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Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, coverage, CRG, Diego Garcia, ECHR, FCO, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA on May 21st, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment
chagos

Photo: Getty images

An article by Dr Sean Carey, published in the UK Independent blog, is reproduced below:

“Being in Chagos is an incredibly special experience,” says Rachel Jones, deputy team leader of the Aquarium at ZSL London Zoo, in a new YouTube posting extolling the “unique” environment of the warm, pristine waters of the archipelago. “It’s literally like going back in time… It’s what reefs, I imagine, were like 50 or 60 years ago. She adds: “It’s very special being somewhere where you know you’re the only one there. There’s no one else around.”

How nice, you might think, that UK marine scientists can explore the corals and monitor shoals of fish in the British Indian Ocean Territory. But what Jones omits to mention is that 50 or 60 years ago there was a vibrant community of around 1700 islanders living in harmony with the environment. The only reason there isn’t now is that the entire population was exiled.

The shameful history of what happened was neatly summarised by Baroness Whitaker in the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords recently. She said: “In 1965 our Government detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in order to form a separate British Indian Ocean Territory, in defiance of four UN resolutions. They reclassified the inhabitants as contract workers, made the largest, most southerly island Diego Garcia, available to the United States for use as a military base, and gradually removed the Chagossians from all the islands, eventually depositing them in Mauritius and the Seychelles during 1971 to 1973.”

Since then the islanders, the descendants of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers, have been fighting a marathon legal campaign to restore the right of return. After a series of spectacular victories in the lower courts, the Chagossians, led by Port Louis-based electrician Olivier Bancoult, were narrowly defeated by 3-2 majority in the House of Lords in 2008. There was a further setback last December when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the case was inadmissible, because many of the islanders exiled in Mauritius (though not those in the Seychelles) had accepted compensation from the UK in 1982.

Back in the Upper House, Lord Astor, the Coalition Government’s spokesman replied with customary courtesy. “The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked why the Chagos islanders could not return. We regret what happened in the late 1960s and 1970s. The responsibility for decisions taken then has been acknowledged by successive Governments. However, the reasons for not allowing resettlement, namely feasibility and defence security, are clear and compelling.”

Lord Astor was clearly reading from an old brief because the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is now being forced to come to terms with overwhelming evidence that neither reason given is clear and compelling. Why? Well, first the base is around 140 miles from the outer islands in the Archipelago, such as Peros Banhos and Salomon, which could be resettled. It’s simply not credible to believe that a few hundred Chagossians would jeopardise US operations. Secondly, if Diego Garcia remains viable for some 3,500 military personnel and ancillary workers then logic dictates that the other islands can also be made suitable.

Furthermore, pressure continues to mount both in the UK and internationally. Earlier this year in an article for The Mirror, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott made his feelings clear. “I’m ashamed the UK governments allowed this to happen. It was wrong and we must make amends,” he wrote. (Since then Lord Prescott has joined the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group; so too has former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Ashcroft.)

A few days ago, in an article for Libération, JMG Le Clezio also denounced the brutal removal of the islanders from their homeland as an “organised denial of human rights”. He claimed that the failure of the court in Strasbourg to take action was a “denial of justice” and a clear example of “moral cowardice”. The 2008 Nobel Prize winner for literature, who holds dual French and Mauritian nationality, calculates that it is part of the “indifference of the powerful” to those who are obliged to live on the margins.

It’s difficult to disagree – unless, of course, you work for the ZSL and other conservation groups which are apparently content to ignore the misfortune and misery of those who were in Chagos long before they were.

FCO officials face cross-examination on Wikileaks cable

Posted in coverage, CRG, FCO, Legal, MPA on July 29th, 2012 by Robert Bain – 2 Comments
Royal Courts of Justice (Photo: Ell Brown, via Flickr)

Royal Courts of Justice (Photo: Ell Brown, via Flickr)

The Independent reports that Foreign Office officials will be cross-examined on the content of a US diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks, as part of the Chagossians’ application for a judicial review of the Chagos Marine Protected Area.

