Archive for December, 2009

Looking ahead: The Chagossians’ campaign for justice in 2010

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30th, 2009 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Not to be outdone by others in the blogosphere, here is a brief overview of what 2010 may hold for the Chagossians. As a complete survey of the year ahead would probably run onto several pages, some brief thoughts on 2010’s two most important landmark events will have to suffice: (1) the progression of the Chagossians’ legal battle to the European Court of Human Rights and (2) the possible creation of a marine protected area around the Chagos islands.

First of all, 2010 will see the Chagossians’ ongoing campaign for justice progress to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). For those that don’t know, the ECtHR is an institution set up by the Council of Europe, an organisation that acts as a kind of human rights watchdog for European states. The court hears cases brought by aggrieved countries, groups and individuals, and makes rulings on whether or not states are abiding by the European Convention on Human Rights. As such, it has the potential to deliver a judgement that could seriously damage the credibility of the UK government.

The last time the Chagossians’ case was discussed in a court of law was in late 2008, when the Law Lords delivered their crushing 3-2 decision to uphold the government’s right to keep the Chagossians in exile. However, it is unlikely that the judges in Strasbourg will be as charitable to the FCO’s position as were the Lords. Rather, the Chagossians and their legal team hope to show that the government is indeed in breach of its international human rights obligations (that is, of course, unless the government decides to back down and pursue a “friendly settlement” instead).

Secondly, 2010 will probably see a decision made on the future of a marine protected area (MPA) in Chagos. It was the Chagos Environment Network (CEN) – a coalition of environmental organisations including the Chagos Conservation Trust, the Marine Conservation Society, the RSPB and others – who first proposed the creation of an MPA earlier this year, but the idea was catapulted to prominence when the FCO launched its official consultation on 10 November 2009. In February 2010, that consultation exercise will come to an end, with a final decision expected to follow shortly afterwards.

The MPA proposal seems to have found significant favour amongst ministers, including the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose minds have perhaps been sharpened because 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. Some high-profile commentators have even linked the issue to Gordon Brown’s personal legacy. However, if Gordon does have a personal interest in giving the MPA proposal his thumbs up, then the question becomes whether he will also take the opportunity to make restitution with the Chagossians? Something that the Prime Minister will no doubt be considering is that 2010 is a general election year. Does Brown really want to go to the polls as the man who sold out the Chagossians? Or would he prefer to cast himself as the Labour Prime Minister who did the decent thing?

What with the ECtHR case, the MPA discussions and the impending general election (2010 is also an election year in Mauritius), there is clearly a lot of uncertainty in the air as 2010 beckons: once again, the Chagossians find themselves at the mercy of judges and politicians. Nevertheless, in spite of whatever adversity they may come up against, the Chagossians’ resolve shows no sign of wavering. It is important that their supporters in Parliament, the media, scientific community, civil society and abroad continue to stand resolutely behind them. Furthermore, the challenges ahead should not obscure the very real grounds that exist for optimism: in Strasbourg and in Westminster, the Chagossians and their supporters are waging sophisticated campaigns with strong chances of success.

The Chagossians’ campaign would be made much easier if key decision-makers were to relent and agree reasonable terms, but these same decision-makers should be clear that, whatever 2010 holds, the Chagossians and their supporters will be following their every movement with a watchful eye and a dogged determination to make sure that 2010 turns out to be a year to remember for all of the right reasons.

Gordon Brown’s legacy lies in Chagos, says Times columnist

Posted in Uncategorized on December 28th, 2009 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Charles Clover’s column in yesterday’s Sunday Times, which urged Gordon Brown to press ahead with plans for a marine protected area (MPA) around the Chagos islands, bore many similarities with previous propaganda pieces from environmental lobbyists. However, it differed in one key respect, which could prove to be an important sea change in the way this discussion is being conducted: Clover used his column to link the creation of an MPA to the Prime Minister’s “legacy,” thus personalising the debate in a way that has not been done before. But is this really all about Gordon? And if so, how should the Prime Minister proceed?

Coming from such a well-established and respected environmental journalist (Clover was Environment Editor for the Daily Telegraph, 1988-2008), the idea that creating the Chagos MPA would be good for Brown’s legacy is likely to carry significant weight with government strategists; if the desire to secure a legacy for the Prime Minister wasn’t already something that excited FCO officials dealing with Chagos, then this column could definitely help it to become so.

