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Ocean 71 Article: “Heaven in Chagos Hell”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 24th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

house dgOcean 71, an online investigative magazine specialising in the marine environment has published a major piece on the Chagossian fight for justice. Entitled “Hell in the Chagos Heaven,” It can be read here.

The work weaves beautifully the personal story of Chagossian activist Bernadette Dugasse’s brief visit back to her island home several years ago, the dreadful history of human rights abuse suffered by Chagossians and the current fight for permanent resettlement.

At the conclusion of the work, the author describes the current battle as a “David against Goliath” struggle. Perhaps this sounds overly pessimistic, but let’s remember who won that fight.

 

More calls for a full debate on report into Chagossian Resettlement

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

henry smithHenry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, has called for a full Parliamentary debate on a report due to be published next week into Chagossian resettlement. This follows a similar intervention from Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Chair Jeremy Corbyn earlier this week.

In his answer Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire confirms the report will be published “by the end of the month” and will be released by the Government “shortly thereafter.” On the question of a debate, he states that “if the Speaker agrees to a debate, the Government will be pleased to participate.”

You can watch their short exchange below via Mr Smith’s Youtube channel.

 

‘Returning Home’ Photography Competition

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

We are delighted to officially announce the opening of  our Return 2015 Photography Competition, which will both raise awareness of the Chagossian fight for justice and showcase the talents of our supporters. The theme is, naturally enough, “Returning Home.” We are happy for you to be as liberal as you like interpreting this; it may be something directly inspired by the Chagossians people’s struggle or a more personal reflection on the nature of ‘going home’ in everyday life.

photoSo we can use the material as part of our campaign, we are going to set a fairly short deadline on this of February 16th. This gives you just under a month to submit something to us at ukchagos@gmail.com.  Please include a short explanation of your work with your submission.

Entry is free, though we would appreciate a small donation of £5 for our campaign and community work (whether you pay or not will though be irrelevant to our decision on winners).  All are welcome to enter, from professionals to enthusiastic point-and-clickers.

Owing to our lack of resources, we can’t I’m afraid offer a cash prize. We are though tentatively planning an event for February at which you would be presented with a certificate. We will also of course be very vocal in promoting your piece to our supporters, the media and wider world.

Looking forward to seeing your submissions and please do share this around; let’s get as many people thinking, talking and snapping about the Chagossian fight for return as possible!

In Parliament: Jeremy Corbyn on Feasability Study and Chagos Trip

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Last week Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Chair Jeremy Corbyn brought two issues Chagossians care deeply about to the floor of the House of Commons; the feasibility study into return and trips back to the islands for Chagossians. Little hint was offered on how the Government will react to the study. Confirmation was though provided regarding the cancellation of a Government funded trip for Chagossians to the islands. The full text of these questions can be found below our summary, or in the links. Do please comment with your thoughts.

Jeremy-Corbyn-imageFirstly, Mr Corbyn questioned how the Government planned to react to the publication of the final version of KPMG’s report into Chagossian return. Specifically he queried if an official statement would be made by Government, and called for a “full debate” before the end of this Parliament.

In response, Leader of the House William Hague said it was “up to the Foreign Office” how they chose to respond to the report. He did though note the “considerable interest” in Parliament.  Mr Hague also referenced his own role is setting up the study in his previous position as Foreign Secretary.

Our Analysis: Having a full debate in Parliament is absolutely vital. Previously decisions about the Chagos Islands have been taken in a truly anti-democratic fashion, via Royal edict or deliberately obscure Government order. It would be a national disgrace if yet again Parliament was not afforded the opportunity to at least consider providing Chagossians with a long overdue measure of justice.

On a wholly different matter earlier in the week, Mr Corbyn asked in a written question why Zoological Society of London scientists had been permitted to go to the Chagos Islands.

Responding for the Government, Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire stated that ZSL scientists were conducting observations “ecology within BIOT’s marine protected area.”

In a separate question tabled the same day, Mr Corbyn asked “what steps are being taken to ensure that the Chagossians are taken to the Chagos Islands as soon as possible, since the cancellation by his Department of their scheduled annual trip in November 2014.”

Replying, the Minister attributed the cancellation of what is supposed to be an annual event to a “mechanical failure” with a ship intended to be used in the trip.  A trip for a small group of UK Chagossians would be organised, he added, in April. He also confirmed that his department was “discussing” the possibility of using funds intended for cancelled trips to support Chagossian community projects.

