Archive for February, 2007

Oyez! Hear ye!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 28th, 2007 by UKCSA – 3 Comments

As we await a verdict from last month’s court case, please add your name to this petition on the Prime Minister’s website:

We believe that the forced expulsion of the Chagos Archipelago at the request of the USA for the sole purpose of establishing a military base on Diego Garcia to be a shameful episode in our countrys’ recent history.

Perhaps even more shamefully, the UK government now intends to stop the Chagossians from ever returning to their homes. To do this it will have to overturn or ignore two High Court Judgements allowing the Chagossians the right to return. This is in spite of Home Secretary Robin Cooks position of not contesting the decision to allow repatriation in 2000.

It seems the continuing ”War on Terror” allows for the continued theft of these Islands, simply for their strategic position in relation to the Gulf and any future campaigns.

It only takes a moment and, while it might not change the world, it adds to the pressure, as this recent episode demonstrated. Sceptics might consider these musings before finding something better to do:

What use is signing a petition? Well, judging from the media coverage of the road pricing petition, some at least. I can’t claim to know how much effect a million or more signatures on the war crimes petition would have but I have to believe it also would have some – a kick in the grin for Mr. Blair, at least.

For cynicism, we might also say snobbery – since I suspect certain self-described ‘activists’ look down on such conventions as petitions on the grounds that they are naive and ineffectual compared with other forms of action and protest. Perhaps so and, yes, there is always the need to consider the best use of one’s time and resources but signing a petition takes a couple of minutes. So go ahead and sign anyway – you’ll still have time to D-lock yourself to the gates of Faslane. An activist should be receptive to as many legitimate forms of action as possible and, to borrow a snooker term, signing a petition is a shot to nothing.

So get clicking

February 2007 Roundup

Posted in Uncategorized on February 18th, 2007 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment
  • This month’s main news is the Government’s appeal hearing, which finished on Friday 16 February. We are now awaiting the judges’ verdict.

    The Government was appealing against last May’s decision by the High Court to overturn secret Privy Council orders passed by the Foreign Office to stop the Chagossians from ever returning home. The Chagossians had been given the right to return in 2000, when the High Court declared the original eviction order of 1973 to be unlawful. The orders in council were used to bypass parliament and overturn that court decision.

    At the opening of the case there was a lively demonstration of support outside the court building, and a demo at Downing Street also. There were media representatives including reporters from the Netherlands, Australia, Japan and the US.

    Much of the argument hinges on whether throwing people off their homeland is compatible with the aim of maintaining “peace, order and good governance” – which Orders in Council are supposed to be used for.

    The Foreign Office’s QC argued that the Queen should have no restriction on her authority to govern. But Sir Sydney Kentridge QC, representing the Chagossians, argued that throwing people off their islands in secret can hardly be called “peace, order and good governance”, and that there is no precedent for using Orders in Council for such a purpose.

    A decision is expected some time in the next few weeks.

  • While in London for the hearing, Chagos Refugee Group chairman Olivier Bancoult had meetings with many people including Foreign Office representatives, Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.
  • Having managed to get a statement from David Cameron on the Chagos issue, we look forward to hearing what Tory shadow foreign affairs minister Geoffrey Clifton-Brown has to say about it after his visit to Chagossians in Mauritius.
  • Letters from David Snoxell and Daniel Simpson highlighting the ongoing injustice against the Chagos islanders appeared in The Times this month.
  • New BIOT rules for yachties visiting the Chagos islands seem to have left them with nowhere to moor their boats. The designated mooring sites seem to systematically exclude any sand patches – making it impossible for all but very large ships to anchor. This, combined with increased fees, which must now be paid in advance, has led yachties to assume they are no longer welcome.
  • In Crawley, the Chagos Island Community Association, led by Hengride Permal, held a march there on 10 February to demonstrate both for their right to return to their homeland and for more support from the council in the meantime. This was very lively and well-attended by Chagossians and supporters.
  • Allen Vincatassin’s group has started a programme for women, with regular speakers from the local authority and other organisations. Recently the police gave a talk on safety and crime prevention. They are also being helped and encouraged to speak and write in English.
  • If you are interested in seeing the film made during the war on Diego Garcia, please telephone John Loader (who was there at the time and does the commentary) on 01434 604208. We highly recommend it.
  • Paradise Lost – The Story of the Chagossians will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11am on 7 March and available to hear online afterwards.

Could we have the bill, please?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 17th, 2007 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Foreign Office has revealed that it has spent almost two million pounds (and counting) on its legal battle against the Chagos islanders since 1998.

That works out at more than £500 every single day for almost ten years. Or about £1000 for every person who was evicted.

It doesn’t stop there. The Foreign Office also spent almost half a million pounds on a feasibility study which, having not even consulted the islanders themselves, is not worth the paper it’s written on.

The study is deployed regularly by ministers to argue that resettlement is impracticable. But, as Daniel Simpson said in his recent letter to The Times:

[It is] a common fallacy that Foreign and Commonwealth Office studies have found resettlement to be “unfeasible”. On the contrary: the FCO’s original draft conclusion states: “there is no obvious physical reason why one or both of the two [main outlying] atolls should not be repopulated”.

Richard Gifford, the islanders’ solicitor, said:

Nobody takes the conclusions drawn from the feasibility studies seriously and insofar as the government repeats them, they’re just opening themselves up to ridicule.

