coverage

Chagossians on “shaky ground”: Seychelles News Agency

Posted in coverage, Diego Garcia, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory, resettlement, Return, Seychelles, UN on March 27th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Diego_Garcia_Abandoned_PlantationA new report from Seychelles News Agency highlights the uncertainty felt by Chagossians after a turbulent week. On Wednesday the UK Government refused to live up to their promise to decide on supporting Chagossian return before the election. Earlier in the week the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) judged that the UK had acted illegally in creating a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands in 2010.

Although the PCA decision has been reported as a positive development for Chagossians, the Seychelles News Agency quotes Chairperson of the Chagossian Committee in the Seychelles Gilberte Grendron arguing it remains “quite unclear” what the consequences are for Chagossians.

The PCA case was really about Mauritian sovereignty, not Chagossian rights, she notes. Ms Grendron also adds there are concerns about what would happen to Chagossians’ UK citizenship if their homeland became Mauritian territory. Although she acknowledges the verdict of the PCA was probably correct, Ms Grendron adds that there are worries that with significant alteration to the MPA the environment of their homeland could be damaged.

Ms Grendron is entirely right to raise these concerns. If we did not already know already, one thing we should have learned in recent weeks is that Chagossian politics is extremely complex.

Elsewhere in the article our reaction to the Government’s failure to support Chagossian return is referenced, with a quote from our Patron and Secretary Philippa Gregory.

Permanent Court of Arbitration rules on Chagos Islands

Posted in conservation, coverage, Diego Garcia, MPA, resettlement on March 20th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled that the UK breached its international obligations in creating a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands in 2010. Guardian correspondent Owen Bowcott  reports that the UK “acted illegally” and suggests the ruling offers “hope of return” to exiled pcaChagossians. In the verdict, the court notes that the MPA was created in “haste…dictated by the electoral timetable.” Read our reaction in the below statement.

The court ruled, by a vote of three to two, that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on what amounted a challenge to the UK’s sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. Two judges did though issue a dissenting comment, saying that the UK “showed complete disregard for the territorial integrity of Mauritius”and had used the “language of intimidation.” The full details of the case and the final judgement can be read here.

Chagossians in the UK, Mauritius and The Seychelles were not properly consulted about the creation of the Marine Protected Area. As we stated at the time, the failure to work with all relevant stakeholders, Chagossians included, meant that the decision ultimately lacked moral and legal legitimacy. Diplomatic documents released by Wikileaks later revealed that the creation of the Marine Protected Area was, at least in part, an attempt to prevent Chagossians from returning to their homeland.

Environmentalists, including our Patron Ben Fogle and Greenpeace, who had initially supported the measure condemned the manner of the creation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area when the full facts came to light.

 

Our Statement

This must draw a line under the failures of the past, and the UK Government must now focus on supporting Chagossians’ right to return to their homeland.

The Marine Protected Area, whatever its intention, does not prevent Chagossian return home. It does not apply to Diego Garcia at all and only starts three miles from land. An artisan fishing industry could then be sustained without significant alteration to the MPA.

More importantly, a Government-commissioned feasibility study has already found that return is entirely feasible in environmental, defence, social and economic terms. Notably it emphaised that Chagossians are deeply passionate about protecting the environment of their homeland and wished to be actively involved in conservation efforts upon their return.

The Government committed to making a decision on Chagossians’ right to return before the 2015 election and time is running out. We urge Parliamentarians to engage fully with all stakeholders to end decades of human rights abuse and remove a terrible stain on the UK’s character. This administration has a unique opportunity to deliver justice for Chagossians by ending over forty years of enforced exile and supporting return.

 

Interview with Seats.io’s Ben Verbeken.

Posted in .io, Campaign, coverage, resettlement on March 13th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

When Seats.io realised their .io domain name was associated with the British Indian Ocean Territory, the official name of the homeland of forcibly deported Chagossians, they knew they “had to do something.”

Since, they have pro-actively supported the fight for Chagossian return home and control benvover the domain name of their homeland, as our article earlier demonstrates.

We got in touch with Seats.io’s “Chief Everything Officer” Ben Verbeken to discuss how and why he got involved in the campaign. We also spoke about an exciting new project, thedarksideof.io which will encourage other companies using .io to back the Chagossian fight for justice. Read what he had to say below.

UKChSA: In  layman’s terms, can you explain what your start-up company, seats.io, does?

