September 2012 update

PARLIAMENT

The APPG are not scheduled to meet again until next month, but we did have a few parliamentary questions, starting with a written answer from the Conservative’s Lord Howell in response to a question from Liberal Democrat Baroness Falkner in August.

 

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by Lord Howell of Guildford on 13 July (HL Deb, col. 1401), what advice they have received on the legal position on the use by the United States of the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia
in the case of military action by Israel or the United States against Iran.”

 

To which Lord Howell, Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office replied:

 

“I do not wish to speculate on hypothetical scenarios. The UK’s policy on the use of Diego Garcia by the United States (US) is based on the 1966 exchange of notes (updated in 1976 and with subsequent amendments and additions). The notes allow the US to
use the base as a forward operating location for aircraft and ships and require the US to seek prior approval for any operations that they wish to undertake from Diego Garcia.”

 

In all likelihood the US would probably anticipate a swift automatic concurrence for any operational use of Diego Garcia.  However one of our most dedicated supporters summed this up so much better than we could with his analysis of the answer from Lord Howell.  From our supporter:

 

“’Hypothetical scenarios’, in some parts of the English-speaking world, are otherwise called “contingency planning”. The answer implies that unless Israel starts a nuclear war against Iran, the US won’t bother to ask the UK if it can use DG to help out.  This seems like a rather casual way of running the world.”

 

We agree, a casual approach which should lead to alarm bells ringing, but this particular parliamentary question seems to have slipped under the radar without anyone noticing too much.  That the answer was published two days after the fanfare of London 2012’s “Super Saturday” when the nation was caught up in the fever of the Olympics, is almost certainly an unfortunate coincidence too.  Or maybe not, as the Orders In Council of 2004 (on election day for Members of the European Parliament) demonstrated so graphically.

 

In September, the Conservative’s Andrew Percy submitted the following question:

 

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to strengthen relations between the UK and its Overseas Territories; and if he will make a statement.

The Conservatives new replacement for Henry Bellingham, Mark Simmonds, takes his bow in our newsletter with the following response:

 

We published, in June, a White Paper—‘The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability’—setting out a broad and ambitious vision for the Territories in the 21st century. We want the Territories to be vibrant and flourishing communities, proudly retaining aspects of their British identity and generating wider opportunities for their people.

Our strategy for the Territories is based oh three practical policy goals:

to strengthen the engagement and interaction between the UK and the Territories; to work with Territories to strengthen good governance arrangements, public financial management and economic planning where this is necessary; and to improve the quality and range of support available to the Territories.

We announced specific plans to:

support the exchange of expertise between UK and Territory public servants through a Jubilee Programme supporting training and work placements; support the Territories to engage productively with the wider world, particularly the EU and the Commonwealth.

From this year we will upgrade the annual ministerial meeting with Territory leaders to give it a mandate to lead work to review and implement the commitments in the White Paper.

 

In the same month the Liberal Democrats Andrew George submitted the following question:

 

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to consult (a) Chagossian exiles, (b) Mauritians, (c) residents in other British Indian Ocean Territories and (d) others on Government plans for marine conservation in the Indian Ocean.

 

Mark Simmonds provided the following response:

 

The Government’s main effort on marine conservation in the Indian ocean is the British Indian Ocean Territory’s (BIOT) Marine Protected Area (MPA). Work has begun on an MPA Management Plan, informed by scientific advice to the BIOT Administration. We currently have no plans to formally consult others over the drafting of the Management Plan, but welcome constructive comments from all stakeholders. We are keen to involve Chagossians in the MPA and have started an environmental educational outreach programme, which has received excellent feedback from those involved. We also wish to have a more positive discussion with Mauritius on BIOT issues, but this remains difficult while Mauritius is bringing legal action against the UK. There are no other British Indian Ocean Territories, aside from BIOT.

LEGAL

Ahead of the widely anticipated Strasbourg ruling which we are hoping will be delivered in the next quarter, two significant judgements took place earlier this month.  The first of these related to how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office drew its conclusions that the resettlement of the Chagossians was not feasible a decade ago.  The full ruling can be viewed here.

