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SNP’s Dr Paul Monaghan Speaks on Chagossian Exile in Parliament

Posted in Uncategorized on July 9th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

paul monToday SNP MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Dr Paul Monaghan referenced the forced deportation of the Chagossian people whilst making his his first ever speech in Parliament (known as his maiden speech).

 

“[the Highland Clearance] devastated the cultural landscape of the counties that I represent and the resulting impact destroyed much of Scotland’s Gaelic culture.This Parliament’s policy ultimately failed, although I suspect that the Chagos islanders would recognise this account.” Dr Paul Monaghan MP on the similarities between Chagossian deportations and Highland Clearances.

Dr Monaghan drew parallels between Chagossians’ expulsion from their homes, demanded by a UK-US deal to turn their homeland into a military base, and the Highland Clearances. He commented that “Chagos Islanders would recognise this account” of cultural denigration and enforced destitution inflicted deliberately by the UK Government.

Asides from the obvious parallel of physical displacement, Dr Monaghan is right to note the cultural aspect of the injustice suffered by Chagossians. The UK deliberately and knowingly mis-represented Chagossians as “migrant workers,” when authorities were well-aware that the islands had hosted a distinct Chagossian community with a vibrant culture for a number of generations.

Credit is due to Dr Monaghan, a member of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group, for making this point in his very first Parliamentary speech.

 

His full speech, was contains a brief but welcome reference to the Chagossian people, can be read below. The reference to Chagossians is highlighted in bold.

 

Dr Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (SNP): Maiden Speech in Full with reference to Chagossian exile

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to contribute to the Budget debate.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), history is important. We can learn much by studying the social and economic conditions of the past, and my constituency holds many lessons that are relevant today, for I represent the part of Scotland that endured the clearances. Indeed, it would be remiss of me if I did not begin my speech by paying tribute to the remarkable families, and the crofters, who lost their livelihoods, their homes and their lives during that shameful period of history.

The clearances were perpetrated during the 18th and 19th centuries when highlanders were forced from land they had held for generations. The clearances shifted land use from farming to sheep raising because sheep were considered more valuable than people. In the process, a way of life was exterminated to further the financial ambitions of aristocratic landowners. The evictions that took place are remembered for their brutality and for the abruptness of the social change that they prompted. At the time this Parliament compounded the inequity by implementing legislation to prohibit the use of the Gaelic language, the playing of bagpipes and even the wearing of tartan. The cumulative effect devastated the cultural landscape of the counties that I represent and the resulting impact destroyed much of Scotland’s Gaelic culture.

This Parliament’s policy ultimately failed, although I suspect that the Chagos islanders would recognise this account. In those dark days the cries and pleas of innocent families were ignored. If they were lucky, those families were dragged screaming from their homes, evicted and left to face destitution. If they were unlucky, their homes were simply set alight as they sat within them. The clearances forced the migration of highlanders to the sea coast, the Scottish lowlands, and further afield to the new worlds of north America and Australasia. Today more descendants of highlanders are found in those diaspora nations than in Scotland itself. These dispossessed highlanders travelled the world and applied their creativity and resource in ways that have benefited all of humankind. The economic and social contribution of the ancestors of people from my constituency stand today as a shining example of why the free movement of people is something no Government should hesitate to encourage.

As we debate the Government’s Budget, it is unfortunate that the cries and pleas of many people in my constituency continue to be ignored. Whereas in history the people of the highlands were burned out of their homes so that others could profit from sheep, the beneficiary of this Budget will be the financial markets that continue to take precedence over people. The impact will be that vulnerable people will face impoverishment owing to lack of economic opportunity, low wages, Europe’s lowest pensions, further experimentation with the failed system that we know as universal credit, the erosion of working tax credits and, frankly, the stifling lack of imagination that is self-evident in the austerity these measures promote, and that has raised the UK to be the fourth most unequal society in the developed world in terms of wealth inequality. For many in my constituency, past and present, the hardship, misery and impoverishment that accompany this inequality are the only consequences of the Government’s long-term economic plan that has been over 300 years in the making.

