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.
‘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.
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.
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.
Following our report on positive political backing for the Chagossian people in the last week, we have received confirmation that at the recent SNP conference the party backed a motion calling on the UK Government to “end the unacceptable delay in implementing the Chagossians right to return home to their islands.”
We wholly welcome the party’s formal support for the Chagossian people. The full text of the motion, approved unanimously by SNP delegates, can be read below.
The SNP Motion Backing Chagossian Return
Conference notes the Award dated 18 March 2015 in the matter of Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v United Kingdom), and notes the Chagos Archipelago is administered by the United Kingdom as the ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’.
Conference further notes the written statement made in the UK Parliament on 24 March 2015 by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office announcing delay until after the General Election on a decision about resettlement of the Chagos Islands.
Conference expresses frustration with the ongoing approach of the UK Government in relation to the Chagossian people, and notes that the behaviour of the UK Government has consistently been contrary to well established laws on decolonization and self-determination.
Conference calls upon the UK Government to end the unacceptable delay in implementing the Chagossians right to return home to their islands.
We have SNP National Council member William Henderson to thank for propsoing the motion, which was seconded by Julie Hepburn, an elected member of the National Executive Committee.
We should also thank the many Scottish activists who have picked up the Chagossian cause and helped us raise awareness on social media. Their vocal and pro-active backing no doubt contributed to the issue grabbing the party’s interest.
With the SNP expected to gain a number of seats in the next election (polls indicate they could win 50 seats) this could a major development in the fight for Chagossian freedom. We look forward to working with the party to win Chagossians’ right to return home.
Although to our knowledge this is the first time the SNP have offered their formal support to the Chagossian people’s fight for justice, their former leader Alex Salmond has taken an interest in the cause previously.
In 2004 Mr Salmond accused the then Government of behaving in a “sneaky” and “under-hand” manner, and being “morally homeless.” This related to the then Government’s use of Orders-in-Council, essentially Royal Prerogative, to effectively nullify a High Court ruling which permitted Chagossians to return home.
Leader of the House William Hague has said he “cannot guarantee” a Government decision on Chagossian return to their homeland before Parliament concludes at the end of this month. This is despite promises from Ministers that the issue would be resolved before the election.
Speaking in Parliament, he was responding to a question from Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group Chairperson Jeremy Corbyn MP (full text of their exchange is below).
Following the submission of the final version of a feasibility study commissioned by the Government, which indicated successful Chagossian return was entirely possible, the Government launched a “policy review.”
Minister had though pledged that a decision would be reached and a definitive statement made prior to the election. If a statement is not made prior to the dissolution of Parliament on 30th March, it is extremely unlikely one would be made before the election.
Failure to reach a decision would be yet another shameful broken promise to the Chagossian people.This administration has a unique opportunity to deliver justice for the Chagossian people and leave a positive legacy. We urge Ministers to make this a priority and make the only just, fair and reasonable decision to support Chagossians’ right to return home.
Jeremy Corbyn and William Hague’s Exchange in full
Jeremy Corbyn (Chairperson of All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands)
Last week, I raised with the Leader of the House the question of a statement by the Government on the future of the Chagos islands in respect of the feasibility of return report that has been done. The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that tomorrow I am attending a meeting at the Foreign Office with Mr Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the Chagos Refugee Group. Will he please ensure that between now and Dissolution, the Government make a statement on their policy on the right of return in order to allow the historical wrong of the expulsion of the islanders from those islands finally to be put right, as promised by his Government at the start of this Parliament. We were promised that a decision would be made in this Parliament. There is a week to go.
William Hague (Leader of the House and Former Foreign Secretary)
The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing champion of this cause and is very assiduous in pursuing it. As he knows and as we have discussed before, there has been an extensive and major report—one I initiated when I was Foreign Secretary—on the feasibility or otherwise of habitation of the Chagos islands or parts of them. That is being considered very seriously by the Government. I cannot guarantee to the hon. Gentleman a statement about it before Dissolution, given that we have nearly arrived there. I can tell him that the Government are giving detailed consideration at the highest level to the report, but I do not know when a decision will be made.
Film-maker and political activist Gillian Morrison has produced an excellent short-film detailing the making of a recent mural depicting the suffering of the Chagossian people. Sited at the heart of Edinburgh’s Princes Street in the grounds of St John’s Church, the film also touches on some of the more disgraceful aspects of the UK’s treatment of the Chagossian people across the decades. Watch her fantastic work below.
As we mentioned last week when reporting on the mural, Gillian in fact deserves vast credit for initiating the the project after contacting us via Twitter and speaking with the project’s chief artist Mike Greenlaw at a local pro-Scottish Independence venue. This is precisely the type of energetic and pro-active activism we need to win Chagossians’ long denied right to return home.