Ben: Seats.io is a floor plan plugin for ticket selling websites, that allows ticket buyers to select their specific spot on an interactive floor plan.

Our main focus is to make it easy for non-techies to draw interactive seating charts, a job that’s usually reserved for software developers and digital designers.

 

“It’s like something from the middle ages, not the early seventies” Ben on the horror of Chagossians forced deportation from their homes

 

What is the appeal of the .io TLD for businesses in your sector and more generally?

The cool thing about .io domain names is that they’re fairly available and cheap; it is much easier and cheaper to get seats.io than  seats.com for instance. Since we’re running our company as a bootstrapped startup (i.e. without funding), every penny counts, so a cheap domain name comes in handy.

Another reason for many technological and software services to adopt an .io domain name is that IO is an abbreviation for input/output. An .io domain name made sense for us from that angle as well.

Not many people know about the shameful history of the UK’s involvement in the history Chagossian people-were you aware of the links of .io to the plight of the Chagossian people?

We absolutely did not know. If we would have known, we would have chosen a different name.
It was David Meyer from Gigaom.com who informed us, when writing his article about the dark side of the .io TLD (https://gigaom.com/2014/06/30/the-dark-side-of-io-how-the-u-k-is-making-web-domain-profits-from-a-shady-cold-war-land-deal/)seats.io2

 

“.io should come under the control of the Chagossian people. But in the meantime there’s a lot we can do-we’ll be launching thedarksideof.io soon”

 

What was your reaction when you found it? Did any part of the story strike you as especially powerful?

To be honest, we were in a pickle. On one hand, we liked our name and domain name a lot, because it was short, meaningful, cheap, simple.
But of course we couldn’t just turn a blind eye either, having heard of the shocking tactics that were used to drive the Chagossian people away. Rounding up all the pet dogs and have them killed are things you’d expect to have happened in the Middle Ages, not in the early ’70s.

Seats.io have kindly committed to supporting Chagossian groups and causes, including ourselves, in order to fight for justice-what motivated you to do this?
When we learned about this story, we had two choices. We could give up our domain name, change our business name.

But by doing that we would be running away from the problem. So instead, we decided to take up social responsibility and actually help the Chagossian people a bit: we made a promise (http://blog.seats.io/post/90546138934/lightening-up-the-dark-side-of-io-a-bit) to donate to the Chagossian cause, every time we’d renew our .io domain name.

You’ve been kind enough to support our work with a donation. What would you encourage other companies and start ups using an .io TLD to do to show solidarity with the Chagossian people? 

Ideally, the .io TLD (Top-Level Domain Name) should come under the control of the Chagossian people. But until that happens, there’s many of other things we can do.

There are many other startups and companies out there that bought their .io domain name for the same reasons I mentioned before, without being aware of the story of the Chagossian people. We would like to call on all those startups to join us and make a promise: donate the cost of your .io to the Chagossian people. It’s only a small donation, it could make a huge difference.

We are working to launch thedarksideof.io soon, a website where .io startups can register their pledge and learn more about the terrible suffering underwent by the Chagossian people and their fight to return home.

News Peeks: Diego Garcia Part 2

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Feasability Study, resettlement, Wikileaks on March 8th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

A few weeks ago News Peeks, a newly established political analysis website aimed at young people, published part one of their excellent short documentary on the history of the Chagos Islands. Now they have published part 2, which you can watch below.

 

Whereas the first video focused on the grim reality of Chagossians’ forced deportation from their homeland, the latest offering details the sufferings and frustrations underwent during forty-plus years of exile. Testimony from a range of Chagossians and their supporters explains how, over the course of decades, the British Government has failed to live up to legal and moral obligations to the exiled Islanders.

Touched on towards the end of the film is the vital point that a feasibility study has recently demonstrated Chagossian return home could be successful economically, environmentally and socially. To support the return 2015 campaign, please sign the petitionwrite to your MP and read more about how you can help win Chagossian justice here.

John Prescott: Return “a small price to pay for the injustice we dealt Chagossians”

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Diego Garcia, Feasability Study, Labour, Lord Prescott on February 15th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Ex Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has made a powerful intervention in the campaign to grant Chagossians the right to return to their homeland. Writing in the The Mirror, he notes with the 50 year UK-US agreement on US military use of Diego Garcia coming to an end in prescott2016. now is the perfect time to grant Chagossians the opportunity to return home. As we have consistently argued, any renewal of the agreement must include US support for Chagossian resettlement.

