Philippa Gregory

Reaction to Feasability Study into Chagossian Return

Posted in Feasability Study, Philippa Gregory, resettlement, Uncategorized on December 2nd, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Late last week KPMG, working on behalf of the UK Government, published a draft version of their feasibility report (read it here) into Chagossian resettlement of the Chagos Islands. The Government have claimed that this will inform their decision on whether to permit and support resettlement of the Chagos Islands. This decision is expected next year, with the final version of the report due in early January.

The whole Chagossian community will take time to analyse and respond to the report; many of its assertions are questionable and there are notable concerns about the overall approach. KPMG and the UK Government have however pledged that Chagossian groups will have the opportunity to meet with report stakeholders and the discuss the text prior to final publication.

Although Chagossians have had serious concerns about the way in which the feasibility study has been conducted, we are pleased to see confirmation that a well-managed, environmentally-aware resettlement is entirely feasible.

That the report acknowledges Chagossians are “very environmentally conscious” and “would be willing to play an active part in maintaining the pristine environment of the Chagos Islands” is especially welcome.

The report, even though it does not explore the potential for a vibrant, resettled Chagossian economy, demonstrates justice for Chagossians can be achieved at a minimal cost to UK taxpayers. Resettlement be achieved for less than £65 million over three years, or around 0.002% of the UK’s annual Overseas Aid Budget. Or to put it another way, less than 20 pence per year for every UK citizen, which would help to hear a terrible scar on the nation’s character.

In the coming days and weeks we will analyse the report further and look forward to meeting officials from the study team and other stakeholders to discuss its contents.

Commenting after reading the report, renowned author and UK Chagos Support Association Patron Philippa Gregory stated that  “I welcome the prospect of justice at last for the Chagossians and hope we get a speedy final report and can begin the implementation of return.”

Feasability Study Delay

Posted in Philippa Gregory, Phillip Hammond, resettlement on November 26th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Government-commissioned feasibility study into Chagossian return to their homeland has encountered what have been described as “slight” delays. KPMG officials, who have been tasked with carrying out the study, have confirmed that owing to analysis “taking longer to complete than expected” the draft report scheduled to be circulated last week has not yet been finalised.

Explaining the revised schedule, KPMG stated that following the circulation of the draft report, which the professional services firm have assured us will happen “very shortly,” meetings with Chagossian communities around the world, including Crawly and Manchester, would be carried out in December and early January.

It is not clear if this delay will lead a corresponding delay in the political decision making process. The Government have committed to resolving the issue before the next election (in May 2015) but had been expected to reach a decision considerably earlier. The window of opportunity for Chagossians to evaluate, react to and campaign on the feasibility report was already very narrow.

In reaction to the delay, Author Philippa Gregory, our patron and current Vice-Chair, commented that she was “sorry but not surprised.” Reflecting widespread concerns amongst Chagossians about the way KPMG carried out the study, she noted that “when KPMG met the Chagossian communities in Mauritius, the Seychelles and the UK they were unprepared for the strength of feeling and the extent of mistrust fostered by years of deceit and injustice.”

Ms Gregory also identified causes for optimism, however, noting that the plan to return to the communities to discuss the report may be suggestive that “at least some sort of return will be proposed.” Issuing a rallying call to all those sympathetic to the Chagossian cause she added that “all of us who support the Chagossian community must help ensure their voices are heard and that they get the best result possible.”

Certainly regardless of the content of the report, it is crucial all those who wish to see the Chagossian people finally win some measure of justice are as vocal as possible in demanding the UK Government meaningfully support resettlement.

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43rd Meeting and AGM of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, conservation, FCO, Philippa Gregory, USA on July 24th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 6th Annual General Meeting (AGM) and 43rd meeting on 15 July 2014. The meeting which was to have taken place prior to the AGM with the FCO Minister Mark Simmonds MP, was postponed at the last minute due to the arrival at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the new Foreign Secretary.

The Group re-elected the current office holders (Chairman Jeremy Corbyn; Vice-Chairs Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Andrew Rosindell MP, Henry Smith MP; Secretary Andrew George MP). David Snoxell was re-appointed Coordinator and Richard Gifford Legal Adviser – the Group thanked them for their continuing support and service to the Group.

Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and Questions which had been answered since the Group’s last meeting on 5 June were considered. Members were surprised to learn that the Government received no revenues from the sales of .io domains and noted that this had been contradicted by the International Computer Bureau (ICB) Chief. Lord Avebury had tabled a further Question on the financial arrangements with the ICB.

The Group discussed the KPMG monthly reports for May and June on the progress of the feasibility study. They were concerned that the initial consultations with the Chagossians in Mauritius, Seychelles and Crawley did not appear to have gone well and that this could lead to delay. They urged both the FCO and KPMG to ensure that the grievances and aspirations of Chagossians were considered as well as the technical aspects of the conditions in which some would want to resettle permanently in the Islands. Members did not feel that to proceed by way of questionnaires was the best way forward. The Group took note that in answer to a PQ Mr Simmonds had said that the feasibility study should be complete by early January 2015. Members were of the view that the study, including the extension of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT, should be debated in Parliament before Ministers made final decisions on resettlement.

A request from Prof Charles Sheppard, Chairman of CCT and his colleagues to make a presentation to the Group on the conservation aspects was agreed – their last presentation to the Group had been in December 2010. Also at her request a meeting with Dr Philippa Gregory would be arranged.

The next meeting of the Group will be on 15 October 2014, preceded by the postponed meeting with Mr Simmonds, if available.

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 – 1 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.”