June 2012 update

QUEEN’S SPEECH HOUSE OF LORDS DEBATE

Six days into the House of Lords Queen’s Speech debate, Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury made the following address to peers on 17th May 2012 regarding the European Court of Human Rights judgment which is anticipated later this year:

 

“Finally, on the Chagos Islands, the European court will soon declare on the admissibility of the islanders’ claim for the right of return to the outer islands. The Foreign Secretary was in favour of a “just and fair settlement” when he was in opposition, but now he says that the FCO’s policy is not to be changed until after the Strasbourg court gives its decision. Meanwhile, the judgment is expected imminently in the judicial review proceedings against the Foreign Office in regard to the marine protected area. Colin Roberts, then FCO director of overseas territories, told US embassy political counsellor Richard Mills on 12 May 2009 that- ‘establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents’. 

 

According to the Government’s thinking on the reserve, as Mr Roberts put it, ‘there would be ‘no..Man Fridays’ on the BIOT’s uninhabited islands’.  This was the real reason for creating the MPA. I ask my noble friend whether the FCO’s position can be reviewed now that its motive has been exposed and whether it will now reconsider settling out of court rather than persisting with expensive trials on which it has already spent over £3 million-not counting the cost of the Civil Service and Treasury solicitors-in which its chances of success must be reduced?”

 

We agree Lord Avebury.  We can find no logical reason to continue this shameful charade.  Perhaps you could repeat these sentiments to some of your party colleagues “in that other place” and demand that the foreign office brings to an end this legal action which is tarnishing the name of the UK around the world.

 

CAMERON MEETS RAMGOOLAM DURING HISTORIC LONDON TALKS

It is difficult not to get a tiny bit excited about this news, even if we are all battle hardened by now to know that in this struggle, nothing is ever what it seems.  During the recent Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the British Prime Minister David Cameron met his Mauritian counterpart Navin Ramgoolam in Downing Street for the first talks on the issue in three decades.  The Guardian newspaper picks up the story:

 

Ramgoolam is to report on his meeting with Cameron – the first between prime ministers of the two countries for 30 years – to the Mauritian parliament on Tuesday when he is expected to questioned about the nature of any commitment he got from Cameron.

Downing Street and the Foreign Office would not comment on the talks. Foreign Office officials have been accused of undermining previous British ministerial promises.

 

David Snoxell, a former UK high commissioner to Mauritius and now the co-ordinator of parliament’s all-party Chagos Islands group, said: ‘This was a unique opportunity for both sides to agree a way out of the Chagos maelstrom, which has for decades dogged UK-Mauritius relations. It is heartening that talks have been agreed but they would be without substance unless sovereignty, Chagossian return and the marine protected area are included.’”

 

Geoffrey Robertson called on the British government to end the “sordid treatment of the Chagossian people” during his piece:

 

“That island has been used as a transit to torture. It is widely surmised that US naval vessels berthed there have been one location for the waterboarding of terrorist suspects. In 2008 the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, was forced to admit to parliament (it had previously been denied) that the base had been used at least twice by the Americans for illegal rendition. Even this admission, however, was incomplete: it is now clear from documents found in the Libyan foreign ministry that MI6 arranged for an anti-Gaddafi dissident to be “rendered” through Diego Garcia to torture in Tripoli in 2004. This means the UK has not merely turned a blind eye to the unlawful use of the island by the US. In law it is as guilty as any landlord who knowingly permits his premises to be used for criminal purposes by his tenant – all the more so when he joins in committing the crime.”

Sean Carey, writing in the Guardian, was quietly optimistic that the news was a positive development and a sign of a change of direction:

 

“David Cameron would do well to consider, then, whether the UK might be better to have Mauritius as a partner rather than an enemy. For strategic reasons, Port Louis has already indicated that the return of the Chagos archipelago to its control will not impact on the use of the Diego Garcia base. This would secure its future, rather than to leaving it to chance, with the risk that something might go badly wrong for western interests in the Indian Ocean because of the rivalry between China and India.

The UK has a golden opportunity based on realpolitik, but also by supporting human rights and international law, to restore the Chagos archipelago to its rightful owners: the islanders who once possessed their homes and land by virtue of customary title, and Mauritius from which it was illegally excised. Harold Macmillan, the great Tory pragmatist and trend spotter, would surely approve.”

