Philippa Gregory

32nd Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, FCO, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, USA on December 6th, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – 2 Comments

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 32nd meeting on 5 December 2012. The Chairman welcomed a new member, Henry Bellingham MP who is the fifth former FCO Minister with responsibility for BIOT or the Indian Ocean to have joined the Group.

Members considered legal developments since the last meeting on 17 October. They noted that the Judicial Review of the MPA had been postponed to March to allow the FCO more time to prepare their case, in view of additional pleadings agreed by judges on 13 November, concerning traditional fishing rights and the requirement under the EU Treaty for social and economic development of the OTs. The Group also discussed the Mauritius case at ITLOS which would be heard by a Tribunal next July. Until these cases were resolved it was difficult to see how the MPA ,declared on 1 April 2010, could progress. The Group discussed ways in which these issues might be resolved through diplomacy and compromise, such as providing Mauritius with a role in the MPA and the Chagosians with a designated fishing zone, as is provided for the Pitcairn fishermen in the forthcoming Pitcairn marine reserve.

The Group also considered the implications of the Information Commissioner’s Decision that the BIOT Administration was subject to FOIA and EIRs. There seemed to be no good reason why the FCO should want the BIOT Administration, which is part of the FCO, to be immune from freedom of information and disclosure of environmental information. It was possible that the FCO would appeal to the First Tier Tribunal. The Chairman said he would table a further PQ on the subject.

The FAC meeting (postponed to 11 December) concerning the Overseas Territories White Paper, at which the new FCO Minister Mark Simmonds would be questioned, was discussed. Andrew Rosindell, the Vice Chairman of the Group, would be raising various issues regarding the section in the WP concerning BIOT.

The Group discussed the 1966 UK/US Exchange of Letters, due for renewal in 2014. It was felt that this provided a golden opportunity to discuss with the US an overall settlement of the issues and that the sooner these discussion began the better.

Lord Avebury’s intervention in the Lords debate on piracy in the Indian Ocean on 24 October was discussed. He had proposed that following up the meeting between the two prime ministers of 8 June, and once the court cases were out of the way, discussions between the UK and Mauritius on the future of the Chagos Islands should take place. Since Lord Avebury had received an unsatisfactory reply to his proposal during the debate it was suggested that he should write to the Minister concerned.

The next meeting of the APPG will be on 13 February 2013. As Philippa Gregory and the Comite Chagos were unable to meet the Group on this occasion it was agreed that they should do so before the next meeting.

Reaction to release of British colonial files

Posted in APPG, conservation, ECHR, FCO, Legal, MPA, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, Wikileaks, William Hague on April 23rd, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

The release of colonial files by the Forieign and Commonwelath Office, some referring to the expulsion of the Chagos Islanders, has provoked a strong reaction as well as suspicion about the validity of previously-released documets. Key points are raised in letters published by the Guardian under the theme Conspiracies and the legacy of empire.

British colonial files released following legal challenge

Posted in ECHR, FCO, Philippa Gregory, Uncategorized, William Hague on April 21st, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Secret files from British colonial rule – once thought lost – have been released by the government, one year after they came to light in a High Court challenge to disclose them. Some of the papers cover controversial episodes, including the expulsion of the Chagossians from their homeland. They also reveal efforts to destroy and reclassify sensitive files. The Foreign Office says it is now releasing “every paper” it can. But academics say the Foreign Office’s “failure” to deliver the archive for decades has created a “legacy of suspicion”.

The first batch of papers reveals efforts to deport Chagos islanders from the British Indian Ocean Territories and was discussed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 18th April 2012, where Philippa Gregory, a Patron of the UK Chagos Support Association, commented:

“They are perfectly clear that they are lying. One official talks about telling a whopping fib or even a little fib, depending on how many [Chagossians] they are trying to pretend don’t exist.

It’s this kind of sporty, jolly hockey sticks attitude, like it’s all a bit of a game; like we are still in the Empire; like it’s a bit of fun to go to a foreign country, destroy their lives…The decision that was taken on this day, that has never been rescinded, destroyed the lives of that community.”

Philippa Gregory talks Chagos on US radio

Posted in Philippa Gregory on November 28th, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Philippa Gregory

Here’s a recording of Philippa Gregory talking on San Francisco radio station Now 99.7 about her historical novels and her work supporting the Chagos islanders (jump to 11:15 for the Chagos part).