You can find the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s questions below.

 

Feasibility Study

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): At the end of this month, the Foreign Office will receive a copy of the consultant’s report on the feasibility of the Chagos islanders returning to their homeland from which they were disgracefully removed many decades ago. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is the case, that there will be an imminent statement from the Foreign Office shortly after the report is received and that there will be an opportunity before the end of this Parliament for a full debate on the situation facing the Chagos islanders and the assertion of their right to return to the islands from which they were so wrongly removed all those decades ago.

WilliamHague: The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing campaigner on this issue and I had discussions with him when I was Foreign Secretary. Indeed it was my decision as Foreign Secretary to set up this further feasibility study about the Chagos islands. It has always been intended that it would report at the beginning of this year; in other words, very soon. He will have to ask a Foreign Office Minister specifically about the Department’s approach. It is Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday, so he might have an opportunity to do so then, but I will remind the FCO that there is considerable interest in the House as to how the report will be handled and the FCO response to it.

 

Cancelled Chagos Trip

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what steps are being taken to ensure that the Chagossians are taken to the Chagos Islands as soon as possible, since the cancellation by his Department of their scheduled annual trip in November 2014.

 

Hugo Swire: We are committed to the Chagossians visiting the British Indian Ocean Territory in April 2015. BIOT Administration officials judge that this is the earliest time that safety concerns caused by mechanical problems on board the BIOT Administration’s vessel will be satisfactorily addressed, and the logistics of such a complex trip completed. Additionally, the community leaders are working with us to reallocate the funds set aside for the postponed 2014 visit to community projects.

ZSL Chagos Trip

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when and for what reasons permission was given to representatives of the Zoological Society of London to travel to the Chagos Islands.
Hugo Swire: On 14 October 2014, the Administration of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) granted permission for a consortium of scientists, led by representatives of the Zoological Society of London, to undertake an expedition to BIOT (which includes the Chagos Archipelago) in January 2015. The purpose of this expedition, now underway, is to conduct observations on the pelagic ecology within BIOT’s marine protected area. The BIOT Administration is committed to promoting research that increases scientific understanding and informs global conservation efforts, and has identified the documentation of pelagic ecosystems as a priority.

Diego Garcia and the US Senate Torture Report: Media Round Up

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

It can be a cause of some frustration amongst Chagossians and their allies that human rights abuses in Diego Garcia only attract serious media attention in relation to allegations of its use in ‘rendition’ flights. The decades of human rights abuse suffered by thousands of Chagossians rarely gets anything like the attention, despite being openly admitted by all involved. (To help us campaign and raise awareness, please consider donating  or signing the petition [see sidebar for both])

Nevertheless, Chagossians rightly take a concerned interest in any allegations their homeland is hosting further abuse. Indeed, as the Chagos Islands remain a British Overseas Territory, no British citizen should be comfortable with suggestions made in some quarters over the weekend about the usage of Diego Garcia military facilities.

Chagossians are confident they could live alongside a continuing US military facility, but US support for Chagossian resettlement must be a condition of an extension of the US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia, which expires in 2016.

Like the rest of the world, we can not say anything on the truth of some of the below allegations. This is, however, how the issue has been covered in the UK press.

The recent spike in interest in US-operated military facilities on Diego Garica comes after a the publication of a US Senate report into the use of torture by US intelligence agencies over the past fifteen years. (link to CNN coverage and full report) Diego Garcia, and the work of British intelligence services generally, was notable by its absence. The Telegraph noted that pages and “names of countries,” had though been “redacted”, whilst referencing suspicions Diego Garcia may have been used as “Black Site” for detention, transfer of detainees and even torture.

A Guardian article similarly acknowledged these allegations, without endorsing them, which largely stem from an Al-Jazeera America report earlier this year. The piece quoted an anonymous source who predicted that an unredacted Senate report would reveal a so-called “black site” was operated in Diego Garcia with the full cooperation of the British Government.

The case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the Libyan dissident who claims to have been transited through Diego Garcia whilst undergoing CIA torture, has also been referenced in media reaction to the report, including an article by prominent human rights lawyer Amrit Singh.