While some here today speak of economic laws, I choose to highlight the fact that many of our fellows are starving. It is time we recognised that economic laws are made not by nature, but by human beings. These laws are chosen for implementation by human beings and their effect will be felt by human beings. A further £12 billion of cuts, accompanied by a punitive sanctions regime, will do nothing except ensure that the jeely piece, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart McDonald) spoke in his maiden speech, will remain a significant feature of childhood for far too many of our children.

Until 8 May my constituency was a Liberal stronghold. As long ago as 1918 the seat of Caithness and Sutherland was held by Sir Robert Leicester Harmsworth, Baronet of Moray Lodge in the Royal Borough of Kensington. I don’t think he was a local. Later the seat was held for many years by Robert Maclennan, who sits now as Baron Maclennan of Rogart just a short walk away, and more recently by the 3rd Viscount Thurso, John Archibald Sinclair, the fifth generation of the Sinclair family to represent Caithness in this Parliament. I pay tribute to Lord Thurso. In the past few weeks I have learned that he was a popular member of the establishment here at Westminster and I wish him well for the future.

I have lived in the highlands of Scotland for the greater part of my life and I can confirm that Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is one of the very largest parliamentary constituencies by area and, despite what many of my colleagues will claim, it is easily the most beautiful—spectacularly so. It is a great honour for me to represent a highland seat in this Parliament. It seems clear that in my constituency at least, few ordinary people have had that privilege.

Beautiful as my constituency is, it is subject to great acts of vandalism. Cape Wrath is the only site in Europe where live 1,000 lb bombs are dropped. The bombing is enormously destructive to fragile wildlife and excludes communities from the proximity for up to 120 days each year. Similarly, Scotland’s oldest royal burgh, Tain, is tormented by fast jets flying as low as 150 feet to drop 1,000 lb concrete bombs just a few miles from housing estates and primary schools. It is instructive that while many of my constituents work tirelessly to protect our marine animals, our rivers, our wildlife and our environment, this Government consider it acceptable to bomb the land that we consider precious. I say instructive because this seems to be the manifestation of the one nation ideal that my hon. Friends and I are expected to be impressed by, but from which communities in my constituency derive only disadvantage.

I have spent much of my adult life in the voluntary sector, working with those cruelly challenged by the UK Government’s long-term economic plan. Like others, my family and I pay the punitive electricity charges and excessive carriage charges that this Government impose. We are exposed to the reform of rural fuel duties that has brought a new and vital meaning to the word “failure”. My communities prepare for the disastrous repercussions of the recent announcement of the closure of three Royal Bank of Scotland branches in our rural areas, and our businesses endure the iniquitous transmission charging regime maintained by this Government, which acts as the main obstacle to securing energy supplies and wealth for Scotland.

We are used to empty promises, but in the early days of this Parliament, Scotland has chosen to watch as the promises of something

“as close to a federal state as possible”,

where

“all the options of devolution are there and are possible,”

are publically erased from the Scotland Bill. The Government know that for many, this Budget visits hardship on disadvantage.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), I grew up fascinated and inspired not just by the technological achievements of Project Apollo, but by the social achievements of the civil rights movement. As a child I learned of the bravery of Rosa Parks and how she changed the world, and as an adult I learned of the personal challenges met and overcome, and of the uncommon political imagination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In those individuals I found examples not only of bravery but of imagination; the imagination to perceive the benefit of change in a world that aspires to achieve, not receive.

Many of those who supported me on 7 May did so in the belief that it is now time to achieve, and their uncommon political imagination sits around me today. Our aim is to achieve the right to build a fairer Scotland; we aim to establish a state of affairs where our old, our disadvantaged and our vulnerable are valued, and where our poor are protected not punished.