When she tells people the story of Chagos, the usual reply is: “That’s terrible, I didn’t know about it,” Gregory says. She describes the Chagos scandal as “hidden in plain sight”.

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.

Chagos representatives meet Foreign Secretary

Posted in Ben Fogle, ConDem, FCO, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, William Hague on July 1st, 2011 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

William Hague meeting Chagos representatives

William Hague meets Chagos representatives / Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

In a historic meeting on Monday the British Foreign Secretary met representatives of the Chagos people who were expelled from their islands more than forty years ago.

Foreign Secretary William Hague invited the Chagos representatives to a meeting following May’s Chagos Regagné conference on the possibility of a science station and eco-village on Chagos. Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory, patrons of the UK Chagos Support Association, accompanied chair Roch Evenor and vice chair Marcus Booth to the Foreign Office where they were welcomed by Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, who expressed his support for their cause.
Philippa Gregory opened the meeting by describing the Chagos Regagné conference. The Chagos people had been interested in the scientific papers on the value and the pristine nature of the reef, she said, and the scientists, conservationists and reef experts had mostly agreed that an eco-village on one of the outer islands could provide a base for Chagos people visiting their homeland and working on conservation projects. She acknowledged that there were strong feelings on both sides but stressed that there was a consensus for conservation and for the Chagos people to return.
Mr Hague reminded the meeting of various projects currently funded by the government which he said demonstrated the government’s goodwill to the Chagos people. He also cited projects in other overseas territories which he said demonstrated the government’s interest in and commitment to overseas territories. But he warned that some aspects of the right to return could not be discussed while the case against the government was before the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr Rosindell asked if there was a possibility of an out-of-court settlement. Mr Hague said the government saw this case, which should be heard this year, as a test case on the court’s ability to rule on the British overseas territories. Philippa Gregory remarked that she saw no obstacle to progress on the idea of an eco-village and science station while the case was going on. The matter will have to be resolved sooner or later, she said, underlining the sense of urgency among the Chagos people, whose campaign will continue whatever the result of the court case.
Ben Fogle spoke strongly about the publicity campaign, which so far has focused on seeking the government’s support – in line with its pre-election promises. If progress was not made on that front, the campaign would continue, he said, as there is increasing public interest, and his commitment to the campaign would go on.
Mr Hague mentioned the Science Advisory Group which has met once and will meet again in September. Miss Gregory asked if there could be Chagos representation on the group, and the Foreign Office officials were concerned about there being proper representation. Roch Evenor explained that he had convened an umbrella organisation which covers all Chagos groups in the UK, and which could nominate proper representatives.
Hague meets Chagos representatives

William Hague with Chagos representatives / Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The officials said that Diego Garcia was mentioned as a possible site for a science station and Miss Gregory said that the Chagos people would welcome that as a site for the Chagos eco-village, which might give Chagos people work opportunities as well as solving issues about fishing, communications, and safety. Mr Rosindell asked Mr Hague to find out whether the Americans had serious views against a return of the Chagos people. Mr Hague remarked that the US was a premier ally with important treaty obligations. Andrew Rosindell pressed this point, saying that when he had visited Washington he had not heard it mentioned that the US wanted to exclude the Chagos people.

As the meeting was ending Mr Hague again stressed the government’s continuing goodwill, citing visits and courses that have been organised. Miss Gregory raised the issue of British Citizenship and explained the problem caused by the loophole in the law acknowledging the rights of Chagos people. She gave Mr Hague a briefing note and told him of the hardship and distress that this problem is causing to large numbers of people. She cited figures of 600 people affected by the problem in Mauritius (according to Olivier Bancoult), and Roch Evenor said there were 68 in the UK. Mr Evenor was able to give Mr Hague a list of UK Chagossians who are experiencing difficulties. Mr Hague said that resolving this issue would probably require a change in the law.
The meeting wound up. Roch Evenor and Philippa Gregory felt that Mr Hague was genuinely sympathetic and that progress is being made. The next step is to get Chagos people on the Science Advisory Group so that they can be included in any discussion of a science station, and any proposed station includes a green village for Chagos people.