As Lord Prescott notes, the UK received an £11 million discount on Polaris nuclear weapons in exchange for deporting the Chagossians in the original UK-US deal. Adjusted for inflation, this would be worth £200 million today. This would be more than enough to pay for resettlement of the islands.

On costs, Lord Prescott makes the very reasonable point that KPMG estimates, which begin at £60 million over three years, are “a small price to pay for the injustice we dealt Chagossians.” That these cost estimates are thought overly high by a range of experts only makes any opposition to return even more unreasonable.

The ‘cost’ of Chagossian return, to say nothing about the UK’s moral obligation, is also interestingly compared with the cost of maintaining the Falkland Islands. Resettlement of the Chagos Islands could be accomplished for less than the UK spends on the Falkland Islands in one year. The UK has obligations to all its Overseas Territories.

Speculating why the Government has been so keen to support the Falkland Islanders and so opposed to Chagossian return, Lord Prescott notes that the former are “white.” Considering the history of Chagossians’ deportation, in which they were dismissed as “Tarzans” and “Man Fridays” by UK and US Government officials, and only this were week referred to as “so-called Chagossians” in a Telegraph article, this is not an unreasonable conclusion.

The work of Ben Fogle, one of our Patron’s and a veteran Chagossian campaigner, is also acknowledged in the Daily Mirror piece.

We are glad to have the committed support of Lord Prescott, Ben Fogle and a growing list of people who recognise there is no longer a sensible argument for denying Chagossians justice and the right to return. Add your voice by signing the petition

“Chagossians have waited more than forty years for justice, there should be no delay now.” Our response to Government Statement on Chagossian Return

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, Benjamin Zephaniah, Campaign, coverage, Diego Garcia, FCO, Feasability Study, Philippa Gregory, resettlement on February 10th, 2015 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Earlier today (10th February) the Government made a statement announcing the publication of the Foreign Office-commissioned KPMG report into the feasibility of Chagossian resettlement of their homeland. Our initial reaction is broadly positive and can be read below. The

Foreign Office Statement is cautious; but clear return is possible

Foreign Office Statement is cautious; but clear return is possible

Government’s statement, which announces the beginning of a “policy review,” can be read in full here.

The UK Chagos Support Association very much welcomes KPMG’s report into the feasability of Chagossian return to their homeland and its conclusion that there are no practical, security or environmental obstacles to resettlement. The Government’s confirmation that it will now engage in a serious and thorough policy review is also welcome.

The indication that the unique history of the Chagossian people will be a primary factor in this policy review is especially pleasing. The forced deportation of Chagossians and their neglect in exile by successive administrations places an unavoidable moral obligation on the UK Government to deliver justice to a much abused community.

The report rightly recongises any resettlement programme is complex, but it also demonstrates that there are no challenges to return which can not be overcome with appropriate planning and management.

Buildings like this beautiful church could soon see life again

Buildings like this beautiful church could soon see life again

We understand the Government’s concern that disproportionate costs should not fall on UK taxpayers. We are confident, however, that by efficiently managing processes, utilising a wide variety of funding sources and exploring income generating opportunities, Chagossian return can be delivered with extremely minimal cost to UK citizens.

Upon receiving the report, UK Chagos Support Association Patron and Novelist Philippa Gregory also reacted positivity, commenting;

“I am so pleased that KPMG has consulted the Chagossians as to their future and suggested ways that they could return to their rightful homeland at last. The Chagossians have waited more than forty years for justice, there should be no delay now.”

“While there is work to do on the detail of return, the Government can agree to the principle at once and make a commitment to these people who have been cruelly exiled for too long. The older people want to see their homeland before they die and the younger people are eager to make a start on their new lives. I urge the Foreign Office to make a commitment to return now.”

We accordingly look forward to working with the Chagossian community, Government officials and other stakeholders to develop and deliver a practical resettlement project in the near . Recognition of wider concerns of the Chagossian people beyond resettlement is also highly welcome and it is only right these are addressed simultaneously with central aim of return.

If you have any further queries about this issue do not hesitate to get in touch. Contact details can be found in the ‘contact us’ tab in the top left.

“Exiles from Chagos Islands given hope” New article in The Observer

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Feasability Study, resettlement, Uncategorized on February 8th, 2015 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

“It is a scandal which stretches across six decades,” the report by Jamie Doward rightly begins in a major new piece on the Chagossian campaign for Right to Return to in today’s Observer.