I made the decision to stand for election to this Parliament knowing, as Mrs Parks did, that

“I had the strength of my ancestors with me”,

and I know, as you do, Madam Deputy Speaker, that “all are equal”. Indeed, I stand here today knowing, as Mr Roosevelt did, that the

“test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little”.

In that task we will not be found wanting for, like Roosevelt:

“We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.”

University of Greenwich Chagos Socio-Legal Conference

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Cultural, Environment, Exile, FCO, Legal, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Supreme Court, UN, Uncategorized on July 1st, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
University of Greenwich, host of Monday's Chagos conference

University of Greenwich, host of Monday’s Chagos conference

On Monday a host of academics, legal experts and Chagossians came together to discuss a broad range of legal and social issues related to Chagossians enforced exile. Hosted by the Law School of the University of Greenwich, it featured prominent lawyer Phillipe Sands as keynote speaker.

Mr Sands QC has recently worked with the Mauritian Government to successfully convince an international tribunal that the UK-Government’s establishment of a Marine Protected Area in 2010 breached international law.  Analysing how race inevitably played a part in legal processes in the UK involving Chagossians, Mr Sands quoted Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird:

“in our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.”

A range of other speakers also delivered powerful addresses. Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group Coordinator David Snoxell spoke about the interplay of Parliament and the courts in the Chagossian fight for the right to return to the islands. He begins his talk by describing three “myths” of the Chagossian deportation. Later dealing with the 2004 use of Orders-in-Council (Royal Perogative) to forbid Chagossian return to the islands, he brands the move a “short sighted ploy.” Mr Snoxell’s full remarks can be read here.

Elsewhere, University of Greenwich Post-Graduate student Kinnari Bhatt presented a equally insightful address on the concept of Chagossians status as an “indigenous” people. Apologists for Chagossians’ forced exile have often argued they did not qualify for indigenous status as the islands were first populated in the 1700s. Ms Bhatt contends this idea that only a people living in a land from “time immemorial” can be called ‘indigenous’ is a flawed, eurocentric concept. A summary of her full paper of Chagossian indigenous identity can be read here.

As well as new pieces of writing, the conference was an opportunity to discuss previously published legal and political documents relating to Chagossians’ exile. As well the infamous Wikileaks revelations that the 2010 creation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area was at least in part an attempt to prevent Chagossian resettlement of their homeland, an African Union resolution from earlier this month which reiterated the group’s support for Mauritian sovereignty over the Islands.

As we get more written notes and summaries we plan to update this page so do check back for more detail in a week or so. We’ll let you know via Facebook and Twitter, so make sure you’re following us (click on the links to do so if you are not!).

Letter to the Telegraph: End “distressing” exile of Chagossians

Posted in coverage, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Supreme Court, Uncategorized on June 29th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Mr Davies letter was published in 26th June 2015

Mr Davies letter was published in 26th June 2015

One of our long-term supporters Sid Davies last week had a letter published in The Daily Telegraph calling for a definitive end to the shameful UK-enforced exile of Chagossians.

Mr Davies’s letter is a beautifully written, poignant and personal account of his encounter with the islands. He visited the islands as part of yachting journey in the 1980s and describes the “distressing” sight of abandoned houses and churches. You can read it in full below.

Letter to the Telegraph by Sid Davies

SIR – I am pleased that Amal Clooney is to represent the Chagos islanders, who were forcibly evicted from their homes when the island of Diego Garcia was leased to the Americans as an airbase.

In 1985, I called at Saloman Atoll, which is about 100 miles north of Diego, when crossing by yacht from Darwin to Aden. The abandoned houses and roofless church, together with the overgrown pathways were distressing to see. It is to our shame that we treated these islanders so cruelly and it is high time we made amends and repatriated them.

While I was there, a yacht arrived from the Maldives, crewed by a French couple. They had called previously and found that the abandoned hens had no cock among them, so they brought one across the ocean to bring joy to the lonely poultry.

Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire

Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund Open Letter: UK has “flouted” Magna Carta for almost 50 years

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Mr Uteem is the former President of Mauritius and the founder and Chair of the Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund

Mr Uteem is the former President of Mauritius and the founder and Chair of the Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund

The Chagos Solidarity Trust fund, chaired by former President of Mauritius Cassam Uteem, has released an open letter marking the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.

In the letter, which can be read below or downloaded here Mr Uteem and his fellow trustees call on the UK and the US to act to finally end the exile of the Chagossian people in accordance with the principles that lay behind Magna Carta. The right to be exiled without due process is a key clause of the 800 year-old document, widely seen as the cornerstone of human rights legislation.

The letter also calls on a multi-lateral support for Chagossians managed return to their homeland. Referencing a feasibility study earlier this year which assessed that return was possible, the signatories criticise the UK’s hesitancy over the cost of allowing Chagossians to return, stating that any costs would be ” a small price to pay for repairing the immeasurable wrong done to Chagossians.”

Mr Uteem is the former President of Mauritius and the founder and Chair of the Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund

Chagos Solidarity Fund Open Letter

15 June 1215 is a memorable date of glory for Britain’s Magna Carta, with its Human  Rights Clauses 39 and 40 which are still valid and read as follows in the modern English

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful  judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

15 June 2015 is an inglorious date for the newly elected British government and for its predecessors for having flouted the Magna Carta in the 1960s and 1970s, when they stripped the free native Chagossian people of their rights and possessions, exiled them, and continued
to deny their rights and to delay justice being done to them.

The spirit of these Human Rights clauses enshrined in the Magna Carta is present in the UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which is the foundation of international human rights law. In its Article 9, the UDHR says that ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile and in Article 13 (2): Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

It is also present in the 1965 United Nations Resolution 2066 (XX) on sovereignty and integrity of the national territory of Mauritius:

2. Reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of the territory of Mauritius to freedom and independence in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 1514

3. Invites the administering Power (NB: UK) to take no action which would dismember the Territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity.

These UN Resolutions too were flouted by Britain when the Chagos was detached from Mauritius in 1965, then a British colony, prior to independence.

On 9 June 2015, on the occasion of the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group of the House of Commons published an appeal in The Times addressed to “the new government to honour the feasibility study which found that there were
no legal or climatic reasons why resettlement should not be achieved”.

The Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund (CSTF) for its part considers that:

 The resettlement process flows from the recognition of the right of return – a fundamental Human Right, as we have quoted above – of the Chagossian people to

ï‚· The requirements and costs (economic opportunities, infrastructure development, support services) are, on balance, a small price to pay for repairing the immeasurable wrong done and therefore have to be borne.

ï‚· The Chagos resettlement project, based on Human rights promotion and sustainable development combined with environment (sea, land, air) protection, subscribes to the principles and ideals that we all want the world to abide by progressively.

In this endeavour, three sovereign countries are directly concerned: Britain, USA and Mauritius. For historical reasons, the responsibility and cost of establishing and maintaining the resettlement lie first and foremost with the British Government. With regard to the USA, the legal and political factors mentioned in the Feasibility Report should be defined in terms of the responsibility and participation of the US Government in the resettlement process.

The inclusion of Diego Garcia is a clear indication that there have been prior consultation and agreement between the US and the UK.  It may be expected therefore that sharing the costs of resettlement on Diego Garcia would be on the agenda of the renewal of the UK-US treaty.

The Feasibility Report opposes two extreme options: at one end, US contractors “providing extremely robust and high standard engineering services to the US Navy (…) likely to propose high costs”; and at the other end, “small family businesses on, say, Mauritius, (who)
will claim to be able to build houses for a fraction of the costs being proposed.” (p. 68). This is not correct: there are long-established building contractors with proven track record in Mauritius and also in the Indian Ocean region. Regional partnerships should therefore be explored in order to help lower the costs.