‘The fight for justice will go on until justice is won’

Posted in Ben Fogle, CCT, CICA, conservation, CRG, events, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory on May 22nd, 2011 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

The Chagos Regagné conference, held at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 19 May, was a landmark event that brought together conservationists, scientists, supporters, anthropologists, charities, academics, politicians and media, for the first time in the long history of campaigning.

It felt as if everyone with an interest in Chagos was there; the historian David Vine had flown in from the US just for the conference, and Chagos researcher Laura Jeffery came in from Mauritius for the day. Historic campaigner Olivier Bancoult came from Mauritius to speak and the Prime Minister of Mauritius authorised his legal representative to make a powerful public statement. For the first time Chagos people attended a conference about their future in force – about 150 people came in the coaches laid on from Crawley and from Manchester. An attentive and noisy group, they raised issues that were not on the agenda but were welcomed by the organisers. The issue of passports and compensation, and the passionate sense of urgency for the cause of return were powerfully expressed.

The conference was arranged so that every session with speakers was followed with comment, debate and questions from the floor. Chairs Sue MacGregor (of the BBC) and Professor Rebecca Stott (from Royal Holloway College, London) made sure there was as much debate as possible. Chagos people insisted on translation into Creole; Laura Jeffery served as a generous and friendly interpreter for two of the sessions.

The first debate was entitled ‘Reef Health Now’ – and scientists Mark Spalding and John Turner explained their research. Dr Spalding concluded that the reefs were a precious and delicately balanced environmental haven, but he thought that a carefully managed presence of Chagos people would not cause damage. Dr Turner presented research from Dr Charles Shepherd as well as his own work, and emphasised the importance of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) as the best preserved coral reef in the world — with others under threat from climate change, overfishing and pollution.

The second debate looked at the human presence in the MPA. David Vine reported on the history of the Chagos islands and the reasons for the expulsion of the people. He reported that the architect of the American base concept believed before he died that the indigenous people could live near the base. William Marsden of the Chagos Conservation Trust spoke in favour of the conservation work and training done. John Howell, author of a previous plan to return, reminded the conference of the practical proposal agreed by Chagos people for their return to the islands.

Before lunch, a Guardian photographer recorded the historic coming together of so many Chagos people. Paul Gardiner of the Mantis Group of Resorts opened the afternoon’s debates by talking about how he and his family and the indigenous people of the Cape area of South Africa had found the motivation and the way to reintroduce animals into a desolate area. His example suggested that indigenous people can learn and work as guardians of their own heritage. Sean Carey talked about the history of the diaspora of the Chagos people. Laura Jeffery spoke about her work to consult the Chagos people and establish their views and hopes for the future. She invited people to contact her to make sure that her work – funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council – reaches a wider audience so that people really know what the Chagos people hope and fear. Richard Dunne presented a stunning report on what a science station with a green eco-village might be like, what it might do and, importantly, what it might cost. In line with the best scientific advice, Richard Dunne advised the establishment of a small settlement, of perhaps 100 people, and argued that trained and motivated Chagossians might protect the valuable Chagos coral reefs better than they are being protected now.

The next session was given over to the lawyers. Philippe Sands QC delivered a statement  approved by the Prime Minister of Mauritius, presenting strong legal arguments against the creation of the MPA. He accused the UK and the US of behaving illegally, and the conservation charities who supported the MPA of being “aiders and abettors”. Sands promised a hearing at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and further action at the United Nations. This was a speech which challenged the conservationists and warned them that future decisions about the Chagos marine reserve will have to be taken in consultation with the Chagos people.

However there was a strong feeling from the floor of the conference that the Mauritian government had not supported the Chagos people historically, and some Chagos people made clear they did not want Mauritian sovereignty over Chagos. Allen Vincatassin expressed his commitment to the UK and his distrust of Mauritian motives. The High Commissioner of Mauritius, who attended the conference for the whole day, was interested and engaged by the discussion and reassured the organisers that he welcomed the open debate.

Richard Gifford, lawyer for the Chagos Refugees Group, spoke next outlining the long campaign which brought the Chagos cause to the European Court of Human Rights. He got a stormy response from the floor when people demanded swifter action, and complained bitterly about the situation regarding British passports — which some Chagossian family members have had trouble obtaining (this, of course, is not Richard Gifford’s responsibility, but the Government’s).