But it is David Snoxell’s comments which highlight a lot of the questions that followed the discussion around the meeting.  The Mauritian left-wing think-tank, Lalit, writing in L’express newspaper, was especially damning this week:

 

“All this to say that LALIT agrees with Mauritius starting talks at Ministerial level between UK and Mauritius as decided, and even with Mauritius being present at UK-US negotiations, but only on two conditions. Firstly, as the Opposition Leader warned, it is essential to avoid any possibility of recognizing the existence of the illegal “BIOT’. Secondly, it is essential to call for a time-table for base closure at these meetings.

We again call on the Prime Minister to at once put an end to his Government’s secretive attitude towards its strategy on this issue. When confronting the powerful, it is essential to make public one’s strategy, so that one can build public support in Mauritius and abroad.”

 

It is also worth noting that a number of Chagossians have also expressed concerns that they are not being included in the process.  We do not wish to appear to be unnecessarily pessimistic, but we have been led down a number of cul-de-sac’s over the last decade.  It is right that any encouraging ongoing processes are treated with caution.

 

 

 

NEW CHAGOS E-PETITION

A brand new E-Petition has been launched with the lofty ambition of attaining 100,000 signatures within the next 12 months.  The petition is open to residents of the UK only but if you live abroad but know people in the UK, ask them to sign on your behalf.  The petition states:

We the undersigned call upon the British Government to work with the US Government to allow the banished Chagossian people to return home immediately. Several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are violated every day. The indigenous Chagossian people have suffered for over 45 years. They must be allowed to return to their homeland, the Chagos Islands, without further delay.

Let’s get signing everyone! The petition can be found here:

 

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/34282

 

NEWS FROM THE GROUPS

Pierre Prosper, the acting chairman, informs us that the Chagossians Comitte of Seychelles held a meeting on the 4th June and are currently planning their next meeting which will lead to the election of committee members.  The group will also discuss current issues for Chagossians based on the islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OLIVIER BANCOULT SPEECH TO PAN AFRICAN PARLIAMENT MAY 2012

Chagos Refugee Group Chairman Olivier Bancoult made a rousing speech to the Pan African Parliament in Midrand, South Africa last month.

 

“The Universal Declaration on Human Rights was drafted in 1949 and 17 years later the Chagossians are being described in such derogatory terms. In 2010, 51 years later after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted, again the UK, without the slightest consideration to our rights, our hopes and last but not the least to our dignity, declared the Islands a Marine Protected Area! Once more, leaked diplomatic cables revealed that this initiative was taken solely to prevent us from returning to our home.

 

 

I am but a humble man who has been given the opportunity to address you honourable gentlemen and yet, here we all are, united by the spirit of brotherhood, determined to forestall human rights violations. Africa should proudly and fearlessly stand up for its people. Other countries may self proclaimed themselves as the pioneers of human rights but every single person of African descent knows that we are the real advocates of human rights. The Banjul Charter on Human Rights that came into force on the 21st of October 1986, is proof of our commitment but more importantly of our resilience despite of decades of oppressions. We have the opportunity to teach self proclaimed pioneers of human rights how far and to what extent they should put into practice what they preach! Let us not be afraid!

 

We the Chagossians are fearless, committed and we will not give up our struggle until we have reached our goal. We are unstoppable. I sincerely and genuinely believe that we have inherited this ‘fighters’ spirits’ from our African legacy!  I make an appeal to each and every person present today, to stand up to our cause.”

 

A fantastic speech by the CRG chairman which we all hope will lead to more African states uniting in this battle against colonial domination.  Over to you Africa…

 

CHAGOS ISLANDERS PLIGHT MAKES BEN FOGLE ASHAMED TO BE BRITISH

UKChSA patron and TV Celebrity Ben Fogle wrote an article which appeared in The Guardian newspaper in May in which he described the shame he felt to be British when recalled the sorry tale of the Chagos Islanders:

“Last year I went to a cultural day in Crawley library. Hundreds of Chagossians attended with photos, paintings, diaries and food that represented their dying culture.

‘We have one dying wish,’ said an elderly Chagossian, still traumatised by her forced exile, ‘to set foot on my island and clear my husband’s grave. Then I can die happy.’

As we have seen in recent years, revolution comes from the people, for the people. It only takes a few of us to create a tide of change.”

We at the UKChSA agree with Ben but would add that the crimes committed against the Chagossian population since the 1960s are not only an embarrassment to anyone of British origin, they should make every single one of us ashamed to be a part of the human race.  How this appalling, cruel and degrading treatment of an indigenous population has been allowed to continue is, as John Pilger once memorably stated, a crime against humanity.

 

CONSERVATIONISTS CONDEMN EXILE OF CHAGOSSIANS FOR MARINE RESERVE

There is clearly a wind of change sweeping through the environmental lobby groups, as organisations lined up in The Guardian to condemn the exile of the Chagossian community as part of the proposals for the Marine Protection Authority.