We therefore propose that the estimated costs mentioned in the Feasibility Report be reviewed and scaled down, and that funding sources be diversified to include US, Europe, the international community as well as the private sector. In the same vein, the Mauritius Government’s claim of sovereignty, systematically acknowledged in the British Government statements that the Chagos will be returned to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence and security purposes, carries the need and obligation for Mauritius to be involved in the resettlement process.

The Feasibility Report identifies a number of areas (environmental impact, economic prospects, access issues, training and administration) in which Mauritian stakeholders, including Chagossians, could intervene.

Resources and expertise are also available within the South-West Indian Ocean insular region in the areas of fisheries, marine protection, oceanographic research, climate change, disaster management systems (cyclones, tsunami).

For all theses reasons, the Chagos Solidarity Trust Fund is convinced that the Chagos resettlement should not be viewed as a one-state affair and therefore makes an earnest appeal to the British, USA and Mauritius Governments to adopt a multinational approach so that the Chagos  resettled by its native people is also integrated within the South-West Indian Ocean.

Cassam Uteem, President (former President of the Republic of Mauritius)

Reverend Mario Li Hing, Chaplain/Adviser

Professor Vinesh Y. Hookoomsing (former Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Mauritius)

Thierry Leung, Accountant/Auditor

Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn’s full interview on Chagossian people’s fight for justice

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

A few months ago Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn spoke to us at length about the horrors of Chagossians’ deportation. Mr Corbyn has long been an advocate for Chagossian justice, chairing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands since its formation in 2008. Select clips from the below interview can be found here or on our Youtube channel.

 

 

There is no legal or climatic reason why the Chagos Islanders should not return home – so why won’t the UK Government act?

Posted in APPG, Exile, Feasability Study, Jeremy Corbyn, Lord Prescott, Mauritius, resettlement, Seychelles, Uncategorized on June 11th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

parliamentThis was the title of a letter from the British Indian Ocean Territories All Party Parliamentary Group published in the Times on 9th June 2015. A copy of the letter can be downloaded here or viewed below.

 

 

 

This letter was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

This letter was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group: Coordinator’s Summary

Posted in Uncategorized on June 4th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

parliamentThe All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands has reconvened for the first time this Parliament. Below is a summary of their first meeting and a list of re-appointments and new members. Thanks as ever are due to voluntary Coordinator David Snoxell for providing the below summary.

 

The Chagos Islands APPG held its inaugural meeting of this Parliament and 49th meeting on 3 June. The following officers were re-elected:

Chairman, Jeremy Corbyn MP; Vice Chairs: Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Andrew Rosindell MP, Henry Smith MP. A decision on a new Secretary will be taken in due course. The Group re-appointed David Snoxell as Coordinator, Richard Gifford as Legal Adviser and Oliver Taylor as administrative support officer. They were thanked for their work in the last Parliament. The Chairman also thanked members who had left the Group and welcomed two new members, Steve Baker MP (Cons) and Alan Brown MP (SNP).
Members discussed developments since the last meeting on 23 March. They took note of the ministerial statement of 24 March, and the PM’s letter to the Chairman which had been received on 26 March. The Group noted that the follow-up work on costs and liabilities and on likely demand for resettlement, which a Cabinet level meeting in mid March had asked for, was being coordinated by the FCO. They were pleased to learn that DfID economists would be involved. Members were concerned to note that officials had been asked to develop non-resettlement options. They asked about the length of time this further work would take, what the timetable for completion was and whether it would be published. This would be the subject of a PQ.
Members present commended the intervention on resettlement and Magna Carta by Henry Smith in the debate (1 June) on the Queen’s Speech. In view of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta members decided that they would follow up  their public statement of 23 March (sent by the Chairman to the PM), to which there had been no reaction, with a letter to the press.
The Group was apprised of the applications concerning the right of abode and the MPA which would be considered by the Supreme Court on 22 June.
The next and 50th meeting of the APPG will take place on 15 July.