If Gillian’s piece has inspired you get involved with the Chagossian campaign, GOOD NEWS-there’s much you can do, see here on how to sign petitions, donate, raise awareness and lobby Parliament.
“I’m dreaming of the time when I can go home for good” Chagossian activist speaks of her hopes for the future.Posted in Uncategorized on February 23rd, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment
Watch our interview with experienced Chagossian campaigner Bernadette Dugasse as she talks about the nine days she has spent in her homeland since suffering deportation as infant over 40 years ago.
The best chance for Bernadette and other Chagossians to achieve their dream is to convince the Government to support return now. Sign & share the petition, donate and read more about the campaign and how you can help.
“I will do anything I can to help these people return to their islands” Benjamin Zephaniah appointed our new PatronPosted in Uncategorized on February 22nd, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment
UK Chagos Support Association are delighted to announce that the highly respected poet, novelist and musician Benjamin Zephaniah has agreed to become one of our official patrons.
Confirming that he is “proud” to take up the role, Benjamin emphasised that at this crucial time it is vital that “all fair minded people do what they can to stand up for Chagossians and their rights.”
Benjamin has in fact been an ardent support of the Chagossian people’s fight for justice for many years. Whether on Question Time or his personal Twitter account, he has argued consistently that the mistreatment of the Chagossian people by the UK is a continuing affront to human rights, freedom and democracy.
“I was immediately outraged,” says Benjamin as he recalls first hearing about the plight of the Chagossian people many years ago. “I couldn’t believe such a huge injustice had happened, and continues to happen, in modern times. I was just a street poet from Birmingham, but I remember telling myself that I will do anything I can to help these people return to their lands.”
With the UK Government poised to make a decision on whether to support the return of the Chagossian people to their homeland very soon, Benjamin is now looking to the future. “The British Government must do the right thing, we all know that. Its been over forty years already and freedom delayed is freedom denied.”
Architecture & Activism Interview : “Not atoning for the crime is more monstrous than committing it in the first place”Posted in Uncategorized on February 13th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment
Prior to her ‘Right to Abode-Activism and Architecture’ show on the reality of Chagossian exile and hope for return, we spoke to Architect Rosa Rogina about her work. Below she explains the ideas behind her work, her process and her motivations for getting involved in the Chagossian campaign. You can see her show at 7:30 PM this Friday at the Royal College of Art in Kensington Gore. Free to attend so hope to see you there.
What first interested you in the history of the Chagossian people?
- As I was initially interested in the role that media plays in production of space, I found the story of Chagossians as a critical case for this exploration. For already 50 years, territory of the Chagos Archipelago is constituted, instrumentalised and manipulated through the various process of misinformation; from the early 70’s when the government created a ‘legal fiction’ in the media that claimed that were no permanent inhabitants on the island to the creation of Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Archipelago in 2010.
What was your reaction learning about the terrible history of the Chagossians?
- I understood the story of Chagossian people as a prism that produces a clearer image of a set of global contemporary conditions and issues. Chagossians were not only exiled from their homeland, they have been continuously manipulated within the legal framework in order to never come back. For me, not to atone for the committed crime is often more monstrous than committing a crime in the first place.
The situation of Chagossians is pretty unique: how to you see that relating to right of abode generally?
- Right of abode is defined as a person’s right to take up residence or enter the country without restrictions or need of permission from the government. In the case of Chagossian people we are talking about right of abode in their homeland, which is the fundamental human right every human being should have. Recently I have read a paragraph that nicely reassembles my thoughts on this question: ‘Is it because you are citizen that you have access to human rights? Or is it because you are human that you have access to citizen’s rights?’
What impact do you hope your project will have?
- I would say that possible impact of a student project is often highly underestimated. Speculative architectural propositions can be a very powerful tool, in which by exaggerating an existing condition you can gain lot of attention and eventually make a change. I definitely hope that my project will raise awareness of this unlawful story and help Chagossian community in their struggle to return home.
As an architect how do you assess the prospects for the development of a sustainable Chagossian society on Diego Garcia?
- I believe that the sustainable resettlement, both environmentally and economically, is absolutely feasible. Just unfortunately, it is up those in power whether it will happen or not.
How did meeting with a Chagossian shape your thinking about the project?
-It is crucial to involve, already in the design process, people for whom the project is designed for. Meeting Mr. Roch Evenor helped me to more closely understand Chagossian culture and their relation with the terms ‘house’ and ‘home’. Although it was just one opinion, it was a great opportunity to start the conversation with the community involved.
We have been surprised and disappointed by some of the coverage of yesterday’s release of a long-awaited feasibility report into the possibility of Chagossian return home.
The Telegraph report strikes an especially distasteful note by using the wholly disrespectful term “so-called Chagossians.” We had rather hoped 50 years of denigrating Chagossian heritage and identity had come to an end.