Imagine what could be achieved if the Government put sums like this into giving the Chagossians justice. With so much money wasted on efforts to deny these people their rights, the argument that doing the right thing would be too expensive is becoming less and less convincing.

As the Government’s appeal hearing draws to a close, we are hoping for a quick and positive outcome, and that the Government sees sense and stops spending huge amounts of public money to keep these people in exile.

Cameron on Chagos

Posted in Uncategorized on February 14th, 2007 by UKCSA – 2 Comments

We recently asked the following question of Conservative leader David Cameron, via his blog:

When will you introduce a parliamentary motion demanding a government-funded plan to resettle Chagossians on the islands from which Britain evicted them, together with an apology and adequate compensation for the decades of hardship inflicted?

Readers of David’s blog – who have the chance to vote for the most interesting questions – voted our question to Number One for that week, and David posted the following answer on 24 January:

I understand your concerns on this general issue. There is ongoing legal action so I don’t want to comment on the legality of all this. But I recognise that there is a moral issue here. We cannot undo any mistakes of the past, but we must do all we can to correct them now.

I recognise the importance of the air base on Diego Garcia, which was used in the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Gulf War of the early 1990s, and the security concerns that prevent islanders from returning to Diego Garcia itself. But we do need to look at why Islanders are prevented from returning to the outlying islands, which are clearly some distance from the air base.

The Foreign Office say long-term resettlement of the islands is unfeasible. But I don’t want simply to take those claims at face value. I have asked my Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, to investigate this matter thoroughly. Geoffrey will be visiting the Chagossian community in Mauritius (where most were transferred), and meeting diplomatic and humanitarian representatives. He will look at the feasibility of a return, and the conditions in which Chagossians currently live, and report back to me and William Hague.

We will then consider the best way forward. So I don’t want to commit to a Parliamentary motion at this stage.

To be honest, we had hoped David would take the opportunity to come out with something a bit more forceful, what with being leader of the opposition, but we are glad that he is interested and supportive, and we are especially looking forward to seeing what comes out of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown’s visit to Mauritius. Not taking the Foreign Office’s claims “at face value” is crucial (see the two letters to The Times below to see why), but he could also take a more critical look at those supposed “security concerns”. We will, of course, keep badgering him. He’s probably glad for the chance to talk about something other than the mischief he got up to in his schooldays…

Myth busting

Posted in Uncategorized on February 13th, 2007 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Good to see that there’s some healthy discussion of the Chagos injustice in the papers and some oft-repeated Government myths being smashed. Daniel Simpson has responded in today’s Times to David Snoxell’s letter of yesterday. I wonder whether the Foreign & Commonwealth Office itself has anything to contribute to the debate…

Here’s Daniel’s letter:

Sir, The Government has spent almost £2 million on denying Chagossians the right to return to the islands from which Britain evicted them.

Despite two High Court judgments in their favour, the Foreign Secretary is wasting more public money on an appeal instead of resettling the Chagos Archipelago’s outer islands, which are more than 100 miles from the US base on Diego Garcia.

David Snoxell (letter, Feb 12) cites a common fallacy that Foreign and Commonwealth Office studies have found resettlement to be “unfeasible”. On the contrary: the FCO’s original draft conclusion states: “there is no obvious physical reason why one or both of the two [main outlying] atolls should not be repopulated”.

Moreover, the European Commissioner for Development has confirmed that resettlement could be financed from the European Development Fund, provided a resident population returns.

The only obstacle is political, in the form of US claims that resettlement would “degrade the strategic importance of a vital military asset”.

It has been more than 40 years since the islands were annexed for “defence purposes”. How many more decades must the Chagossians wait for justice?

By the way, yesterday’s court hearings were postponed because of a power failure, so it looks like the case will not be finishing today as expected. We’ll try to keep you posted.

Letter in today’s Times

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12th, 2007 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

David Snoxell, former High Commissioner to Mauritius, has a letter published in today’s Times, in which he dismisses the environmental and security concerns that the Government has deployed to avoid having to think about resettlement.

Third time lucky?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 10th, 2007 by Robert Bain – 2 Comments

This week, the Chagos islanders were in court for the third time fighting for the right to live on their homeland.

The Government put forward its arguments on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, and the Islanders are waiting for their turn on Monday 12th.

While we wait, let’s take a look back over how the islanders’ rights have been kicked around over the years:

Let’s not forget that the right to live on these islands is one that the islanders were born with. It was stripped from them for the first time between 1965 and 1973, when they were tricked, coerced and forced into leaving their islands, and dumped without help on the docks in Mauritius and the Seychelles.

They won back the right to return in 2000, after taking the Government to court. The High Court declared the eviction illegal.

After a few years of the Government doing nothing to support a return (and in fact obstructing a return through “feasibility studies” that might better have been called “unfeasibility studies”), the Government decided in 2004 to use secret royal orders to overrule the High Court and renew the eviction. Parliament and the public were told casually about this a few days later.

So it was that the islanders found themselves back in court for a second time to fight for a right that they were born with, and had already had to win back once. In 2006 the High Court overturned the ridiculous Orders in Council and the right to return was restored.

But the Government wasn’t going to let a little thing like two High Court rulings stop it from trampling on people’s rights. So here we are in 2007, with the Government appealing last year’s ruling, and the islanders, forty years on from their eviction, still waiting for justice.

Third time lucky? That depends on two things – what the judges decide, and what dirty tricks the Government has left up its sleeve.