Calls for further action have come from a variety of sources. Phillipe Sands QC, writing in the Daily Mail, has called for a “full judicial inquiry.” In his piece he forwards that the complete absence of Diego Garcia from the report suggests that “officials may have taken steps to remove anything that would blemish our reputation.”

Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, meanwhile, has argued that he will ensure the Intelligence and Security Committee has the powers to investigate the matter fully. RT, which has followed the developments of the story closely, has noted that former Prime Minister Tony Blair may be made answer questions about Deigo Garcia as part of the Committee’s inquiry.

Controversy has also broken out over whether the UK had requested these redactions, especially concerning Diego Garcia. Home Secretary Teresa May stated that she did not.  It has been admitted previously, however, that UK officals and representatives met members of US Senate Committee in relation, and that some redactions were made on “national security grounds.”

We’ll continue to follow coverage of the story as it develops. Hopefully it focus the national conversation on the future of the islands.

 

The history of UK and US intervention in the Chagos Archipelago has thus far generated nothing but bad news. Let’s hope next year positive headlines are made as the Government finally decides to grant Chagossians a measure of justice after decades of suffering.

 

 

Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Meeting Coordinator’s Summary: Resettlement report reaction, UK-US talks and possible court action

Posted in Uncategorized on December 3rd, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Please find below a summary of the recent meeting of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting, kindly put together and provided by voluntary Coordinator of the APPG David Snoxell.

 

The  Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 45th meeting on 2 December. Members felt that the report on the Chagos Conservation Trust website of  the Group’s meeting on 15 October with CCT Trustees was not a balanced and accurate reflection of the Group’s views. PQs and Oral Answers since the last meeting, and also correspondence with FCO Ministers and with the Chairman of the FAC were considered.

Although there had not been sufficient time to read KPMG’s draft resettlement report (82 pages) in detail, Members noted that, unlike the 2002 Feasibility Study, the report was based on the assumption that resettlement was feasible and that conservation, defence and security were not obstacles. Nor did the report repeat the flawed predictions of the 2002 study concerning climate change, sea level rise and increased storminess which gave rise to the FCO’s conclusions at the time that resettlement would be precarious and inordinately costly. Members were pleased to see that the report noted the commitment by Chagossians to preserve their unique environment and that Diego Garcia seemed to be the favoured option.
Members were however surprised at the high cost estimates provided by KPMG but expected that these could be significantly reduced by sourcing materials in Asia and learning from the  experience of the Maldives and the remote inhabited islands.of Mauritius. The Group understood that there were omissions (eg lack of consideration of economic activities such as fisheries as a source of food and income) and deficiencies in the report which it was hoped would be addressed during the period of consultation before it was finalised. They also thought that the Chagossians would need to be very clear over how many really wanted to return permanently and their livelihood prospects, including a standard of living appropriate to undeveloped tropical islands. They urged the FCO to seek funding for resettlement from the EU (EDF), the US, UN Agencies, international NGOs and the privater sector.  It was felt that DFID should have been consulted and from now on ought to be closely involved.
The Group decided to invite the KPMG team to meet members for a discussion within the next 3 weeks. They also agreed that the final report, expected in January, should be debated in Parliament before Ministers reached decisions on resettlement.
The Group considered the future of the MPA, declared on 1 April 2010. It was clear that the MPA could not progress until the litigation brought by Mauritius at a Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration concluded and Chagossian resettlement was determined.  Members noted that the exclusion of indigenous people was the reason why IUCN had not included the Chagos Islands in their recent  “Green List sites” (article in Nature Journal of 20 November).
Members were informed about the forthcoming application to the Supreme Court to review the 2008 majority verdict of the House of Lords. They hoped that Ministers would carefully consider the extent to which there had been a breach of the duty of candour before agreeing to further costly litigation.
Members noted that talks with the US on the future of BIOT  started this week. It was assumed that  extension of the 1966 Agreement would be predicated on agreement over where and how resettlement was to take place.
The date of the next meeting is 14 January 2015

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.”

Press Association Report: “No obstacles to resettlement”

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Many thanks to the Press Association and Richard Wheeler for permitting our reproduction of this Press Association report.

‘No obstacles’ to Chagos resettling

By Richard Wheeler, Press Association Political Staff

 

There are “no fundamental legal obstacles” that would prevent resettlement on the British-controlled Chagos Islands, according to a new independent report.