 

“Greenpeace strengthened calls for the human rights of the Chagossians to be respected. ‘The Chagossian people have suffered, and continue to suffer, a huge violation of their human rights. It is completely within the powers of the UK government to decide to right the historic wrong and agree for the right of the return to the Chagossian people and commit to the development of a joint management plan for the marine reserve than includes the zoning of some areas to enable sustainable subsistence fishing,’ said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, at the Oxford Amnesty Lectures this month.”

This epic battle for justice and human rights has arrived at many watershed moments during the history of this support group, but one cannot help thinking that this may prove to yet be one of the more significant.  It is important to remember as well that Greenpeace were not the only ecological pressure group supporting the “full no take proposal”, even if they were the most prominent.  We shall of course wait and see, sadly this story is riddled with moments of aspiring hopes only to be dashed.  But the unraveling of the foundations on which the marine area was established can surely only be a good thing for everyone connected to this cause.

MARINE PROTECTION AREA OVER 17% LARGER THAN THOUGHT

Labour Baroness Whitaker submitted the following written question on the 11th June:

 

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Howell of Guildford on 27 March (WA 240) indicating that there were “no plans to change the British Indian Ocean Territory marine protected area” and that the area was “fully compatible with United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea obligations”, what are the grounds on which there was announced on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Overseas Territories website as last amended on 12 April an increase of the size of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Marine Protected Area from 544,000 square kilometres to 640,000 square kilometres; and whether amended outer limit lines of the BIOT Fisheries (Conservation and Management) Zone 1991 and the BIOT Environment (Protection and Preservation) Zone 2003 had accordingly been communicated to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as required by Article 75 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

 

The Conservative Lord Howell of Guildford, Foreign Office Minister of State, submitted the following reply:

 

“Due to a clerical error, the size of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Marine Protected Area was incorrectly stated on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website. This was corrected in April 2012 when the mistake was realised. The outer limits of the BIOT Fisheries (Conservation and Management) Zone 1991 and the BIOT Environment (protection and Preservation) Zone 2003 have not changed.”

 

Baroness Whitaker was not alone in being confused by this as the MPA News (published by Marine Affairs Research and Education) reports:

 

UK recalculates Chagos MPA size; finds it is 100,000 km2 larger than announced
You know your MPA is big when the officially announced size is off by 100,000 km2 and no one catches the mistake for two years. The Chagos Marine Protected Area has been widely reported —including by the UK Government, which designated it in April 2010 — to be 544,000 km2 in size. But a reassessment by the UK Hydrographic Office this year has placed the correct figure at roughly 640,000 km2, more than 17% larger than previously estimated. According to UK officials, the origin of the prior miscalculation remains unclear. MPA News suspects it was an error of exclusion: the MPA covers both the EEZ and territorial sea of the Chagos Archipelago, but the Government’s original calculation appears to have included only the EEZ area.

 

In our May-June 2010 issue, MPA News reported the size of the Chagos Marine Protected Area as 636,600 km2, based on our summation of the EEZ and territorial sea. Unfortunately we changed our reporting of the MPA’s area to 544,000 km2 in later issues (MPA News 12:3 and 13:2) to match government reports.

Any comment from UKChSA on the reliability of Government data with regard to Chagos, MPAs, resettlement etc. is probably superfluous – supporters can supply their own!

DAVID CAMERON LETTER

One of our supporters Michael Green wrote a very eye-catching letter to the British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month, citing the all too common parallels with the Falkland Islands:

“I read today your warm and sympathetic words for the inhabitants of the Falklands Islands in offering them this country’s unwavering support in order that they may live in peace and freedom. There has indeed been a British settlement on those islands for 170 years. And as you say, generations of islanders have striven hard to secure a prosperous future for their children. Your commitment to stand up for the Falkland Islanders in the future as in the past must give them great comfort.

 

A pity then that your government and its predecessors have dealt with the inhabitants of another archipelago in a completely different way.  These islands have belonged to Britain even longer and were settled at least 25 years before the Falklands. I refer to the Chagos Islands.

 

In the 1960s, our “friends”, the Americans, wanted to establish a huge military base in the Indian Ocean. Britain offered Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands. The fact that there was a population of over 2,000 people who were no doubt striving hard to secure a prosperous future for their children, was given no consideration. Unlike the Falkland Islanders, most of whom are of British descent, the Chagossians are a mix of African (freed slaves), Indian and Malay. Their right to live in the country of their birth, to be supported by the colonial power which owned their homeland was totally disregarded. The way these people were treated was totally shameless, indeed criminal.