 

David Hart QC in The Human Rights Blog takes up the story:

 

Whatever issues remained outstanding (including some further litigation), the public interest in not disclosing the document was “particularly weak” [121]. The policy of preventing settlement was not live at the date of the request or at the time of the FCO’s internal review of disclosure. The FTT (First Tier Tribunal) came to this conclusion after seeing and reviewing the document in closed session, and without the appellants being present, in accordance with its usual practice. Secret justice, in one sense, but a pragmatic way of making sure that the FTT could really test what government was saying about a document without disclosing it to the party who wanted disclosure.

 

Both these parts of the ruling are of considerable interest, and the case may go further.

 

The date for the Judicial Review of the Marine Protection Authority at the High Court in Central London has been set for 21st to the 23rd of November and we would like to extend an invitation to as many supporters as possible to join us for a demonstration outside the court.

 

The second ruling related to the permission to cross examine FCO officials, amongst whom Colin Roberts who had

 

“…asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents …”

 

This became common currency only as a direct result of the Wikileaks exposure at the end of 2010.   The argument had always been maintained by the FCO that they would not respond to questions related to information that had been attained illegally, in the form of the leaked cables, which was some of the most damning revelations during the episode.  Once again the ruling in full can be located here.  Back to Mr Hart:

 

It is unusual to have cross-examination in judicial review, but this rather does call for some explanation, given that the FCO denies that this is the motive – as opposed to the nature conservation interests which run deep and true through that department. The FCO’s rather despairing attempt to keep Our Man out of the box was based upon the unlawfulness of the Wikileaks process

.

Stanley Burnton LJ was having nothing of this:

 

“16. However, the documents in question have been leaked, and indeed widely published. No claim has been made to the effect that the documents should not be considered by the Court on the grounds of public interest immunity or the like. They are before the Court. The Court will have to decide whether or not they are genuine documents, that they are copies of what they purport to be. The memorandum of the meeting of 12 May 2009, in particular, appears to be a detailed record, which could fairly be the basis of cross examination.

 

17. I do not see how the present claim can be fairly or justly determined without resolving the allegation made by the Claimant, based on the Wikileaks documents, as to what transpired at the meeting of 12 May 2009, and more widely whether at least one of the motives for the creation of the MPA was the desire to prevent resettlement. Given the conflicting evidence, in my judgment, in order to resolve the dispute, oral evidence will be necessary, including cross examination of Mr Roberts and Ms Yeadon.”

 

I hear the sounds of advocates’ swords being sharpened for the trial – at last count, due in October 2012.

 

So can we Mr Hart, and it provides an exciting curtain raiser to a period which all of us at the Association approach with eager anticipation as we arrive at a critical junction in this prolonged quest for justice.

 

HOORAY HENRY

David Cameron announced a cabinet reshuffle at the beginning of the month and we at the association were pleased to learn that Henry Bellingham was being replaced as a Junior Foreign Office Minister.  Mr Bellingham, whose responsibilities included the Overseas Territories and was a constant mouthpiece for the Foreign Office’s cruel policies towards the Chagossians, will be replaced by the Lincolnshire Conservative MP Mark Simmonds.

 

While we would wish that his departure was linked to his handling of our cause, we are not in the least bit surprised to learn that it is completely unrelated.  The Westminster rumour mill suggests that Mr Bellingham was being moved on due to his handling of the continuing political, social and economic issues currently consuming the Turks & Caicos Islands.

 

Mr Simmonds will be 9th incumbent of the post since 2000, which averages out to a new Minister every 18 months,  so our advice to him would be to not get too comfortable at his desk.  One such possible explanation for this elaborate form of musical chairs is that it ensures the Minister never gets to grips with the portfolio, therefore ensuring that Foreign Office officials maintain an iron-like grip over policy.

 

We would be surprised if Mr Simmonds was still at his desk at the time of the next General Election though we naturally extend a warm welcome to him in his new role and hope that his appointment will signal a “wind of change” in his department’s correspondence with us.  Though, without sounding overly pessimistic, we won’t be holding our breath…

 

MAURITIUS NEWS EDITORIAL

London based Mauritius News dedicated an editorial to the Chagossian battle for justice ahead of a busy few months with several legal actions drawing to a close soon.  Summarising the long road which has been taken thus far, the editorial looks ahead with optimism to the impending verdicts due and offers hope that perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel may not be quite so far away:

 

The more recent actions as to whether The Marine Protected Area, unilaterally created by the UK, is compatible with the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas will impact on the rights of the islanders to fish in the Chagos waters. There is also a Judicial Review at the High Court to rule on the legality of the MPA. Public opinion is being canvassed and gathering momentum in the UK as to whether the 12 year long litigation justifies the public purse at the cost of £3.5m.