An initial population of between 150 to 500 people is the most likely option for the central Indian Ocean territory should resettlement take place, the draft KPMG assessment adds.

The British forced the Chagossians to leave the islands by 1973 to allow the US to establish an air base on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago.

Critics described the expulsions as one of the most shameful episodes in modern British colonial history, with the exiled Chagossians fighting a long series of legal battles for the right of return.

KPMG was appointed as independent consultants by the Foreign Office to carry out the study in 2013 and has now published a draft feasibility study assessing three options for potential resettlement.

It suggests the most likely options for any initial return would either be a pilot, small-scale resettlement (option three) or a medium-scale resettlement (option two).

Option three involves resettling 150 Chagossians, with the potential for growth should it prove successful, while option two envisages resettling 500.

The report notes this would “probably” be on Diego Garcia with “possible later expansion” on the outer islands, which could involve the large-scale resettlement plan (option one) of 1,500 Chagossians.

Discussing the legal and political issues, the report says on the conclusions and implications for resettlement: “There are no fundamental legal obstacles that would prevent a resettlement of BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) to go ahead.

“The legal and constitutional framework will however require significant amendment in order to facilitate a resettlement and this will require a comprehensive consultation process with the Chagossians and other interested parties.”

The report explains the needs of the returning population would have to be balanced with environmental concerns and the use of the territory for defence purposes.

One-off costs of developing transport infrastructure, sea defences, houses, public buildings, utilities and services have also been estimated for each resettlement option.

The smallest resettlement option for 150 people could cost £62.9 million to establish and be implemented over three years, the medium option could cost £106.9 million over four years and the biggest may take six years and cost £413.9 million.

The latter would reduce to £180.8 million if a breakwater/harbour and an airport are excluded.

KPMG also found Diego Garcia is the most suitable location in the territory for resettlement when compared to “remote, inhospitable islands” Boddam and Ile du Coin.

The study considered a range of factors for potential resettlement of the three islands, including rainfall, freshwater supply, soil quality, fish population, the abundance of sea cucumber and the logistics of importing food.

The report noted: “The most likely options for any initial resettlement of BIOT are option three (pilot, small-scale resettlement) or option two (medium-scale re-settlement) – probably in Diego Garcia, with possible later expansion involving option one (large-scale re-settlement) on the outer islands – such as Ile du Coin or Boddam.”

In a written statement to Parliament, Foreign Office minister James Duddridge said: “In line with its terms of reference, the feasibility study has examined the full range of options for resettlement on each of the islands of the territory, including Diego Garcia with its vital military base.

“Final views are now sought from the Chagossian community and all those with an interest.

“The study will conclude and issue its final report to ministers in January 2015.”

Chagos Myth Busting Part 2: Security, Sea Levels and Will to Return

Posted in Uncategorized on November 24th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Chagos Myth #4: “A resettled Chagossian population would undermine military forces on Diego Garcia and therefore national security”

Government Ministers have said that security is their “first” concern when considering potential Chagossian resettlement. It is difficult to see, however, in what way a resettled Chagossian population would have any impact on the national security of the US or the UK.

Firstly, the US have been explicit in stating Chagossian resettlement is an issue for the UK Government and not something on which it will take a position. All around the world, meanwhile, US military bases co-exist with civilian populations.

It is of course also something of a myth there is currently no civilian population on the Chagos Islands for forty years: military bases require people to run the bars, clean the barracks and provide other support services. If anything a resettled Chagossian population, who could take up a good number of these roles, would improve security. US forces would have a permanent, known work force rather than having to rely upon a constant flow of temporary workers recruited from overseas.

Although there’s no indication that the US would oppose resettlement, the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group has rightly recognised that with the UK-US agreement on use of facilities coming to an end in 2016, US support for Chagossian resettlement should be “an obvious condition for extending the agreement.”

It is also worth remembering the military presence in Diego Garcia began in a very different world. Created at the height of the Cold War, the military challenges faced by the UK and the US are very different today. Cyber warfare and online espionage are now the greatest threats to the integrity of military information. In combatting these threats, it entirely irrelevant whether the would-be hacker is Lincolnshire, Tehran or Peros Banhos.