 

Mrs Thatcher, whom I believe you admire, sent warships to the South Atlantic to defend the Falklands Islanders and their home. The exact opposite was the lot of the Chagossians. Agents of the British government told them lies, intimidated and physically maltreated them, killed their stock and their dogs, and forcibly evicted them – on British warships. For the past 45 years they have lived in shanty-town refugee camps in Mauritius and the Seychelles.

 

I consider the treatment of these people to be one of the most appalling actions ever taken by a British government and certainly the worst in my lifetime. I am ashamed of my country. It is probably too late to give the Chagossians back what they have lost but don’t you think that as heirs of this repellent behaviour and this situation you have some responsibility to make amends as best you can?”

 

We will as always keep you informed should Michael get a reply, although predictably we will not be holding our breath.  Nonetheless it was an outstanding contribution from Michael, very relevant highlighting the inconsistencies between the Falklands and the Chagos Islands.  In light of recent news events at the G20, it is perhaps time for all of us supporters to raise these points slightly more vocally.

 

Sticking with the letters theme, our patron, Philippa Gregory wrote to the Prime Ministers of Mauritius and Britain to request that there be Chagossian representation during the talks planned between Mr Cameron and Mr Ramgoolam.  As yet she has not received a reply, but again we will keep you informed of any response in the weeks to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMPORTANT APPEAL FROM OUR TREASURER

We have a special appeal from our treasurer this month, Peri Batliwala, regarding our ability to function as an organisation.  We need to remind everyone that if money is received for a project or specific request, we do request a receipt in order to comply with our accounting responsibilities as a donor.  It would also be very helpful if recipiants could provide photographic evidence and/or a form of written feedback.  In doing so we can report on how this money is being used to help Chagossians right here in the UK.  This in turn means we can include it in our newsletters! And of course that means that all of our fantastic supporters can be kept up to date on how the donations are being used to good effect.  So come on guys, help us to help you and in doing so, you will make the wonderful Peri’s life a lot easier too. Merci beaucoup!

 

MEDIA

From Private Eye: Nick Clegg’s appearance on ITV’s new current affairs discussion show ‘The Agenda’ in March was thrown into doubt at the last minute when the deputy prime minister objected to the presence of one of his fellow guests. A rival politician? An off-message lobby journo? No. The Lib Dem leader was too scared to appear opposite historical novelist Philippa Gregory, author of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, because he was “not sure of her politics”. Gregory was duly dropped from the programme and Clegg faced off against Mariella Frostrup instead.

Barbara Tindall had an email in a subsequent Private Eye: It is not surprising that Nick Clegg did not want to face Philippa Gregory on ‘The Agenda’ and I don’t think his excuse that ‘he was not sure of her politics’ is the real reason.

Philippa Gregory (along with Ben Fogle) are patrons of the UK Chagos Support Association and, maybe, Ms Gregory would have liked to ask Nick Clegg why, before the election, he said ‘The government has a responsibility to allow these people to return’ and is now shirking that responsibility. The plight of the Chagossians has brought shame on this country for over 40 years and it is time that justice was done and that these people be given the right to return to their homeland.

NOT VERY RELEVANT BUT INTERESTING.

It would appear that Henry Bellingham MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the FCO (often quoted in Update answering Parliamentary Questions) has an interesting ancestor – John Bellingham, the man who shot and killed the British prime Minister, Spencer Percival, two centuries ago.

In a BBC interview, Mr. Bellingham said:  I wouldn’t bring it up in conversation that I’m a descendant – or a near descendant – of a murderer of a prime minister. But I don’t try to deny it.

After a series of disasters in his life, John Bellingham was trying to get compensation from the UK Government. He wrote to the foreign secretary and frequently visited Parliament to try to persuade ministers, including Perceval, to take up his case.

Henry Bellingham said: I think Whitehall was even more indolent in replying to letters than it is now. He was being given the run-around by government departments. He began appearing in the lobby. He made a habit of waiting there and lobbying different ministers. He certainly lobbied the prime minister on a number of occasions and demanded a chat with him. The prime minister ignored him completely and was withdrawn, and even offensive. It was about the fifth occasion on which he had approached him when the prime minister told him to take a running jump, so he drew the gun and shot him dead.

In his defence, John Bellingham said Recollect that my family was ruined and myself destroyed, merely because it was Mr Perceval’s pleasure that justice should not be granted.’

This Association wonders how many Chagossian lives have been ruined and families destroyed because the current, and previous governments, have decided that justice should not be granted?