March 2012 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 28th meeting on 14 March 2012.

The Group discussed the reactions to its proposal, made at the last meeting, that the Chagos Islands should be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in conjunction with Mauritius and the Chagossians. While the Group understood the reasons why Mauritius and Chagossian groups had strong reservations at this time to the idea, they believed that it was in the interest of all parties, and that when greater confidence between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)  and the other parties had been established the proposal could be reconsidered.

The Group was informed of the current situation on the various legal and administrative actions – the Judicial Review of the Marine Protection Area (MPA) would be going ahead, the Mauritius case against the MPA under UNCLOS could run for up to 2 years, there was no news from Strasbourg, the appeal to the Information Tribunal was likely to be heard in July, the Foreign Affairs Committee was still considering the APPG’s request to extend the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner to BIOT. The Group also discussed parliamentary activity and Parliamentary Questions. A request for a debate had not yet succeeded.

The Chairman reported on the meeting that he, Mr Rosindell, Lord Avebury and Mr Evenor had with the Immigration Minister on 22 February. The members had carefully explained the issues to the Minister who seemed fully cognisant of the problem. Mr Green undertook to write to the Chairman. No letter had yet been received.

The Group discussed the announcement by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of funding (£288,000 from the Darwin Initiative) for a project to research and promote the Chagos MPA, to be carried out by 3 members of the Chagos Conservation Trust. Members were pleased to note that Chagossian groups in the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles would be involved in workshops etc but questioned whether the two countries concerned and all the Chagossian groups had been consulted before the project was submitted to Defra and whether they wanted to participate. The Group asked to be informed at the next meeting.

The FCO consultation on the Overseas Territories, made public in the morning, was noted. Members wondered why the short paragraph concerning BIOT had not referred to the Chairman’s letter of 29 November to Mr Bellingham, recording the views of the APPG for the Consultation, or even why the contribution was not listed at the end. The Chairman said he would find out, by way of a PQ if necessary.

The Group discussed the impact of the play at Riverside Studios entitled ‘A Few Man Fridays’ and the debates, in which the Chairman had participated, that had been held on the two last Saturdays between performances. Members, who had seen the play, were impressed. The Group commended the producer, Adrian Jackson, and members of the cast for the contribution they had made to raising public awareness of the suffering of the Chagossian people and conducting balanced debates on the various issues, not least conservation and the Marine Protection Area.

The next meeting will take place on 2 May.

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Group

 

MEETING WITH IMMIGRATION MINISTER

Roch Evenor, Chair of UKChSA writes:

Members of the APPG (Jeremy Corbyn, Chair, and two Vice-Chairmen, Andrew Rosindell and Lord Avebury) and I met the Immigration Minister, Damien Green, on Tuesday 22nd February 2012. He was there together with other officials and the Home Office lawyer. The names of the Chagossians who are having problems with visa/passports were given to the Minister. According to the lawyer’s advice there is no mechanism that is available at the moment to grant visas/passports to Chagossians. The only way is to bring a Bill in Parliament but they have no intention of doing it this year. They don’t want to create a precedent to other people who are or may be having the same problem like us. It came out that the Labour Government could have done this in 2002 but there was no impetus from  then Home Office. Therefore, it looks as if it will be difficult for the British Government to change their mind. This is a short resume of what happened. However, they are going to write a formal letter to the APPG when they have finished consultation with their lawyers.

 

UKChSA is waiting, with interest, to see what transpires but is not cheered by comments the Minister in charge of Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham MP, made to Jamieson R. Reed MP  about the Chagossian situation:  ‘While there is not going to be a change of policy, there has been a change of attitude’. This was also said in a letter to Dr. George Beckmann in a letter from FCO/BIOT 15/3/12.

That is not enough, Mr. Bellingham.

 

The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association prepared a briefing for the APPG on ‘British Nationality and the Chagos Islanders’ which is attached to email versions of this Update.