 

Is there another twist awaiting us at the European Court of Human Rights? Lets’ hope that justice prevails and the Chagossian cause be vindicated!

 

DR SEAN CAREY BLOG

Long time friend of the Chagossian cause, Dr Sean Carey, wrote a piece earlier this month attacking factions of the conservationist movement for their attempts to “defend the indefensible” by appearing to excuse the expulsion of the Chagossians:

 

Both South Georgia-South Sandwich Islands and the Cook Islands, like almost all MPAs, will use zoning so that economic activities like fishing, tourism and even mineral extraction are compatible with “core biodiversity”. In other words, people can have livelihoods at the same time as the environment is protected. Very sensible.

 

So why no fishing in the British Indian Ocean Territory? Well, as Wikileaks revealed the “no take” policy put paid to the right of return of the 1500 or so islanders, whom Pope mentions in passing were “relocated”. He adds: “The move remains controversial in terms of human rights, but for the ocean it was one enormous win.”

 

Controversial in terms of human rights? You can say that again. The Chagos Islanders’ African slave ancestors were first brought to the island of Diego Garcia, now home to one of the US’s most important bases, by French plantation owners in the late 18th century. Between 1968 and 1973 the Islanders were forcibly removed from all of the islands in the Archipelago by the British authorities and dumped at the dockside in Mauritius and the Seychelles and left to fend for themselves. The episode is undoubtedly one of the most shameful in recent British colonial history. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t gone unchallenged.

 

 

 

DIEGO GARCIA JOBS ADVERTISED IN THE PHILIPPINES

It has come to our attention that a number of jobs are being advertised for positions on Diego Garcia which have been circulated in the Philippines.  At the time of going to press, our understanding is these positions have not been circulated in Mauritius, Seychelles or the United Kingdom, which suggests that Chagossians are not welcome to apply for the positions.  It could of course be an administrative error and nothing of the sort.  So we at the committee thought it would be a good idea to put the theory to the test.

 

Below is an extract of some of the jobs currently being offered.  We would encourage any interested Chagossians to apply for the roles if they are interested.  Should their applications be declined, we believe we would have grounds to challenge the decision under the Race Relations Act as the policy would be in breach of a number of discrimination laws.

 

Available Job Orders by Country as of Sep 3, 2012 1:37:24 PM
Country : DIEGO GARCIA

  Country   Position   Agency

  Date Approved

  JO Balance
DIEGO GARCIA RIGGER CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 6/6/2012 1
DIEGO GARCIA WELDER CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 6/6/2012 1
DIEGO GARCIA WELDER I CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 6/6/2012 2
DIEGO GARCIA PAINTER JUNIOR CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 5/30/2012 1
DIEGO GARCIA MANAGER QUALITY CONTROL EDI STAFFBUILDERS INTERNATIONAL INC 3/20/2012 Open
DIEGO GARCIA FIREFIGHTER CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 3/5/2012 1
DIEGO GARCIA WORKER STORE CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 2/15/2012 1
DIEGO GARCIA CLERK SENIOR CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 2/3/2012 1
DIEGO GARCIA HEAVY EQUIPMENT OPERATOR EDI STAFFBUILDERS INTERNATIONAL INC 2/1/2012 Open
DIEGO GARCIA SHIFT LEADER FOOD AND BEVERAGES CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 1/16/2012 1

 

DIEGO GARCIA CLERK SUPPLY CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 1/13/2012 2

 

DIEGO GARCIA BARTENDER CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 1/9/2012 1

 

DIEGO GARCIA ASSISTANT GYM CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 12/8/2011 2

 

DIEGO GARCIA HELPER TRADES HIGH VOLTAGE CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 12/8/2011 4

 

DIEGO GARCIA OPERATOR HEAVY EQUIPMENT/CONSTRUCTION CELEVY INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION 12/8/2011 1

 

DIEGO GARCIA CARPENTER EDI STAFFBUILDERS INTERNATIONAL INC 11/16/2011 Open

 

These are just a sample selection of some of the roles available.  Should any Chagossians be interested in applying for any of these, or indeed exploring other roles which are also on offer, we would advise them to get in touch at the earliest opportunity.