Cautious optimism within the campaign is reflected in the article, which illustrates well that there is now little sensible argument opposing Chagossians’ right to go home. To read more about why 2015 is the perfect opportunity to return, see here. You can also sign here to directly add your voice to those demaning Chagossians right to return home.

 

Commenting on the Government commissioned feasibility report into Chagossian resettlement of their homeland, the article notes a draft version has already found return entirely viable. The finalised version, expected to be published very shortly, is not it claims expected to be substantially different.

Concerns that the Government may use the frankly negligible cost estimates in the report to “kick the issue into the long grass” are also addressed by the writer.

Chagossian advocate and TV personality Ben Fogle argues that the £64m costs over three years are, however, “a drop in the ocean for righting a terrible wrong.” He also suggests that costs may have in any case been wrongly inflated by assuming all buildings on the resettled islands would be designed in the same way as in the UK.

Chagos Refugee Group Chair Sabrina Jean is also quoted reflecting that “most of those still alive” with memories of their homeland will want to go back, and that she remains “hopeful.” Our own Interim Chair Stefan Donnelly also comments optimistically that “all of the obstacles have been resolved.”

APPG Coordinator David Snoxell agrees that it would now be “inconceivable” for the Government to deny Chagossians the right to return. Resettlement on Diego Garcia is “the very least” the Government can do he adds.

It is fantastic to see a consensus emerging that Chagossian justice must be served. All we need now is for politicians to see sense and end almost half a century of exile.

Ben Fogle Interview: “Those Islands can be Resettled.”

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Diego Garcia, Feasability Study, Parliament on December 27th, 2014 by Robert Bain – 4 Comments

During an impassioned interview with George Galloway MP  and Gayatri Pertiwi, Adventurer and long-time Chagossian advocate Ben Fogle has told the nation that “those Islands can be Resettled” Watch the full interview below and then sign the petition

Ben’s been a prominent activist for Chagossians for many years; visit his website here and follow him on Twitter.

Remarking on the current resettlement campaign, he called on MPs, including the programme host and Respect Party MP George Galloway, to ensure Chagossians succeeded in their campaign to return home. Agreeing that a recent investigative study into the feasibility of return was “relatively positive,” he does though note that the cost estimates in the KPMG report (read it and our initial response here) seemed overly high. He suggested that the scale of infrastructure included in cost estimates may be excessive for the actual needs of a small initial Chagossian population, a point made by ourselves and other Chagossian groups.

Again recalling his visit to the Chagos Islands, Ben argues that civilians and military personnel did though already live in good conditions on Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia would then, he suggests,  be the “natural place to begin reinhabitation of the islands.”

As a “self-confessed environmentalist,” Ben also speaks of his regret in supporting the Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos Islands created in 2010. As has elsewhere been confirmed by Wikileaks releases, Ben notes that the MPA was created in large part to prevent Chagossian return. Ben was written about the issue elsewhere previously.

In a resettled Chagossian society, however, Ben makes the extremely valid point that Chagossians could play a vital role employed as environmental wardens protecting the unique environment of their homeland.

Elsewhere in the interview, Ben gives an overview of the history of the islands. He speaks about the “secretive” conditions of the British Indian Ocean Territory’s (the official UK Government name for The Chagos Islands) creation. He also addresses the frustrating lack of publicity that has been afforded the Chagossian struggle in the decades since. The revelations that pet dogs had been killed, he notes, attracted more attention than the forcible deportation of their owners.

Contrasting the popular outrage in defence of the Falkland Islanders in the 1980s and the general ignorance of the Chagossian people’s plight, Ben suggests that the reason for the difference in these British citizens treatment is mainly “skin colour.”

Of course coming in the week after the publication of a Senate report into CIA torture, Ben was also asked about persistent rumours around the role of the Diego Garcia in supporting ‘rendition’ flights. Although he admits, like everyone else, he does not know exactly what role Diego Garcia played in the now admitted US programme of rendition and torture, he argues that whatever happens on the Islands, the UK is “complicit” owing to the agreement allowing the US to use Diego  Garcia, which remains sovereign territory of the UK.

The UK Government continue to deny Diego Garcia supported any rendition flights beyond two confirmed instances in 2002. Although as Mr Galloway notes, even these instances were previously denied until 2008.

Concluding the interview, Ben confirms that Chagossians would be happy to share the base with the American military and would support the extension of the agreement on the US use of the islands, provided the US in turn support Chagossian resettlement.

Do watch the full interview if you can; Ben speaks with great passion and authority.

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.