The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its postponed 35th meeting on 24 April 2013. Olivier Bancoult, the Chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group, visiting the UK for the Judicial Review of the Chagos MPA, was invited to address the Group. He was accompanied by the new chair of the UK Chagos Support Association, Sabrina Jean.
David Snoxell, former British high commissioner to Mauritius, wrote a letter to the Guardian in response to its Editorial, making further pertinent points in relation to the judges ruling on the admissibility of Wikileaks evidence:
If the judges rule (Editorial, 19 April) that communications (eg WikiLeaks) emanating from diplomatic missions are protected by the Vienna convention, all such material held by their receiving governments will also be protected. The purpose of the convention was to protect diplomatic missions, not the archives of home governments which have more effective means of security protection. Do judges have the power to extend the scope of internationally negotiated UN conventions and would the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agree that this is desirable? Judges and government probably need more time to consider fully the implications of such a ruling than a complex judicial review on the legitimacy of the Chagos marine protected area allows.
A recent Guardian article and editorial highlight the latest attempt by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to suppress the truth about its motivation for the creation of a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands, by insisting that evidence sourced from Wikileaks was inadmissable as evidence according to Diplomatic Privileges Act. This is the latest example of how the FCO, through its taxpayer-funded lawyers, has used every trick in the book to avoid facing up to the truth of Wikileaks. The Guardian states:
Clumsy vanishing tricks are back on the stage, this time in connection with the Chagos Islands. In a shaming chapter of British colonialism, the islands’ inhabitants were cleared away as part of a deal to create a US airbase, in which US backhanders and the misleading of parliament are established facts. Even William Hague is not trying to deny it all; his more modest – but still audacious – ambition is to get the courts to pretend that they have never seen a devastating memo that emerged as part of the 2010 US embassy cables. It records Colin Roberts – a mandarin now set for installation as the governor of the Falklands – allegedly explaining that a purportedly environmental scheme to create a “marine conservation park” including the islands will in fact “put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents”, breathtaking evidence of a gulf between public policy and private motivation.
Faced with litigation concerning the lawfulness of the conservation policy, at the start of this week the Foreign Office was following its customary tactic of refusing to engage on the basis that it never confirms or denies leaks. Suddenly, however – and apparently without written argument – it switched strategies and announced that the memo could not be considered without violating the Vienna convention, which protects diplomatic correspondence.
We await the court’s written ruling, but the judges have already indicated they may accept an argument, which in effect recognises that the memo is authentic. That is only one bizarre implication of what could prove a very British cover-up. For if the law requires that this newly authenticated document be put back under wraps, where does that leave the likes of the Guardian, which has already released it? Must it now be “unpublished”, and taken down from the web? It is of course a ridiculous prospect, but then fear of ridicule never gets in the way of a good English scramble to pretend unfortunate things have never been seen.
So says Dr Sean Carey, a research fellow at the University of Roehampton, UK, in an article for The Independent. The article was written in the wake of the seven-judge chamber of the European Court of Human Rights deciding by majority that the case regarding the right of return of the exiled Chagos Islanders was inadmissible.
The article charts the campaign for justice waged by the Chagossians over the years, and the tactics used by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to block them, the most recent being the creation of a Marine Protected Area.
The article concludes:
“Although recent UK governments have expressed “regret” about the past, it is very revealing that no formal apology has been made to the Chagossians. Irrespective of the decision of the Strasbourg court, on moral and ethical grounds, it is time for a change in tone and policy. That should include a debate in Parliament in the New Year, and the Foreign Secretary working in close collaboration with the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group. William Hague should also take the opportunity to invoke the spirit of William Wilberforce by apologising for the mistakes of previous UK governments and allow the islanders to return to their homeland.”
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 4th Annual General Meeting and 30th meeting on 11 July 2012.
The Group re-elected the current office holders (Chairman, Jeremy Corbyn MP; Vice Chairs, Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Henry Smith MP, Andrew Rosindell MP; Secretary, Andrew George MP). David Snoxell was reappointed Coordinator and Richard Gifford Legal Adviser – they were thanked for their dedicated support and service to the Group.
The Group discussed developments in the 4 legal cases. There was no news from Strasbourg; final submissions had to be in by the end of July for the UNCLOS case brought by Mauritius; the appeal to the Information Tribunal was heard on 10/11 July and pre-trial applications were currently under way for the Judicial Review of the MPA. The BIOT Commissioner and another officer had been cross-examined at the Information Tribunal – the judge might give his decision by the end of July. In the pre-trial applications for the MPA Judicial Review it had been decided that wikileaks was admissible evidence.The judge was considering whether the BIOT Commissioner and the Administrator, who were quoted by the US Embassy in their 2009 cable to Washington, would be required to give evidence under oath. This was being opposed by the FCO. It looked as if the MPA JR would therefore drag on until October.