Henry Smith on Chagossian return and Magna Carta

Posted in Uncategorized on June 2nd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

henry smithThe recently re-elected Conservative MP for Crawley Henry Smith has made the first mention of Chagossians fight for justice in this Parliament. Speaking in a debate on the Britain in the World section of the Queen’s Speech debate, Mr Smith praises the Government’s commitment to existing British Overseas Territories and calls for the Government to “start to put right” the wrongs of Chagossians forced deportation and neglect in exile.

Noting the upcoming 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, he adds that “article 39 [of the Magna Carta] states no person shall be exiled without due process. I fear though this is what happened to the British citizens of the Chagos Islands.”

 

You can read Mr Smith’s full speech below, or online via theyworkforyou.com

 

Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, speaking at 8:19pm 1st June in the House of Commons

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for focusing on

the importance of the Commonwealth and the British overseas territories. It is very pleasing

to see the flags of the British overseas territories flying in Parliament Square today and I am

very proud to have been part of a Conservative-led Government in the last Parliament that put

the overseas territories at the forefront of our policy. The Government will, I hope, continue

to do so, whether that means ensuring that the people of Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands who

wish to remain British have that right defended, or investing in infrastructure such as the new

airstrip on St Helena.

This evening, I want to address some unfinished business with the overseas territories—that

is, the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory. About a decade ago, many Chagos

islanders came to Gatwick airport in the Crawley constituency and, I am pleased to say,

settled in Crawley. Crawley now has the largest Chagossian community anywhere in the

world. As the House will know, the Chagos islanders, British citizens, were exiled from their

homeland in 1968 by Orders in Council and by royal prerogative. The decision did not come

through Parliament. A great injustice was done at that time. Of course, we cannot turn back

time but we can start to right those wrongs.

I am delighted that the last Government initiated a feasibility study into the resettlement of

the British Indian Ocean Territory and I call on the Government to implement that study.

There are a number of pilots for the possibility of the Chagos islanders returning. The Chagos

islanders were removed from Diego Garcia and some of the outer islands, such as Salomon

and Peros Banhos, to make way for a US airbase. That airbase is and has been important for the security

of the democratic western world, both in the Soviet era and today with uncertainty in the

middle east, but that should not preclude those islanders being able to return to their

homeland should they so wish.

I am struck by the fact that in a fortnight’s time we will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the

signing of Magna Carta just a few miles upstream along the Thames. Article 39 states that no

person should be imprisoned or exiled without due process, yet I fear that that is what has

happened to the British citizens of the Chagos islands. Much has been said about why they

should not be able to return, including much about the environmental reasons, and on the

22nd of this month the Supreme Court will determine a case on their right of return. I do not

see any issue, however, with allowing subsistence living by a modest number of Chagos

islanders back on Diego Garcia and some of the outer islands if possible. I am pleased that

my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is in the Chamber

because I believe that we can use some of that budget to facilitate the return of the Chagos

islanders.

In this 800th year of Magna Carta I hope that the Government’s feasibility study on the right

of return to the Chagos islands can finally be implemented so we can right a wrong of almost

half a century.

Let Us Return: New Short Film on Chagossian Exile

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – 3 Comments

Let Us Return is a fantastic new film by UK film-maker Andy Marsh. In fifteen minutes, a range of Chagossian voices tell their story in their own words. Watch it below and tell us what you think.

Our Committee Chair’s Open Democracy Article on Chance for Return

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Uncategorized on April 20th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Our Committee Chair Stefan Donnelly has had an article published on Open Democracy analysing the previous Government’s failure to deliver a decision on Chagossian return and the unique opportunity the next Government has to rectify that failure. You can read the piece below, or on the Open Democracy website.

 

dg boat‘Regret’ and ‘delay’: when will Britain end the exile of the Chagossian people?

Britain, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains stubbornly centre-stage in the growing UK election campaign rhetoric. Announcing the budget, the Chancellor told us Britain could again “walk tall in the world.” Ed Miliband frequently suggests “Britain can do better.” The other parties have their own variations on pledges to make the nation fair, respected and honourable.