 

UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE

The above-mentioned Minister for OTs, Henry Bellingham, wrote to the APPG about the proposal to make the Chagos Archipelago a UNESCO World Heritage site saying that the list of possible sites is submitted every ten years and that the UK had already submitted its nominations to UNESCO in February 2012 which is expected to last for a ten year period.

The APPG had hoped that the proposal for World Heritage status would provide a common denominator that was of value to all interested parties, and thus a means of engaging in dialogue. The APPG made it clear that it could only go ahead with the agreement of the Chagossians, Mauritius and HMG.

The Chagos Refugee Group in Mauritius had already commented that ‘We appreciate the APPG’s move to give world recognition to our native archipelago, but as long as our right of return is not yet restored, we will resist the proposal whatever its merit. There is no question of promoting Chagos as a world heritage site without the restoration of its native inhabitants’ right of return and their resettlement.’

 

COURT BUSINESS

The FCO having withdrawn its objection, the judge decided at the High Court on 9th March that the Judicial Review of the Marine Protection Area (MPA) could go ahead but the court may not hear it until July.

No news yet from the European Court of Human Rights.

 

MAURITIUS

On February 7th there was a joint statement issued on the occasion of the State visit of the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Dr. Ramgoolam, to India in which India reiterated her consistent support to Mauritius for the restoration of Mauritian sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. Dr. Ramgoolam thanked India for her long-standing and unwavering stand in this regard.

 

PRESS AND MEDIA

Radio 4 Midweek with Libby Purvis, 22nd February

One of the items on this programme was a discussion Libby had with Adrian Jackson about his play ‘A Few Man Fridays’ and Sabrina Jean, Secretary of UKChSA. As a supporter wrote : Ms Purvis clearly had a good knowledge of the Chagossian  backstory. Sabrina and Adrian, both spoke eloquently, recounting in a short time the history of injustice piled on scorn for the powerless and the lies and duplicity of colonial officials – BIOT remains a colony, though an ethnically cleansed one.

All supporters who have seen the play have found it incredibly moving, well performed and accurate. It had excellent reviews in the papers and finished its planned run on 10th March.

 

 

Inner City Press reported:

United Nations. February 10After Argentina’s foreign minister Hector Timerman delivered to the UN Security Council a complaint against the United Kingdom about the Malvinas a/k/a Falkland Islands, he told the press that this month’s Council president, Kodjo Menan of Togo, would pass the complaint on to UK Permanent Representative Mark Lyall Grant and then report back to him……
During Timerman’s press conference he mentioned two other UK overseas situations, Diego Garcia and Hong Kong. Inner City Press asked Lyall Grant about these two, particularly Diego Garcia where the Chagossians had won court decisions for a right to return, only to be blocked by ‘royal prerogative.’
Lyall Grant said ‘You have to distinguish these territories. Every situation is different. In Hong Kong for instance there was a treaty with China. It was on a leasehold.’ There was no direct answer about Diego Garcia. None of the Permanent Five members of the Council is without a skeleton in its closet. Diego Garcia and the Chagossians seem to be one for the UK…..

Mr. Timerman went on to point out that the UK cannot state that she respects the rights of people to self-determination in Overseas Territories whilst denying the Chagossians theirs.

 

‘The Lamp and Owl’, the periodical of Birkbeck College, University of London, aims to provide ‘students with intelligent entertainment on issues that appeal to their in-class educational side and their post-lecture escapist side’. Varoushnan Srilangarajah had an article in The Lamp and Owl which fits the bill: Cultural Genocide: The Anglo-American Conspiracy in Diego Garcia.

It is good that the younger generation are supporting the cause and the full article can be e-mailed on request.

 

BBC again but, this time, Radio 3’s ‘The Choir’ on Sunday 4th March.

It was a pleasure to hear the Ifield College Community Choir opening this programme with three beautifully rendered songs under Patrick Allen’s baton and accompanied by their prize winning Chagossian drummers. The choir has Chagossian young singers in it from Crawley and the concert was broadcast live from the Roundhouse in Camden. They are working on a CD which will, hopefully, be out in May.

