges this important step forward, highlighting how FCO arguments against resettlement have been demolished by the report. However, he expresses concern about the high resettlement costings presented and questions the validity of values and calculations used. He also indicates the willingness of a number of other bodies, including the EU, to consider contributing to the costs of resettlement. He finishes by emphasising the necessity for a parliamentary debate before any ministerial decision is taken and notes that 2015 would be a symbolic year to end the forced exile of the Chagossian people.

Obviously, to be of any use, a debate should precede ministerial decisions on the report. So the timetable is pointing towards a debate in the first half of February, followed by a decision on resettlement in March, just in time for the election. The APPG proposal is a compromise, the lowest common denominator, which all “stakeholders” – the Chagossian groups and their worldwide support network, FCO officials, conservationists, scientists, human rights advocates and the US – should be able to accept.

Sadly, the number of Chagossians who were expelled between 1968-73 continues to diminish. 2015 will be the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of BIOT and the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta which provides that no “free man” shall be exiled. There could be no better way of celebrating the freedoms and the Rule of Law enshrined in Magna Carta than by allowing the Chagossians, who are also British, to return home.

This would be welcomed by the UN, African Union, Commonwealth and international community, and would strengthen the credibility of the UK’s promotion of international human rights.

Ben Fogle Interview: “Those Islands can be Resettled.”

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Diego Garcia, Feasability Study, Parliament on December 27th, 2014 by Robert Bain – 4 Comments

During an impassioned interview with George Galloway MP  and Gayatri Pertiwi, Adventurer and long-time Chagossian advocate Ben Fogle has told the nation that “those Islands can be Resettled” Watch the full interview below and then sign the petition

Ben’s been a prominent activist for Chagossians for many years; visit his website here and follow him on Twitter.

Remarking on the current resettlement campaign, he called on MPs, including the programme host and Respect Party MP George Galloway, to ensure Chagossians succeeded in their campaign to return home. Agreeing that a recent investigative study into the feasibility of return was “relatively positive,” he does though note that the cost estimates in the KPMG report (read it and our initial response here) seemed overly high. He suggested that the scale of infrastructure included in cost estimates may be excessive for the actual needs of a small initial Chagossian population, a point made by ourselves and other Chagossian groups.

Again recalling his visit to the Chagos Islands, Ben argues that civilians and military personnel did though already live in good conditions on Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia would then, he suggests,  be the “natural place to begin reinhabitation of the islands.”

As a “self-confessed environmentalist,” Ben also speaks of his regret in supporting the Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos Islands created in 2010. As has elsewhere been confirmed by Wikileaks releases, Ben notes that the MPA was created in large part to prevent Chagossian return. Ben was written about the issue elsewhere previously.

In a resettled Chagossian society, however, Ben makes the extremely valid point that Chagossians could play a vital role employed as environmental wardens protecting the unique environment of their homeland.

Elsewhere in the interview, Ben gives an overview of the history of the islands. He speaks about the “secretive” conditions of the British Indian Ocean Territory’s (the official UK Government name for The Chagos Islands) creation. He also addresses the frustrating lack of publicity that has been afforded the Chagossian struggle in the decades since. The revelations that pet dogs had been killed, he notes, attracted more attention than the forcible deportation of their owners.

Contrasting the popular outrage in defence of the Falkland Islanders in the 1980s and the general ignorance of the Chagossian people’s plight, Ben suggests that the reason for the difference in these British citizens treatment is mainly “skin colour.”

Of course coming in the week after the publication of a Senate report into CIA torture, Ben was also asked about persistent rumours around the role of the Diego Garcia in supporting ‘rendition’ flights. Although he admits, like everyone else, he does not know exactly what role Diego Garcia played in the now admitted US programme of rendition and torture, he argues that whatever happens on the Islands, the UK is “complicit” owing to the agreement allowing the US to use Diego  Garcia, which remains sovereign territory of the UK.

The UK Government continue to deny Diego Garcia supported any rendition flights beyond two confirmed instances in 2002. Although as Mr Galloway notes, even these instances were previously denied until 2008.