And yet just before parliament concluded at the end of March, an opportunity to end decades of continuing human rights abuse, which mars Britain’s reputation globally, was quietly missed. To put it more starkly, a choice was made to continue enforcing the exile of the Chagossian people.

A lengthy, dark chapter

Chagossians, UK citizens were forced from their homeland in late sixties and early seventies under UK orders. Deportation of the native population was a condition of a deal which gave the US military use of Diego Garcia, the largest Chagos Island, for a fifty year period.

Various government ministers have expressed “regret” over the deportation, the deliberate attempt to mischaracterise native Chagossians as migrant workers and their appalling neglect in exile. Very little though has actually been done to address Chagossians’ key demand: the right to return home.

It has been argued that the US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia expressly forbade resettlement of the island. This deal, however, expires in 2016. There is no better time than right now to offer justice to Chagossians and end a lengthy, dark chapter in both nations’ histories.

Hope was offered when the government announced it would commission a feasibility study into Chagossian resettlement. When consultants KPMG published their final report this January hopes were raised further. The report demonstrated costs and environmental impact would be minimal, whilst no serious security or legal concerns were identified.

In reaction to the report the government commissioned a “policy review.” Days prior Parliament’s dissolution, however, a “delay” was announced in a three-sentence written statement.

No timescale was given for the delay. Two “uncertainties,” of cost and demand were held up as justification, but neither stand up to serious scrutiny. Parliament in any case had no opportunity to scrutinise, whilst the media by and large chose not do to so. But let’s consider them now.

Costs

Infrastructure projects inevitably have “uncertainties” over costs, but the in-depth KPMG study found resettlement could be accomplished for as little as £60m over three years. A recent freedom of information request confirmed that, if anything, KPMG regarded these estimates as made with “pessimism.”

Even if the full amount was taken from the UK’s International Development budget, the £20m per year to support return would only amount to less than 0.002% of overall spending, from a budget protected by law. In practice though, a range of other sources would contribute.

If the US-UK agreement on using Diego Garcia as a military base is renewed, it seems obvious that support for Chagossian resettlement must be a fundamental condition. Adjusted for inflation, the £11 million discount the UK received on the Polaris Nuclear Weapon system as part of the original agreement would be worth almost £200 million today.

The EU’s European Development Fund is another likely source of funding, whilst private and third-sector investment would be a significant factor.

Demand

Claims on “uncertainty” over the numbers wishing to return seem even more bizarre. It is highly difficult for Chagossians to make an informed decision on return when the Government has given absolutely no indication of the type of resettlement they’d be willing to support.

Despite this, however, at least 100 Chagossians have already volunteered to return as part of a small-scale “pilot” resettlement project to Diego Garcia.  This is the option favoured by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands and is assessed favourably in the KPMG report.

An even greater number of Chagossians, including those based in the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles have indicated they would like to return if the initial resettlement programme proves successful.

Political uncertainties, a real opportunity

The only “uncertainties”, then, emanate from the political establishment. Does any political leader have the moral conviction and political courage to finally deliver a measure of justice for Chagossians? Will the new intake of parliamentarians be dogged enough to hold the government to account on an issue far too often neglected by administrations of all colours?

Although the delay is most unwelcome, the election does provide an opportunity to ask these questions directly and meaningfully. UK Chagos Support Association is asking everyone standing for election to sign a simple pledge card, stating their commitment to ending almost half a century of human rights abuse which should shame the nation.

It takes actions, not words, for Britain to “walk tall” or “do better.” There can be no more excuses. If rhetoric about British values is to mean anything at all, supporting Chagossians long-denied right to return home must be an absolute priority for whatever Government is formed after 7th May.

On the 22nd May Chagossians and their supporters will be protesting in Westminster and handing in a petition to whoever is the new Prime Minister. You can add your signature here and support the protest here.