Articles in The Telegraph and The Times broadly focus, however, on the potential costs of resettlement. It is misleadingly suggested that resettlement costs could reach “almost half a billion pounds.” The clearly favoured model of resettlement in the report, the pilot small-scale resettlement on Diego Garcia, is estimated at almost ten times less than the reported figure but does not feature once in The Telegraph article.
Indeed the 400+ million plus large-scale resettlement quoted is assessed unfavourably for a host of reasons in the report and is therefore the much less likely to happen.
The omission of costings for the much more likely, smaller-scale Diego Garcia model of resettlement is particularity bizarre as Chagossian leaders including Oliver Bancoult and Allen Vincatassin have made on record statements saying they believe this is the best option at the current time.
The headline costs reported are then for a model of resettlement which it is clear is a very unlikely option at the current time, with no
acknowledgment of the costs of the most likely outcome.
Return is primarily a question of justice, not money. If we are to discuss the costs, however, we do need to have all the information.
There are several other factual errors in the reporting we feel need clarifying:
1: The assumed need for a new airport in The Telegraph should really also note that sharing the existing runway with the US military base is a wholly realistic option. This is especially true as the agreement on US use Diego Garcia expires in 2016 and the UK could demand support for Chagossian resettlement in exchange for continued use of the island.
2: On the issue of rising sea levels, it is also important to note the most recent extensive study into sea-levels in the region found “no significant rises” over the past several decades. The Purkis study quoted in the report meanwhile finds no overall change in the size of Diego Garcia over several decades.The potential for sea level rises is a concern for all island nations but the interest of the UK and US in maintaining a military base on the islands demonstrate there is confidence mitigation can be made if necessary.
3:Claims that “An annual subsidy of around £21.5 million would also be needed” again present the highest-costing, least realistic model of resettlement from the report as fact. A steadily reducing annual grant of £6 million per year is predicted for the smaller scale model of resettlement, and we are confident this can be significantly reduced by greater work on income generating opportunities.
4: Yes we mentioned it above but its really quite important. Chagossians are Chagossians, not “so called Chagossians.”
5: The claim “large parts of the archipelago are in an environmentally protected area, driving up regeneration costs” is also odd. Diego Garcia, the site for any likely resettled is not part of the environmentally protected area. It is also not explained how this would drive up costs or why environmental regulations, which only date back to 2010 so are hardly set in stone, could not be sensitively adjusted.
6: A final, hugely important point: neither article mentions any of the moral, legal or economic debt the UK Government owe Chagossians after half a century of neglect and abuse.
The Resettlement Feasibility Report is a detailed and complex analysis, but be in no doubt it demonstrates that return is achievable, and much more easily deliverable than these initial reports would suggest.
Architect and Royal College of Art post-graduate student Rosa Rogina will this Friday unveil an exciting project supporting the campaign for
Chagossian return to their homeland. As part of an “Architecture and Activism” project, Ms Rogina will investigate how Chagossians relate to their homeland whilst living in exile, and the ongoing campaign to return home. Representatives from the Chagossian community will be attendance and all are welcome to speak generally about their experiences.
The project arrives at a highly relevant time, with Chagossian right to abode potentially being restored in the near future.
Describing her work, Rosa states she wishes to engage in a discussion on “how can return be achieved and what are the implications.” She notes that Diego Garcia now exists as an international “anomaly,” the creation of which stripped Chagossians of the “fundamental human right of abode.”
In order to get a sense what right to return means to Chagosians, Ms Rogina is consulting with the Chagossian community. Just this week she met Roch Evenor, a native-born Chagossian and former UK Chagos Support Chair, who has spent many years fighting for justice. Praising the value of this meeting, she stated that;
“Meeting Mr. Evenor helped me to more closely understand Chagossian culture and Chagossians’ relation with the terms ‘house’ and ‘home’. Although it was just one opinion, it was a great opportunity to start the conversation with the community involved.”
Asked for her professional opinion as an architect, Ms Rogina was unequivocal; “sustainable resettlement, both economically and environmentally, is absolutely feasible.” The only question, she added, was whether those in power would have the will to “make it happen.”
The project will be completed in the summer. Speaking on the impact she hoped it could have now, Rosa commented that “I hope my work will raise awareness and help the Chagossian community in their struggle to return home.”
In a one hour session, Rosa and her colleagues will discuss their work, whilst Chagossians representatives have also been invited to attend, speak and engage in a panel discussion.
- Where: Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, Kensington, London SW7 2EU (near Albert Hall)
- When: Friday 13th February. Chagos Event 7:30PM-8:30PM; full programme begins 6:30PM, ends 10PM.
All are welcome and if you are interested in attending please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or via social media.