Conservation groups criticise framing of FCO’s consultation on Chagos
This week, the UK Chagos Support Association is taking a look at some of the evidence that has been submitted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as part of its consultation on marine protection in the Chagos islands (people have until Friday 5 March 2010 to submit evidence). We began by yesterday reviewing the International Union of Conservation Networks’ submission.
The WDCS and NRDC submission is concise, to the point, and forcefully argued. In a nutshell: these conservationists fully support the principle of enhanced marine protection in Chagos – including via the creation of aÂ marine protected area (MPA) -Â but have serious reservations about the implementation and the scope of the FCO’s proposals.
On implementation, the WDCS and NRDC point out that the UK Government has been very poor at building a coalition of support for its marine protection plan. They suggest that seeking Parliamentary debate and approval for an MPA in Chagos would give the scheme legitimacy – a note of caution that could prove to be extremely prescient if the FCO’s track record of using undemocratic means to legislate for the Chagos islands is anything to go by.
Furthermore, the authors point out that by refusing to allow the Chagossians to play a full role in the conservation of their homeland (instead choosing to hide behind the ongoing European Court of Human Rights proceedings)Â and byÂ failing to assuage the concerns of the Government of Mauritius, the FCO has left itself vulnerable to the accusation that it is trying to â€śunilaterallyâ€ť implement an MPA in Chagos.
This failure to build a broad base of support could prove to be fateful, they warn: â€śMPAs created from the ‘top down only’ are much less likely to function effectively.â€ťÂ Even in the short term, the assistance ofÂ the ChagossiansÂ and the Government ofÂ Mauritius would be sorely needed in order to ensureÂ the enforcement, monitoring and proper functioning of an MPA in Chagos.
In terms of scope, the WDCS and NRDC submission raises the thornyÂ issue of the US military base on Diego Garcia, highlighting the awkwardness of excluding Diego Garcia â€“ the largest island within the Chagos archipelago â€“ from any environmental protection regime.
The submission points out that Navy sonar can have a â€śfatalâ€ť effect on some species of whale, and also lists several other ways that the military base is likely to have hadÂ a negative impact upon the Chagos marine environment.Â In addition, the WDCS and NRDC repeat concerns that the usual environmental protection laws have not been followed in the case of Diego Garcia.
In many ways, the military base on Diego Garcia has been the elephant in the room ever since the prospectÂ of an MPA in Chagos was raised.Â So far,Â most environment organisations â€“ including those campaigning vociferously in favour of a â€śno-takeâ€ť protection zone, such as the Chagos Environment Network (CEN) and, bizarrely, Greenpeace â€“ have thought it unwise to broach the issue.Â For the WDCS and NRDC, however, the environmental impact of the base is clearlyÂ of important concern.
To conclude on a brief aside, it is worth considering that, if the FCO, CEN, Greenpeace et al can envisage an MPA in Chagos that makes an exception for the massive military base on Diego Garcia, why cannot provision for the ChagossiansÂ also be built into the MPA?
It is peculiar that organisations such as Pew and Greenpeace should go out of their way to accommodate a military base but will not consider qualifying their support for an MPA with a concomitant support for the rights of the Chagos archipelago’s indigenous people, as the WDCS and NRDC have thought it appropriate to do.