 

A FEW MAN FRIDAYS

It is now too late to see this play but here is Iain Orr’s review:

British Dishonour and Injustice on a Coral Atoll

This play is rooted in the depressing historical facts of successive injustices by successive British (and American) governments towards a defenceless community of islanders in a remote and beautiful coral archipelago. Why then is it so exhilarating and – though it seems a strange word to use – entertaining? The short answer is that A Few Man Fridays is rooted in conflict – between politicians and 2nd class citizens, conservationists and those who work the land and seas. But the drama is based on internal character more than the external plot. The latter is not just a staple way to organize a play’s structure; in Chagos it is the Realpolitik conspiracy of deceit by the bureaucrats of two empires to deprive a peaceful community of homeland, collective identity, and peace of mind.

It starts in the mid-60s with the British in retreat from any significant role “East of Suez”; and American strategists keen to find an operational base free from the uncertainties of global anti-colonialism. Only one character is fictional, Prosper, a young adult Chagossian, exiled in the UK. He is played with uncoiling anger and frustration by Ansu Kabia, who is seeing an inexperienced Counsellor about his confused identity. His mother turns out not to be his mother and his father is an unknown cipher. The other actors are individuals known to history by name. One inspirer of the struggle for justice, Lisette Aurelie Talate, is played with massive dignity by Sharon Duncan-Brewster; but she is also seen herself on videos interviews conducted by the author. It’s a sad irony that she died on 4 January 2012, the second rehearsal day of the play which will take her story far beyond the Chagossian community. Make no mistake, this is a play that will have reverberations.

Like Lisette, other real people such as Paul Nitze, Edward Peck (a senior British diplomat, later knighted), and the patriotic troop entertainer, Bob Hope, also represent their communities and institutions. The difficulty is how to dramatize institutions. Cardboard Citizens’ solution has several components. Original texts and photos of institutional players are flashed across central and side screens at the same time as stage action; superb cue-passing between actors carrying on overlapping conversation (like Spurs teamwork at its best); and good old-fashioned exposition. The development of the Pentagon’s strategic islands concept and the intricacies of a string of legal cases are both conveyed in clearly articulated expository speeches. Indeed clarity of diction is a pleasure, especially when aligned with convincing accents. Mrs Thatcher during the Falklands war is uncannily not a recording with lip-sync.

A final player deserves mention – the Kreol language, which is a vulnerable part of Chagossian identity, especially for those who have migrated to Crawley. Prosper makes clear to his theory-bound Counsellor that the dogs in his recurrent dream do not represent repressed feelings: they represent dogs. The Kreol language does not represent, it expresses with great power the Sagren (sadness and loss) of being denied Laba – the right to be back on their islands.

Go to the Riverside Studios as soon as possible to be entertained and disturbed. Then tell your friends; and disturb our politicians. Write to William Hague asking why he is ruled by his civil servants rather than his core values – freedom and responsibility for one’s own actions.

 

Discussions were held between the matinee and evening performances on the final two Saturdays. It had been hoped that Professor Charles Sheppard – prime mover for the no-take fishing Marine Protection Area might be available for the first of these but he and his wife were, ironically, visiting the Chagos Islands at the time of the play’s run. The Chagos Conservation Trust, helped by the Bertarelli Foundation (neither dedicated to conserving the human Chagossian species!) made a scientific research expedition to the area. Visit their site if you wish to learn more.

Sabrina Jean was at the first discussion and wrote: The debate went well, the four people on stage were me, Roch Evenor, Dr. Mark Spalding  and  Professor David Simon and it was chaired by Adrian Jackson. The subject discussed was the MPA.  Roch and I clearly said we are not for the MPA as it is designed to keep us from returning with its no-take fishing policy. We are in favour of conserving and preserving our islands. We were also asked asked about how life was in Mauritius and here in the UK. I said we suffered injustice still. In the UK  we have many problems, like the language barrier, housing problems and no jobs for those who cannot speak English. Also, housing is very expensive. At the end, we were asked: ‘If you win what you will do?’ and I answered, ‘If we win we will return back straight away. The British Government should do like they did to us in the 1970s –but put us on boats directly to Chagos.’