Final word though must go to Stuart B. Barber, one of the most influential military officials involved in the creation of the military base on Diego Garcia. Speaking in retirement, Mr Barber lamented not just the barbarism of the forced deportation of the Chagossian people, but also the fact it was “not necessary militarily.”

 

Chagos Myth #5: “Rising sea levels will soon make the Chagos Islands uninhabitable anyway”

Like many other island nations, rising sea levels would be a concern for a resettled Chagossian community. As the 2007 Returning Home report notes, however, this is a global threat for which mitigation and adaption can be made with appropriate investment. The speed of sea-level rises are unpredictable, but a resettled Chagossian population would have several generations to adapt to gradual rises.

Indeed an intensive 2012 academic study, Contemporary Sea Rises in the Chagos Archipelago, found “no statistically significant long-term rise.” It also noted “no record of island subsidence” and  “no evidence of changes in the wind or wave environment in the past 20 years.” In other words, there is no evidence the Chagos Islands are becoming more difficult to live in.

Presuming the US military base remains, as is expected, American and British administrations will also have a self-interest in protecting the islands from rising sea levels.

The Chagos Islands have an average elevation no lower than vast swathes of The Netherlands. There is no plan to expel the Dutch for their own safety, so rising sea levels are not an excuse to deny justice to the Chagossian people after so many decades of oppression.

Chagos Myth #6: “Chagossians do not really want to return and are better of where they are”

All recent studies and surveys have indicated that a significant enough proportion of the Chagossian diaspora would wish to return in the first few years of resettlement to make a settlement viable.Evidence further suggests that as the settlement proved successful, a greater number would wish to return.

The 2007 Returning Home study calculates that around “400 families” may wish to return. This figure includes not only the now fairly aged victims of deportation, but also a high enough proportion of economically active younger people to make a functioning economy more than feasible.

The level of enthusiasm for return is in part reflective of the difficulties Chagossians have faced in exile. In Mauritius, The Seychelles and the UK, Chagossian communities are amongst the most deprived, disadvantaged and discriminated against.

That the resettled population is likely to grow gradually is, however, a positive as it will allow Chagossians to re-adapt to the environment without causing any damage.

Chagossians are fully aware that establishing a new settlement will be difficult and demand a lot of effort, but the enthusiasm is there to rebuild a prosperous and vibrant community.

Before any Chagossian makes a choice on return, however, the Government need firstly need to give them the Right to Return and then make a clear offer explaining how they will support resettlement in the early stages.

Right to Return: Feasibility Study Update and Timetable

Posted in Uncategorized on November 20th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

As we await the publication of a feasibility study into Chagossian resettlement, due this week, commissioned by the Government and KMPG, it is worth reminding ourselves of the current timetable. So here, stolen shamelessly from our own archives, is a brief outline of the expected timetable.

As regular readers will know, the campaign to win Chagossians the right to resettle in their homeland is at a very important stage. The Government has commissioned professional services firm KPMG to conduct a feasibility study. The study, which is all but complete, analysed how different models of resettlement could work, taking economic, environmental and social factors into account.

Though we can not know the content of the report before its publication, it is likely “feasibility” will in practice depend upon how much the Government are willing to invest to develop the necessary infrastructure on the islands. The final decision will be made by politicians, not KPMG, so we must continue to make the argument it is fundamentally wrong to deny Chagossians the right to live in their homeland.

With this in mind, I’ve produced a rough timetable for the remainder of the feasibility study. This is subject to change of course, but it will be useful in planning our campaigning.

October KMPG continued consultations with the Chagossian community. Although understand suspicious of the Government’s motives and the practices initially adopted by KPMG, Chagossians entered the process in good faith.
November-w/c 17th aprox First draft of feasibility study published. “Stakeholders” will be consulted for comments before the draft is revised and finalised.
December: Feasibility study scheduled to be completed
January: Report will be presented to the Government
Early February We hope the report will be debated in Parliament, though the Government do not have to agree to a debate before making a decision on resettlement. We will need to campaign to ensure this happens.
Late February Government ministers are expected to make their final decision on resettlement. Although only committed to doing so before the election, Ministers are unlikely to want to risk discussing an even

What can we do? Write to our MPs and ask them to ensure there is a debate and a vote in Parliament before the final decision on resettlement. It will be harder for the Government to deny Chagossians the right to return if there is greater public scrutiny and support.