Let’s remember that world leaders such as Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair and George Bush have all used the creation of vast environmental reserves as a way to boost their respective legacies. It’s not unthinkable that Gordon will attempt the same. As the largest of its kind, offering sanctuary to 1,000 species of fish and over 200 varieties of seabird, a properly managed MPA around Chagos would be a true gift to humanity; Clover’s comparison of the Chagos MPA to Yellowstone or the Serengeti is not far off the mark. He does, however, miss two very important points: (1) establishing an MPA around Chagos is not something that the government can achieve by imposition; and (2) in any case, a better way for Brown to create a lasting legacy for himself would be to allow the Chagossians a right of return.

In terms of the first of these points, Mauritius, which stands to inherit the Chagos islands when they are no longer needed by the UK for defence purposes, has already said that it will not consider supporting an MPA unless the issues of sovereignty and Chagossian resettlement are discussed in advance (see previous blog posts for more about this). Furthermore, the Chagossians themselves have no intention of calling off their longstanding campaign to be able to return home, which includes a bid to have their legal right to return confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights next year.

On the second point, it needs to be remembered that it was a Labour government that ordered the exile of the Chagossians in the 1960s (it was also a Labour government that gave an unwelcome encore of that disgraceful act with two Orders-in-Council in 2004). It would therefore be fitting for the present Labour government to be the ones to make amends for this historic injustice once and for all. Brown has an opportunity to go down in history as the Prime Minister who drew a line under one of the most shameful acts in British colonial history. As far as legacies go, that’s quite a big one.

If Brown really does want to secure a legacy for himself then he needs to think boldly and act decisively. Indeed, it would be extraordinary if his advisors weren’t already telling him something similar. In terms of Chagos, this means entering into meaningful discussions with Mauritius over the future of the territory and, most importantly, reaching an agreement with the Chagossians over proper compensation and their right of resettlement.

By linking the proposal for a Chagos MPA to the issue of Gordon Brown’s legacy, Charles Clover has effectively thrown down the gauntlet to the Prime Minister. Whilst his intention was probably to goad Brown into clinching a deal on environmental protection, Clover has actually succeeded in shifting the debate into a new gear altogether.

If Brown wants a legacy then he need look no further than justice for the Chagossians.

More pressure for UK action on Chagos/Diego Garcia

Posted in Uncategorized on December 27th, 2009 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

The pressure is mounting for the UK government to wake up to reality in terms of its policy towards the Chagos islands. Instead of focusing solely on the question of whether or not to establish a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Chagos, ministers may soon find it impossible to continue ignoring broader questions such as Mauritian sovereignty and the Chagossians’ right of return. Much of this pressure is likely to come from Mauritius itself, as the government there is forced to respond to the demands of Mauritian civil society.

As previously mentioned on this blog, the Mauritian Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam has made it clear that his country will not consent to discussions on an MPA around Chagos unless the issues of sovereignty and resettlement are also addressed. Given that UK policy is for the Chagos islands to be handed over to Mauritius at some point in the not-too-distant future, the cooperation of the Mauritian government is obviously critical if environmental protection schemes such as an MPA are to enjoy any semblance of longevity. Therefore, the most sensible course of action would be for Whitehall to assent to Mr Ramgoolam’s (very reasonable) demands now, thus avoiding a situation where bowing to the inevitable becomes something of an embarrassing necessity.

The UK would be foolhardy to expect Mauritius to relent. For one thing, the Ramgoolam government is under significant media scrutiny. A recent article in the Mauritian Times cautioned Mauritius against “the risk of being relegated to the backseat, if not abandoned by the roadside, in its claim to exercise its sovereignty over Chagos.” The article seems to suggest that if the European Court of Human Rights rules against the UK government (in its court battle with the Chagossians, due to take place in 2010), then the status of the Chagos islands could be called into question. Under such circumstances, it argues, Mauritius must be ready to assert its claims or else risk losing the ability to influence developments.

At the same time, the left-wing Lalit political party has been organising a campaign against the US base on Diego Garcia and the alleged stockpiling of nuclear arms. Lalit activists point to the existence of the newly in force anti-nuclear Pelindaba Treaty, something that Peter H. Sand has also discussed in relation to the Chagos islands and Diego Garcia, as a reason why the Mauritian government should be much more assertive in putting its claims of sovereignty into practice. Lalit and their allies are certain to do everything in their power to keep this issue in the headlines; 2010 is an election year in Mauritius, after all.

Taken together, pressure of this sort is likely to keep Mauritian politicians rigid. If it wants Mauritian cooperation to establish an MPA, then, the UK government is probably going to have to alter its own position by accepting that the issues of sovereignty and resettlement cannot be ignored any longer.