The cable, one of many leaked by Wikileaks in 2010, summarised a conversation in which BIOT Commissioner Colin Roberts claimed that “establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the (Chagos) archipelago’s former residents”. Roberts also reportedly said that the Foreign Office had no regrets about the eviction of the islanders.

Our patron Ben Fogle wrote angrily at the time about having been duped into supporting a marine reserve created under ‘false pretences’, as a way to keep the Chagos islanders from returning to their rightful home.

Answering questions about this might be uncomfortable for the government, but we believe it will be good for transparency.

Philippa Gregory on Chagos and abuses of power

Posted in APPG, coverage, Philippa Gregory on September 8th, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Philippa Gregory

We’re a few days late with this but there’s a great profile of our patron Philippa Gregory in Monday’s Independent, in which she talks extensively about getting involved in the Chagos campaign, and how the treatment of the islanders seems like something from one of her historical novels.

Philippa says: “When it comes to the treatment of the Chagossians, it’s as if the democratic revolution never happened. It is totally tyrannical. I cannot understand why successive British governments would act against their own subjects so consistently over so many years using so many underhand techniques.”

Read the full article here. There’s also a letter from David Snoxell, coordinator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos, in the following day’s paper.

Fighting on

Posted in Ben Fogle, conservation, coverage, events, Philippa Gregory, Uncategorized on May 20th, 2011 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

There’s been some great coverage in the Guardian yesterday and today of the Chagos Regagné conference in London.

Today’s piece by Fred Pearce in the Environment Blog focuses on disagreements between environmentalists on allowing people back to Chagos. This, unfortunately, has become a key issue because of the way some conservationists have supported the introduction of the Chagos marine reserve while remaining quite about how it trampled on the islanders’ rights.

Two articles yesterday by Sam Jones provide a general overview of the topic and a report from the event, highlighting how the islanders remain in exile while a major military base occupies the main island, Diego Garcia.

Ben Fogle

Our patron Ben Fogle said before yesterday’s event:
“I am an optimist but I’m also a realist and I don’t see why we can’t come up with a workable, sustainable solution… Now is the time to do this.”

‘I was duped by the Foreign Office over Chagos’ says Ben Fogle

Posted in Ben Fogle, coverage, FCO, Labour, MPA, Wikileaks on December 9th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Ben Fogle

Our co-patron Ben Fogle had a letter in the Guardian yesterday responding to documents released by Wikileaks revealing the FCO’s motivation for establishing a marine reserve in Chagos. Here’s the text of his letter:

Forty years ago, thousands of people were forcibly and illegally removed from their homeland, the British Indian Ocean Territory, to make way for Diego Garcia, a US military base. The expulsion has been described by some as UK foreign policy’s darkest day. Since then the islanders have fought for the right to go home. They won it from the high court, but the privy council took it away. It now seems, from US information released by WikiLeaks (Foreign Office accused of misleading public over expelled ‘Man Fridays’, 4 December), that the Foreign Office has no regrets over its illegal action, and has been planning to destroy the islanders’ campaign by making their former home a marine sanctuary, in which no one would be allowed to live.

As a long-term advocate of conservation, I am horrified that the UK government has used this to keep the islanders from returning to their rightful home, and that I was duped into supporting the creation of the marine sanctuary under false pretences. According to the leaked documents, Colin Roberts, the FCO’s director of overseas territories, told the US that there would be no “Man Fridays” on the islands and said: “We do not regret the removal of the population.” The FCO described the all-party parliamentary group campaigning for the Chagos people’s right to return as a “persistent” but relatively non-influential group. I now regret my support of the marine sanctuary and look forward to joining the islanders in their campaign to return home.

Chagossians in Mauritius on BBC radio

Posted in coverage, Mauritius on September 19th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

In Radio 4′s From Our Own Correspondent programme this week, the BBC’s Lorraine Mallender speaks to Chagos islanders in Mauritius. Hundreds of people were dumped on the docks of Mauritius in the 60s with no help from the British or Mauritian authorities, and many still live there. They share their memories of the islands and their hopes for a return. Follow the link above and jump to 17:15 to listen (NB the audio may not work outside the UK and is only available online for a limited time).