 

 

BRAND NEW CHAGOS VIDEO NOW ONLINE

A brand new video supporting the battle for justice for the Chagossian community has just been published online and is available on YouTube.  The video contains the wonderful caption below:

 

This is Chagos,
This is All of Us,
This video is for Chagos,
for All of Us…
We did this, we are a part of it, one way or another,
In ignorance or knowledge,
Action or inaction,
Compassion or ambivalence.

 

This Is Chagos is available for viewing now.

 

IFIELD COMMUNITY COLLEGE CHOIR FEEDBACK

Former newsletter Editor, Celia Whittaker, received this glowing recommendation from Barbara Tindall, following our suggestions to check out the recently released CD:

 

I have today received the CD from the Ifield Community College Choir (on your recommendation in the Update) and think it is terrific.  The voices and the arrangements are outstanding.

 

There has obviously been a lot of hard work involved by everyone involved in the Choir and they are to be commended.  My favourites are the Chagos Lacrymosa and the one that follows it, She Has No Time.  This is probably because I have two CD’s, one of which has the Mozart Requiem on it and the other is a Keane CD which has She Has No Time on it.  I see that the Lacrymosa has an Evanescence melody but I only have one Evanescence CD and I couldn’t place it.  I’ve got to say that this College Choir quite exceeded my expectations and I have listened to all of it twice and the tracks I like most three times and I only received it when I arrived home this afternoon!  I am so pleased you recommended it.

 

And we are so pleased you enjoyed it Barbara and thank you for your fantastic review!

 

Not sure how we could add anything to such an endorsement, but worth reminding once again that the CD is available now from this website.

 

CHAGOSSIAN EXHIBITION

Cath Weir from Island House wrote to us recently to advise us of a photographic portrait study called Chagossians which will be taking place at the Brady Arts Centre, Hanbury Street, E1 London. The exhibition will be open between the 3rd and 31st October (except Sundays) and is part of the East London Photography festival called photomonthThe dates also coincide with Black History Month and we hope as many supporters as possible will be able to take advantage of this free event.

 

ESOL

The ESOL courses, which have proved extremely popular and beneficial for first generation Chagossians, are to recommence shortly.  These commenced at the Thomas Bennett Community College in Crawley on the evening of Wednesday 26th September at 19.30, whilst the daytime sessions will be hosted on Friday 5th October at 12.30.  We wish everyone well in these sessions and hope that they will once again provide vital assistance for Chagossians attempting to integrate into life in the United Kingdom.

 

APPEAL

With the summer holidays now a distant memory as the glorious bitter British winter nights draw in, Crawley based Chagossian Primary school students are hoping to benefit from after school classes which we are optimistic of commencing soon.  We urgently require volunteers who would be available during early evenings or Saturdays who would be able to teach Basic English and Mathematics skills.  Currently we are looking at teaching 20 students but as the project takes off the hope is more can be brought on board and there will be a need for more mentors for this scheme.  Please let us know if this is something you may be able to help with, or know anyone who may be able to assist in this area.

 

TOP MARKS

Staying with the education theme, Yannick Jean arrived in the United Kingdom when he was nine years old as a second generation Chagossian.  Last month he received his GCSE results and achieved an astounding ELEVEN A-C grades.  Very warm congratulations from everyone at the committee to Yannick.  His mother, UKChSA secretary Sabrina Jean, was extremely proud and quite rightly so.  Yannick’s academic success is an inspiration to Chagossians around the world and we wish him the very best in his future studies.

 

CHAGOS PETITION

Our Chagos E-Petition recently passed 250 signatures but once again there is so much more to do, as we valiantly chase the seemingly impossible target of 100,000 signatures before May 2013.  Many thanks of course to all those who have signed already, but once again we issue a plea to spread this petition far and wide.

 

We are also encouraging supporters to be more enterprising too, we realised early on that the petition does accept Australian addresses; perhaps other countries may also pass the vigorous obstacles of the website.  It could be a case of trial and error.  So again, please share with your friends, family, neighbours, even the milkman.  Lots of us have smartphones or iPad’s and other compatible internet enabled devices, so lets all start thinking a bit more adventurously as we strive towards the insurmountable and attempt to surprise a few in the process.

 

The petition as always, can be found here.