In 2010, discussing the MPA proposal in isolation is simply going to become untenable. The government should come to terms with this fact as soon as possible and begin talking to those who wish to see resettlement take place. The door is wide open and mustn’t be allowed to close.

Carey article reprinted in New Statesman

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23rd, 2009 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Dr Sean Carey’s recent article on Diego Garcia and the Chagos islands is now available on the New Statesman‘s website. Well worth a read for those who missed it in L’Express

Diego Garcia in the news over extraordinary rendition legal action: the UK should act to dispel the darkness

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19th, 2009 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Diego Garcia made headlines this week as a group of MPs began a fresh courtroom initiative to force the release of documents relating to the UK’s alleged involvement in the secret detention and “extraordinary rendition” of suspected terrorists by the US security services. The MPs, from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Extraordinary Rendition, have previously made a number of Freedom of Information requests of both the US and UK governments, but have been frustrated by a lack of progress. Although filed in a US court, any fruits born by this latest legal action could have damaging consequences for the UK government.

Investigations carried out by organisations such as the Council of Europe, Liberty and Reprieve have all previously implicated the UK in the US’s extraordinary rendition programme – a controversial practice whereby detainees are flown to countries or territories where it is possible for coercive interrogation techniques to be used against them. Specifically, Diego Garcia is often cited as British sovereign territory that has been transited by rendition flights. In what was seen at the time as a highly embarrassing climb down, in February 2008 the Foreign Secretary David Miliband was forced to admit that Diego Garcia had indeed been used for this purpose, despite repeated assurances to the contrary from both Washington and Whitehall.

The UK government has been indignant at suggestions that it has ever knowingly been complicit in extraordinary rendition, let alone the use of torture as an interrogation technique. Since becoming prime minister, Gordon Brown has been particularly keen to take a firm stance on the issue: in March this year, Brown vowed to “deal unequivocally with our condemnation of the use of torture” and asked for tough new guidance to be issued to the UK’s security services.

With regards to Diego Garcia, there is no evidence that the UK government knew the US planned to use its base there for rendition purposes. Instead, it’s likely that officials in the FCO were just as angry about being “duped” by the US as were the British public. It’s also worth pointing out that many of the questionable interrogation techniques sanctioned by the Bush administration have since been repudiated by President Obama, although Obama has stopped short of ending rendition altogether.

Nevertheless, the Brown government should take decisive action to further distance the UK and its Overseas Territories from the business of extraordinary rendition. Diego Garcia’s lingering association with torture and secret detention does nothing to improve its already miserable reputation as a dark and shadowy place, part of Britain’s global footprint that the government would rather keep quiet – an image that was originally born out of the shameful exile of the Chagossians and which has been continually reinforced by their ongoing mistreatment.

For the government, rescuing Diego Garcia’s public relations takes on added importance because of the current plans to establish a Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos islands; convincing the world that the Chagos archipelago constitutes a marine paradise is going to be made eminently more difficult if yet more disgraceful tales about the territory are pumped into the public’s consciousness.

In order to rectify the situation, the personal leadership of the prime minister is probably required. Brown should show some leadership, as he did in March, and cast a thorough spotlight onto Diego Garcia and the rest of the Chagos islands, showing the world that the UK has nothing to hide. He should also take heed of Dr Sean Carey’s recent L’Express article, discussed here earlier in the week, which argued for a comprehensive approach to the future of the Chagos islands.

As part of his intervention, Brown should order that amends be made with the Chagossian people, including proper compensation and a right of resettlement. Showing fairness and humanity to the Chagossians is the single most effective method by which the UK could restore Diego Garcia’s image in the eyes of the public and the international community. The capacity to achieve such a settlement undoubtedly exists, but the political will has yet to be produced. Perhaps the MPA discussions, coupled with this latest court case, could prompt some action.

Treating with the Chagossians should be an integral part of government policy towards Diego Garcia and the Chagos islands; failing to do so would be a missed opportunity of monumental proportions.

Sean Carey offers a reminder of Chagos complexities, and thoughts for the future

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16th, 2009 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

British academic Dr Sean Carey has this week written an article on the Chagos islands for the Mauritian newspaper L’Express. Although writing in light of the recent proposal to establish a Marine Protected Area (MPA) around Chagos, Dr Carey makes some extremely insightful points that link the MPA issue to the wider political context, including the Chagossians’ right of resettlement, the US military base on Diego Garcia, and Mauritius’s claim of sovereignty over the archipelago.

