Conservationist network in callous Chagossian snub
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has submitted a briefing document to the government outlining its support for a Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos islands. As they claim to represent “over 1,000 government and NGO member organizations,” the IUCN’s submision is chilling reading for anybody who believes in the Chagossians’ right to return.
The paper begins by stating: “The Chagos Archipelago is one of the last remaining places on earth where marine ecosystems and species function relatively unmodified and unperturbed. This makes it invaluable not only as a means for replenishment of other, more degraded, parts of the Indian Ocean, but also as a benchmark – and a beacon of hope – for the world… Placing the Chagos archipelago [...] under a robust and unambiguous protection and conservation framework would realize this potential, and the area would be held in trust for the citizens of the United Kingdom, countries around the Indian Ocean and the world community.”
So far, so so. The protection of the Chagos islands’ environment and marine life is something that everybody can subscribe to, not least of all the Chagossians themselves, who have repeatedly made clear their commitment to helping safeguard their homeland for the benefit of future generations. However, on page 3 the report reveals a darker side to itself:
“The absence of human populations is the main reason for the present conservation status of Chagos as a rare surviving example of nature as it should be, where human pressures do not conflict with environmental needs and lead to degradation and impoverishment. Chagos is, with the exception of Diego Garcia, uninhabited, a status upheld through a 2008 House of Lords ruling which found no right of return on the part of the Chagossians. Because of this Chagos provides us with a scientific benchmark for environmental health, and an area to help us understand and deal with such problems as pollution, loss of biodiversity and climate change.”
Nature as it should be? So the IUCN is saying that the forced expulsion of thousands of Chagos islanders in the 1960s and 1970s is justifiable on the grounds that it stopped “human pressures” (i.e. peoples’ lives) interfering with environmental needs? As well as being callous in the extreme, this passage shows the shocking extent to which some scientists have succumbed to the government’s false dichotomy between (1) resettlement of the Chagos islands and (2) environmental protecton. The two are NOT mutually exclusive.
It seems that those elements of the scientific community who are willing to cut the Chagossians out of the frame are showing themselves to be highly organised and unphased by what the consequences of their unqualified support for an MPA might mean for the indigenous people of the archipelago they profess to wish to protect; it’s crucial that the supporters of the Chagossians are equally as vocal.
Here, again, are the contact details you can use to respond to the Foreign Office’s consultation on the MPA issue and tell them that they won’t succeed in marginalising the Chagossians:
(i) Write to:
BIOT marine protected area consultation
Overseas Territories Directorate
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
(ii) E-mail your response to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The IUCN itself can be contacted via its website.