September 2009 update
Much of the correspondence received after our August update expressed disappointment (but not surprise) at the UK Government’s decision to contest the Chagossian case in the European Court of Human Rights instead of reaching a friendly settlement as recommended by the Court.
The next Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group meeting will be on October 13th where it will review the reasons why Parliament was not consulted about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Observations to the Strasbourg court on the Chagos case. These Observations were submitted on 31st July, ten days after the Recess and despite an Early Day Motion asking for such consultations.
Lord Avebury (Chair of the APPG) is tabling a Question in the Lords asking the Government whether they will place a copy of the FCO Observations on the case in the Library.
The Mauritian Government Cabinet decisions of 14th August (published the following day), which took note of the outcome of the talks between UK and Mauritius in July, stated, among other things, that “a decision on the issue of resettlement would be taken in the light of the decision of the case before the European Court of Human Rights.” This would appear to be a clear indication that both Governments will be influenced by the Court’s judgement.
There were also approving messages, after the August Update, concerning the principled stand taken by Dr. Mark Spalding and Dr. Lynda Rodwell with regard to the Workshop at Southampton University. Chagos Islanders and their supporters are delighted to know, as one said, “ that there are eminent scientists who can see beyond their immediate scientific interests and encompass the rights of a wrongly exiled indigenous population.”
The Southampton workshop featured in articles in Le Mauricien and also the Mauritius Times which carried a report by Dr. Sean Carey as well as the letter from Dr. Rodwell and Dr. Spalding included in August Update.
Olivier Bancoult, Chair of the Chagos Refugee Group, wrote to Dr Lindsay Parson of Southampton University expressing disappointment that the islanders were excluded once again from discussions on marine protection of the archipelago. “We wish ro reiterate that we are not opposed to conservation in the Chagos,” he wrote. “We did include in the resettlement report done by Dr. John Howell our concern and proposal for a sustainable plan and stated that Chagossians will be the best custodians of the environment. For more than 5 generations we have preserved our archipelago to the best of our ability… We strongly affirm that any conservation plan or project for the Chagos Islands must be made in consultation with the people of the Chagos.”
Most UK press coverage since the last update has been about “special rendition”.
On August 7th Mark Thompson wrote in the Observer:
“Ministers must explain why crucial documents relating to CIA torture flights that stopped on sovereign British territory were destroyed, a panel of MPs has said. A damning appraisal by the influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Britain’s role in the rendition of terror suspects and alleged complicity of torture condemns the government’s lack of transparency on vital areas of concern.
In particular, the MPs, in a report released today, call for an explanation for the missing papers, which might explain the role of Diego Garcia, the British overseas territory, in the USA’s extraordinary rendition programme. The report says: ‘We recommend that the government discloses how, why and by whom the records relating to flights through Diego Garcia since the start of 2002 were destroyed.’ ”
On August 10th, Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, wrote in the Observer:
“The…case involves Diego Garcia. Last year, Miliband wrote us a polite letter about the two men who were rendered through the Indian Ocean island, apologising for earlier false statements made by the UK government about use of the base for these illegal acts. We wrote back asking him for their names, so that we could help restore them to their legal rights. These were not forthcoming. Seventeen months later the cover-up continues.”
The Diego Garcian Society, which is celebrating the seventh anniversary of the arrival of Chagos islanders in the UK, has opened ‘Resto Diego’ in Crawley, a place where the society will serve Diego Garcian cuisine on a weekly basis to raise funds.
Allen says: “Our organisation continues to offer advice and support to the Chagossian community… We have solved 500 cases since January 2009, such as benefits, housing etc. We are now encouraging those who are working to contribute in terms of donations for some of our services because of the financial climate.”
Piers Brendon, reviewing Edward Vallence’s “A Radical History of Britain” for the Independent wrote:
“Paine was unusual in seeing Magna Carta as detrimental to English freedom because, he maintained, the rights of man should be validated by reason rather than law. Vallance agrees that ancient charters of liberty constitute a flimsy bulwark against an elected dictatorship supported by a timid judiciary. He cites the disgraceful case of the Chagos islanders, who were expelled from Diego Garcia during the 1960s to make way for an American base. Magna Carta gives them no legal protection against a British government determined that they must remain exiles. So….there should be a new constitutional framework to secure civil rights. But, as the (above) example shows, politicians can always circumvent such safeguards.”
He means, presumably, by the use of Orders in Council.
One supporter visited the CIA’s World Factboook website and sent us this quotation from it: “Repatriation is complicated by the exclusive military lease of Diego Garcia that restricts access to the largest viable island in the Chain.” He sees this as the clearest statement yet from the USA that they see no military or security reason why Chagossians should not resettle on the outer islands. Neither security nor defence are mentioned as issues. If they had been then surely the CIA would have said so? Yet the UK Government have regularly claimed security and defence as reasons to oppose resettlement. Can we now expect the FCO to drop this claim?