The final session was about agreeing the way forward. Olivier Bancoult gave a powerful speech and contributions from the floor were passionate and sustained. Conservationists reminded the conference of the importance of the natural environment. Ben Fogle, patron of this association, closed the conference with an appeal for unity and his certainty that the cause would be won. The room was then filled with the moving music of the choir of Ifield Community College singing ‘Calling my Children Home’, a fitting end to an emotional day.

Conference organiser Philippa Gregory said: “We didn’t get to an agreed conclusion but the important issues were powerfully raised in a public forum in a way which cannot be mistaken. The Chagos people spoke up and demanded compensation, fair acknowledgement of their British subject status, and the right to return. Many conservation groups represented at the conference confirmed that they had no problem with the return of a limited population to the islands and that they had no intention that the Marine Protected Status of the area would exclude Chagos people. We have a clear message to take to the Foreign Office, and I am very very pleased that even while the conference was in progress, we were offered a date to meet the Foreign Secretary. Roch Evenor, Ben and I will tell him clearly that the Chagos people will not accept the current situation and that the fight for justice will go on until justice is won.”

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.”

Hope for a return

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, CCT, CICA, conservation, CRG, events, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory on May 17th, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

Great piece in the Telegraph at the weekend about this Thursday’s conference on the future of the Chagos islands.

 

The people of Chagos have faced secrecy and deceit from successive governments. Thursday will be a great opportunity to have a proper open discussion and learn how conservation can go hand in hand with the rights of the Chagossians.

Chagos regagné

Posted in Ben Fogle, conservation, events, Philippa Gregory on May 2nd, 2011 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

A unique conference on the future of Chagos is being held in London later this month, with conservationists, politicians, anthropologists, the Chagos people themselves and their supporters invited to take part.

Roch Evenor

Roch Evenor

Chagos Regagné (Chagos Regained) will be hosted by Roch Evenor, chair of Committee Chagos and of the UK Chagos Support Association, along with patrons Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory. It is to be held at the Royal Geographic Society on Thursday 19 May. Transport is being laid on for Chagossians living in Crawley and Manchester who want to attend.

Philippa Gregory said: “The conference is to gather current thinking on the desirability of a small eco-village, science station to house Chagos people and host visiting conservation scientists to be established on one of the outer islands. The plan is that Chagos people from all around the world would be able to visit, and some would stay on short-term contracts to work as conservators and guardians of the MPA, staffing and assisting at a science station, and patrolling. They would live in eco-houses and practise sustainable small-scale fishing and market gardening. Perhaps some of the older people would like to stay for long visits.”

Philippa Gregory

This proposal is to be considered while the Chagos people’s legal claim to return to their islands goes through the European Court of Human Rights. Philippa Gregory said: “I have such a sense of urgency for the Chagos people. Some of the older people especially want to return at once. I am hoping that the scientists and politicians will agree that this is a way that people could return immediately.”

Scientists, anthropologists, Chagos representatives and consultants will outline the possibilities and the difficulties of this plan, and delegates will be able to discuss the arguments for and against. The papers presented will form part of a briefing that will go to the Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has expressed interest. Conservationists have responded to Ben Fogle’s call for openness.

The conference will be made up of four sessions. The first will look at Chagos reef ecology now. Lead speakers will be Mark Spalding, John Turner and Bernadette Dugasse.

The second will be a debate on human impact now. Lead speakers will be John Howell and the US author and historian David Vine.

Ben Fogle

The afternoon will open with a debate about the possible future of the islands led by Richard Dunne, Sean Carey, Paul Gardiner, and a Chagos conservation volunteer. Additional information will come from the Mauritius lead legal advisor Philippe Sands and Richard Gifford of the Chagos legal team.

An open discussion will follow and Ben Fogle will close the meeting with a discussion with Sabrina Jean and other Chagos people.

Senior politicians, advisors and scientists have confirmed their attendance, some flying in to the UK specially. “I hope this will open the debate for the new government at an entirely new level,” said Philippa Gregory. “I believe that this is an opportunity for the Chagos people to work out how they can return to their islands with the support of conservationists, scientists and the British government.”

Chagos Regagné will be held at the Royal Geographic Society in London, May 19 2011, 10-4pm. Tickets are available from info@philippagregory.com for £30.