Concluding the interview, Ben confirms that Chagossians would be happy to share the base with the American military and would support the extension of the agreement on the US use of the islands, provided the US in turn support Chagossian resettlement.

Do watch the full interview if you can; Ben speaks with great passion and authority.

Diego Garcia and the US Senate Torture Report: Media Round Up

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

It can be a cause of some frustration amongst Chagossians and their allies that human rights abuses in Diego Garcia only attract serious media attention in relation to allegations of its use in ‘rendition’ flights. The decades of human rights abuse suffered by thousands of Chagossians rarely gets anything like the attention, despite being openly admitted by all involved. (To help us campaign and raise awareness, please consider donating  or signing the petition [see sidebar for both])

Nevertheless, Chagossians rightly take a concerned interest in any allegations their homeland is hosting further abuse. Indeed, as the Chagos Islands remain a British Overseas Territory, no British citizen should be comfortable with suggestions made in some quarters over the weekend about the usage of Diego Garcia military facilities.

Chagossians are confident they could live alongside a continuing US military facility, but US support for Chagossian resettlement must be a condition of an extension of the US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia, which expires in 2016.

Like the rest of the world, we can not say anything on the truth of some of the below allegations. This is, however, how the issue has been covered in the UK press.

The recent spike in interest in US-operated military facilities on Diego Garica comes after a the publication of a US Senate report into the use of torture by US intelligence agencies over the past fifteen years. (link to CNN coverage and full report) Diego Garcia, and the work of British intelligence services generally, was notable by its absence. The Telegraph noted that pages and “names of countries,” had though been “redacted”, whilst referencing suspicions Diego Garcia may have been used as “Black Site” for detention, transfer of detainees and even torture.

A Guardian article similarly acknowledged these allegations, without endorsing them, which largely stem from an Al-Jazeera America report earlier this year. The piece quoted an anonymous source who predicted that an unredacted Senate report would reveal a so-called “black site” was operated in Diego Garcia with the full cooperation of the British Government.

The case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the Libyan dissident who claims to have been transited through Diego Garcia whilst undergoing CIA torture, has also been referenced in media reaction to the report, including an article by prominent human rights lawyer Amrit Singh.

Calls for further action have come from a variety of sources. Phillipe Sands QC, writing in the Daily Mail, has called for a “full judicial inquiry.” In his piece he forwards that the complete absence of Diego Garcia from the report suggests that “officials may have taken steps to remove anything that would blemish our reputation.”

Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, meanwhile, has argued that he will ensure the Intelligence and Security Committee has the powers to investigate the matter fully. RT, which has followed the developments of the story closely, has noted that former Prime Minister Tony Blair may be made answer questions about Deigo Garcia as part of the Committee’s inquiry.

Controversy has also broken out over whether the UK had requested these redactions, especially concerning Diego Garcia. Home Secretary Teresa May stated that she did not.  It has been admitted previously, however, that UK officals and representatives met members of US Senate Committee in relation, and that some redactions were made on “national security grounds.”

We’ll continue to follow coverage of the story as it develops. Hopefully it focus the national conversation on the future of the islands.

 

The history of UK and US intervention in the Chagos Archipelago has thus far generated nothing but bad news. Let’s hope next year positive headlines are made as the Government finally decides to grant Chagossians a measure of justice after decades of suffering.

 

 

Parliamentary debate on feasability study urged

Posted in Feasability Study, Parliament, resettlement, William Hague on December 5th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

The Leader of the House of Commons, William Hague MP, gave a positive reaction to a request from Henry Smith MP for a parliamentary debate on the forthcoming report of a feasibility study into resettlement of the Chagos Islands to take place in January, stating:

I am sure that the House will want to discuss that in some way. Until we have seen the feasibility study and the timing of its publication, we cannot make any decisions on it. However, I take my hon. Friend’s request as an early bid. I set up the feasibility study when I was Foreign Secretary and, like him, am looking forward to seeing its results. We are committed to ensuring that the review of any potential for resettlement is as transparent and inclusive as possible. I hope that will be welcomed by the many people of Chagossian heritage and origin who live in his constituency.