Archive for March, 2008

Plenty to report

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16th, 2008 by UKCSA – 3 Comments

This is the first post in quite a while, so plenty to report.

  • First of all, the big date we’re all waiting for now is Monday 30 June – this is when the Government’s appeal to the House of Lords against last year’s decision in favour of the islanders is due to be heard. The islanders are optimistic about the outcome, and are mindful that this represents the Government’s last avenue of appeal.
  • You’ve probably heard (Times, BBC, Guardian) about Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s admission that Diego Garcia was indeed used by the US to refuel CIA ‘rendition’ flights, despite the Government having previously denied this on the basis of assurances from the US.

    Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group, said: “We Chagossians deeply regret that our island has been used as a place where terror suspects have been transported while we are not free to go there… We believe the time has come for the British Government to follow the example of the Australian Prime Minister [who apologised to the Aborigines] to take responsibility for their acts and doings and to apologise to the Chagossian community.”

  • Meanwhile the Foreign Affairs Committee has been gathering evidence for its inquiry into the Overseas Territories. Olivier came to London in January to give evidence, and the committee has also received evidence from representatives of the Diego Garcian Society and the Chagos Island Community Association.

    The committee chairman Mike Gapes told Olivier: “As you know… your islands have a particular history. We hope at some point they will also have people resident there who can act as guardians of the environment.” Most encouraging!

  • We have two major projects underway which have been made possible by grants from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, which promotes democratic reform, constitutional change and social justice.

    In April we will be launching a major campaign entitled Let Them Return!, pushing for resettlement of the outer islands of Chagos. Keep an eye on which will be going live soon.

    At the same time we will be publishing our proposal for resettlement.

    Even in the short period following the islanders’ court victory in 2000 when the Government was contemplating resettlement, there was no consultation with the islanders. Since then it has consistently opposed resettlement on the grounds of costs and environmental risk. Our job has been to contest these grounds and show how we believe resettlement should take place.

    We approached Dr John Howell, former director of the Overseas Development Institute in London and, more recently adviser to the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs in South Africa, to help. John visited Mauritius three times to meet with Chagossians, potential investors, engineers, environmental NGOs and quantity surveyors. He has consulted widely with resettlement sceptics as well as supporters.

    Our proposals draw on the feasibility studies and the conservation management plan commissioned by BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory – the official name for Chagos). We had nothing like the resources available to those studies, and we do not claim to have produced a fully-fledged resettlement ‘plan’ – this is a task for the BIOT itself. We are providing our preliminary answers to five main questions that itwill need to address:

    - How many Chagossians want to return and how will they live?
    - How will the resettled population support itself?
    - How will Chagossians contribute to conservation?
    - How will resettlement be managed?
    - How much will it cost and where will the money come from?

    We hope BIOT will recognise the constructive contribution that the CRG and others have made to addressing reasonable concerns about environmental conservation and economic viability.

  • We are finding support for the islanders in all sorts of places. X-Factor winner Steve Brookstein has agreed to write, sing and release a song for the Chagossians. Steve was asked recently by the Daily Mirror what he would do if he was Prime Minister, and replied: “I’d apologise to the natives of Diego Garcia who were thrown off their island in 1973 to make way for a US military base.”
  • The community groups in Crawley, the Diego Garcian Society and the Chagos Island Community Association, have been continuing their work to support the islanders living there. Representatives of the Diego Garcian Society are hoping to arrange a visit to Diego Garcia and have held positive meetings with the Foreign Office to discuss this. The society is also working with Crawley Council to provide basic English courses for Chagossians – about thirty islanders are already enrolled.