Note was taken of Lord Avebury’s intervention in the debate on the Queen’s speech on 17 May, concerning a just and fair settlement, the MPA, the wikileaks and the mounting cost of continuing to fight legal cases. Lord Avebury was asked to draw his comments to the attention of Ministers.
The media reports and the Answers to PQs on the outcome of the meeting between the Mauritian Prime Minister and Mr Cameron on 8 June were discussed. It was noted that both sides had different understandings of what was discussed.The Group was surprised at the apparent contradiction of the two accounts of the meeting between the Prime Minister and Dr Ramgoolam. Members felt that the meeting had raised expectations and offered a unique opportunity, during the Diamond Jubilee week, to begin to address an overall political settlement. They were disappointed that the British side seemed to prefer to prolong the legal battles. It was agreed that in view of the sensitivities of the situation members would talk personally to Ministers.
The Group discussed the chapter on BIOT in the White Paper on the Overseas Territories released on 28 June. They were unhappy about the way some aspects of BIOT had been described and decided to raise these points when the White Paper is debated.
A recent statement by Olivier Bancoult concerning the difficulties over passports, visas and benefits had been circulated to members. The Group was very sympathetic and would continue to raise these issues, most recently on 22 February when Mr Corbyn, Mr Rosindell and Lord Avebury had a meeting with the Immigration Minister.
The next meeting of the Group will be after the summer recess on 17 October 2012.
The release of colonial files by the Forieign and Commonwelath Office, some referring to the expulsion of the Chagos Islanders, has provoked a strong reaction as well as suspicion about the validity of previously-released documets. Key points are raised in letters published by the Guardian under the theme Conspiracies and the legacy of empire.
So explains David Snoxell, co-ordinator of the British All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Chagos, in an interview with L’Express Weekly, Mauritius. The piece covers issues ranging from De L’Estrac’s English translation of his book ‘Next Year in Diego Garcia’ to a recent meeting of the APPG with William Hague, and how people can get more involved in supporting the Chagossians. The article is available here.
A recent article in the Guardian by Josh Reichert (Pew Environmental Group) in support of the Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA) contained a number of untruths.
For example, in the second paragraph he states that since their expulsion, “the UK has maintained that the Chagossians have no right of abode on the islands.” This is untrue as the right of return, which implies abode, was restored between Nov 2000 and June 2004 by Robin Cook (then Foreign Secretary), and overturned by Orders-in-Council.
In paragraph four, Reichert states that the “Pew Environment Group worked with a range of organisations and individuals – including Chagossians – to advocate its establishment as a highly protected marine reserve.” In fact, the Pew Environment Group worked with only one small group of UK-based Chagossians, the Diego Garcia Society, and made no contact with the Chagos Refugees Group. The latter is the largest group of islanders, based in Mauritius and led by Olivier Bancoult, who brought the case against the UK government to establish the right of return.
Later in the article he states that the “provisional government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands support protected status for the Archipelago”. In fact, all Chagossians support an MPA but not one which excludes them from their homeland.
It is extermely disappointing that the Pew Group continues to peddle untruths to defend their position, particularly now that the UK government’s cynical motivation for the creation of the Chagos MPA has been exposed.
Amalia King has posted this annotated copy of the Wikileaks cable detailing discussions on Diego Garcia.
A very useful way of comparing the private comments with the public ones, highlighting the omissions, half truths and deceptions.
Forty years ago, thousands of people were forcibly and illegally removed from their homeland, the British Indian Ocean Territory, to make way for Diego Garcia, a US military base. The expulsion has been described by some as UK foreign policy’s darkest day. Since then the islanders have fought for the right to go home. They won it from the high court, but the privy council took it away. It now seems, from US information released by WikiLeaks (Foreign Office accused of misleading public over expelled ‘Man Fridays’, 4 December), that the Foreign Office has no regrets over its illegal action, and has been planning to destroy the islanders’ campaign by making their former home a marine sanctuary, in which no one would be allowed to live.
As a long-term advocate of conservation, I am horrified that the UK government has used this to keep the islanders from returning to their rightful home, and that I was duped into supporting the creation of the marine sanctuary under false pretences. According to the leaked documents, Colin Roberts, the FCO’s director of overseas territories, told the US that there would be no “Man Fridays” on the islands and said: “We do not regret the removal of the population.” The FCO described the all-party parliamentary group campaigning for the Chagos people’s right to return as a “persistent” but relatively non-influential group. I now regret my support of the marine sanctuary and look forward to joining the islanders in their campaign to return home.