No one from the Chagos Environment Network or Chagos Conservation Trust spoke on their behalf although invited by the organisers to participate.

Iain Orr was at the second debate and writes: The debate on 10 March was chaired (very well) by Dr. Laura Jeffery and the panel were David Snoxell, Hengride Permal, Bernadette Dugasse and Jeremy Corbyn MP. The main points were that while the recent history was one of a battle through the courts, this was essentially a political and moral issue which could and should be resolved without so much time and money being misapplied to legal proceedings. There was excellent attendance (about 70); and the final performance after the debate was a sell-out, with many curtain calls for the superb cast.

 

From the Chagos Conservation Trust site:

Defra announces funding for the Chagos marine reserve
We are delighted to report that on Tuesday, Defra announced that an application for funding for the Chagos marine reserve was one of 33 successful projects to receive funding from the Darwin Initiative. The project received £287,788 from the Darwin Initiative, and will run for 3 years from 1st April 2012….
The main objectives of the project are:
(1) To establish a permanent monitoring protocol for the coral atoll and island systems of the Chagos; Outputs will establish the condition on commencement of MPA management against which change can be assessed, and will aid understanding of the magnitude and significance of potential impacts. Terrestrial restoration will be expanded with input from Chagossians. Marine surveys will extend to areas previously unexplored, and establish the level of functional redundancy and response diversity in the biodiversity to assess resilience to natural and anthropogenic impacts. Scientific expeditions, lead by Warwick, Bangor and ZSL with a wide range of international collaborators.
(2) Engagement of Chagossians in the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles through training workshops and outreach activities. Activities will be aimed at Chagossians of different generations to raise their awareness of the value of biodiversity and importance of conservation. Individuals will be identified and selected for further externally funded initiatives, such as dive training and practical island restoration and conservation work. Workshops will be organised jointly with Chagossian leaders, through ZSL and local societies in UK, Mauritius and Seychelles…..

It is interesting that the term ‘Chagos marine reserve’ is starting to be used instead of MPA – is this considered less controversial?

Lots of (rather patronising) talk about involving Chagossians and raising their awareness of the importance of conservation. Hopefully, the conservation groups will consult and involve the Chagossians more fully than previously when the leader of the smallest UK group was the only Chagossian involved in any way. The majority of the Chagossians are in Mauritius and the Seychelles.

 

NEWS FROM CRAWLEY

Sadly, another Chagossian has passed away and will not be able to return. Crawley is mourning the loss of Mrs Irenee Naraina. UKChSA extends its sympathy to her family and friends at this time.

 

The Thomas Bennett Community College in Crawley is running ESOL (English for Speakers of other Languages) and Chagossians have signed up to improve their language skills as they sometimes have problems with the language barrier in England. There are three qualified teachers and Sabrina Jean and Jenny Bertrand (who speak English well) are helping voluntarily. The courses started on 29th February on Wednesday evening and Friday morning and will last for fifteen weeks. It was funded by this Association with money donated by supporters.

 

Marie-France tells us that a bingo party was organised for the Elderly Group of Chagossians in Crawley. Mauritian/Chagossian food was served and the money raised is going towards a lunch to celebrate Mother’s Day for the people in the group. There are about twenty five members.

 

Recently, the UK group of CRG had a Bring and Buy sale – it was a lovely day, apparently, and everyone had a lot of fun.

 

Dr. Laura Jeffery’s book had a Crawley launch and she writes:

My book event at Crawley Library was attended by around 40 people, about half of whom were from the extended Chagossian community, while the other half were interested residents of Crawley or had come from further afield, including London and Brighton. I gave a 20-minute presentation about the book, after which Sabrina Jean (CRG UK) and Ingrid Permal (CICA) offered their kind words of support as leaders of two of the main Chagossian organisations in the UK. Then we held a lively interactive session in which I and members of the Chagossian community present answered the questions raised by non-Chagossian members of the audience. Alongside the book launch, I also presented an exhibition of my photographs of Chagossian demonstrations alongside photographs of the US military base on Diego Garcia and Chagossian heritage sites on Peros Banhos and Salomon taken in 2011 by Sabrina Jean, Elena Rabouine, and Joseph Bertrand, to whom I am very grateful.

Laura’s book is ‘Chagos Islanders in Mauritius and the UK – Forced displacement and onward migration.’ It is published by Manchester University Press.

 

LETTERS TO THE QUEEN

As well as supporting the on-going petitions (American University of Washington, School of Law and Leslie Jones’ to 38Degrees) which are on-line, this Association likes the idea from a supporter that people should individually petition the Queen in her Jubilee year to support her subjects,  the Chagossians, in their struggle to return home. Update is pleased to print a few here:

 

 

From Nelson Bertrand

To Your Royal Highness,

My name is Nelson Bertrand and I know what it is like to be a Chagossian because my Dad is one. All I want you to do is just give them their islands back please. And I am 9 years old. You have to send some soldiers to Chagos Islands to help them build it better like growing back the coconut trees, building back the lovely homes and the lovely churches. Please, please give them their country back. And I would like to go there as well as some other kids and teenagers. You have your lovely celebration of being a lovely Queen for 60 years so why don’t you let the Chagossians have their celebration of having their islands back.

I hope you read this, thank you.

 

From eight year old Anna-Gaelle Jean:

I have a vision for you. Would you be happy if we Chagossians had taken your country and your grandson never saw it? Can you tell me what would be your feelings? As you will be celebrating your 60th anniversary as a Queen, why not let Chagossians return to their motherland and celebrate their happiness at having their beautiful paradise back.

Hope you will read my letter, thank you.

 

From Dr. George Beckmann, a rather more mature supporter:

Your Majesty,

            The inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago were cruelly expelled from their homeland by the British Government between 1967 and 1973. These subjects of Your Majesty have suffered grievously from their exile, which is widely regarded as a breach of their human rights.

            Your Majesty’s love for all Her subjects is well-known, and warmly appreciated. Your Majesty pledged Herself, whilst still Princess Elizabeth, to care for all the citizens of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, in that moving and memorable broadcast from South Africa, just after the War. This commitment was repeated at Your Majesty’s Coronation.

            I humbly petition Your Majesty to extend Your affection for the exiled Islanders with a gesture of exceptional clemency, in this Your Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee year, by issuing instructions for the return of all those Chagos Islanders who wish to return.

            I am, Your Majesty, Your loyal subject

From the humble compiler of this Update:

Your Majesty,

This year the country and Commonwealth are celebrating your Diamond Jubilee and I would, respectfully, like to bring the exiled Chagossian Islanders to your attention.

As you know, when you took the Coronation Oath in 1953 you swore a very old oath, prescribed by an Act of 1688, that you would do justice and mercy in all your judgements. Unfortunately, in nodding your assent to certain Orders in Council, you agreed to their exile into misery, poverty and despair. Decades later, the Islanders of Diego Garcia and the rest of the Chagos Archipelago are still waiting for justice.

When Queen Victoria was asked by her ministers to agree to Heligoland being passed to Germany in 1890 she said that she would only do so if the people of Heligoland were happy with this. No-one asked the Chagossians in the twentieth century.

In 1982 your forces went to war to keep the Falkland Islanders on their homeland but ten years earlier, the Chagossians were forcibly exiled from theirs – after seeing their animals shot and their dogs gassed.

Could you, in this Jubilee year, help your loyal subjects?

 

The first Petition of Leslie Ian Jones to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

May it please Your Majesty, I submit this, my first petition for justice at your hands regarding the treatment of the People of the Chagos Archipelego by the United Kingdom Government.

1. These people were removed from their island homes between 1965-1973. Since then they have been prevented from returning to their homes. This is wrong on three counts:

(a) In the Magna Carta: “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties..or exiled..but by the law of the land”

(b) In Universal Declaration of Human Rights:”Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.”

(c) In the International Convenant of Civil & Politcal Rights: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”

THE CHAGOSSIAN ISLANDERS WERE REMOVED AGAINST THEIR FREE WILL.

2. The United Nations General Assembly on 16th December 1965 In Resolution 2066 (XX) clearly states “Noting with deep concern that any step taken by the administering Power to detact certain islands from the Territory of Mauritius for the purpose of establishing a military base would be in contravention of the Declaration” i.e. not implementing Resolution 1514 which within it gives all colonial peoples the right to self determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely persue economic, social and cultural development.

THE CHAGOSSIAN ISLANDERS HAVE BEEN DENIED THESE RIGHTS.

3. That despite winning the right to return to their Islands in the UK Courts an Order within Council was used on 11th June 2004 on the grounds of national security. Thus the British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004 prevented any return.

Your Majesty. It has been my privilege to live in a country rich with history both good and bad. We learn  from our past and the actions of Colonialism. Sometimes we can correct and apologise for those actions. What we do not expect is those actions in the late 20th century which continue to the present day. I have met the Chagossians living here in the UK. They are a proud, resilient, patient people. Why are they treated differently than the Falkland Islanders?

I petition Your Majesty to seek counsel with Your Ministers to ensure that Chagossians representatives:

(a) Are present at all meetings in regard to any extension of the Diego Garcia base lease so Chagossian ‘rights’ are met.

(b) That the UK & US governments seek to compensate the Chagossians fully for past actions taken against them. That employment, health and education provision is found for them on the islands.

(c) That the Chagossians have all rights allowed to them under United Kingdom, European Union and International Law.

(d) As a noble gesture in your Jubliee Year rescind the Order in Council taken on 10th June 2004 which prevented the Chagossians from returning to their islands.

I remain, Your Majesty, Your most humble and obedient servant.

 

Do feel free to join in the letter writing – to the Queen, your own MP, the Prime Minister, anyone you think should be made aware of the Chagossian situation and could do anything to help. Even a brief note could make a difference.

 

FEEDBACK

Most feedback from correspondents after February Update was actually about an item on the Chagos Environment Network – a scientific review paper on Chagos. Many of you checked this out and comments include:

I have had a look at Charles Sheppard’s review paper mentioned in your update, and while I can’t comment on the marine stuff (not my province), the ‘Terrestrial fauna’ section is woefully inadequate, totally fails to address the problem of American carelessness in importing unwanted animals, and doesn’t cite several relevant papers. It is amazing how wonderful everything is! The history section is extremely disingenuous, and they don’t even mention that the ‘military facility’ is American.

Anthony Cheke.

 

Just a note: I’d take the phrase “… is authored by over 40 scientists…” with a grain of salt.

They have “padded” the author list and one must expect (and when one does inspect the list itself, one does find) that the authors are necessarily “insiders.” The list is rather “inbred” as it were. With graduate students being listed alongside their thesis professors (a rightful acknowledgement indeed) and Nestor Guzman the Nat. Resources guy on DG (a good fellow and also a rightful acknowledgment of work), but not necessarily independent and varied voices……

Also, in order for “science” to be “good” … it must be able to be replicated… Therefore, other scientists should be allowed access to the locations described in this paper in order to test findings (I’d suggest the parts considered shoddy).

I wonder if the powers that be would allow such a thing… might be worth the request… of course, then funding of the expedition would be an issue.

Personally, my concern…… is the complete lack of connection shown with the social aspect of the MPA issue. Being scientific and objective does not mean disregarding human connections. Doing so, in fact, only introduces errors and is usually a sign that other motives are involved.

However, despite the phrase “without prejudice” (with regard to resettlement) being patently false, it certainly allows for an opening to say “well, how should re-settlement be done correctly then?”

David J. Evans