Dr Carey’s article is well worth reading in its entirety (as are his others on Chagos), but here are five of his key points that are particularly worth highlighting:

1. There is no formal “lease” between the UK and US over Diego Garcia; talk of “treaty obligations” is highly misleading.

Dr Carey points out that the UK-US Exchange of Notes that paved the way for the establishment of the US base on Diego Garcia was just that – an exchange of letters – and did not involve the signing or ratification of a formal treaty or lease (partly because both sides were anxious to avoid parliamentary/congressional scrutiny). Although it has been updated several times since 1966, this agreement essentially remains a trust-based arrangement.

Furthermore, there is nothing in the agreement to compel the UK to do anything other than allow the US to maintain its base on Diego Garcia. As such, the UK government enjoys significant scope to think creatively with regards the future of the territory as a whole; hiding behind so-called “treaty obligations” to justify inaction simply won’t wash.

2. “The US never asked the UK to evacuate all of the islands; it simply wanted Diego Garcia uninhabited.”

This important fact is often overlooked in commentary on the Chagos islands, particularly that which focuses its attention on the US military presence on Diego Garcia. However, Dr Carey provides a timely reminder that the “blame” (for want of a better word) for the depopulation of the entire Chagos archipelago, as opposed to just Diego Garcia, lies firmly at the feet of the UK government. Consequently, the responsibility to make amends also rests with the British.

The current Labour administration should take particular heed of this point, as it was a Labour government that signed off the original order to expel the Chagossians back in the 1960s (not to mention the 2004 Orders-in-Council). It would be fitting if the Brown government were to do the decent thing and take steps to make right this historic wrong, which Dr Carey calls “one of the most shameful acts in recent colonial history.”

3. “There is no sensible defence or security reason why the outer Chagos Islands which lie around 140 miles north of Diego Garcia should not be transferred to Mauritius.”

The UK has long promised to hand over sovereignty of the Chagos islands to Mauritius once they are no longer required for defence purposes. But Dr Carey puts forward the excellent point, rarely made, that only one of the Chagos islands (Diego Garcia) has ever been called upon for defensive purposes throughout the entirety of the past four decades. The rest of the islands have been left untouched. This being the case, shouldn’t these other islands – the so-called Outer Chagos islands – be handed over to Mauritius? If not now, then at least sometime before 2016, which is when the current UK-US agreement is up for renewal?

Ceding the Outer Chagos islands to Mauritius could have the added benefit of speeding up the process of Chagossian resettlement, something that the Chagossians have been waiting for for too long as it is. The Mauritian Prime Minister, Navin Ramgoolam, has made statements in support of the Chagossians’ right of return and it is reasonable to assume that his government would not stand in the way of resettlement as has the UK government. Although, of course, it is important to remember that resettlement is both feasible and desirable no matter which country is in sovereign possession of Chagos; either way, the UK government would do well to set the wheels in motion for resettlement as soon as possible.

4. “The objection put forward in some circles that any permanent settlement of a small number of people living on some of the outer islands like Peros Banhos and Salomon could somehow jeopardise or threaten the pristine qualities of the proposed MPA is frankly ludicrous.”

Given the current MPA consultation, this is a point that can’t be made often enough. Apart from the fact that the environmental impact of a Chagossian settlement would pale in comparison to that of the existing US presence on Diego Garcia, the Chagossians themselves have repeatedly made it clear that they wish to be a part of conservation efforts, not a hindrance to them. In any case, and as Dr Carey says, policies on how to preserve and manage the environment could be agreed by all parties well in advance of resettlement. All that is required is the political will to make it happen.

5. “The agreement between Britain and the US over the use of the British Indian Ocean Territory comes up for renewal in 2016, and if either party wants to suggest changes they must do so by 2014.”

This final point lends a much-needed sense of urgency to the discussion. If the UK government wants to be bold with regards to Chagos, then it may need to renegotiate its existing arrangement with the US. This is not a problem in itself – there is nothing to suggest that the US would object to an alteration of the agreement – but the issues of sovereignty, resettlement and environmental protection are complex ones; coming up with proposals that are acceptable to all of the parties concerned may take some time.

The message is clear: if the UK wants to take action to safeguard the environment of Chagos, honour the rights of the Chagossians and Britain’s promises to Mauritius, and keep on the right side of its ally the US, then it should start acting now. What is more, it should act in a comprehensive fashion by addressing each of the themes that Dr Carey touches upon. Simply weighing up the merits of an MPA, which seems to be the government’s current approach, just isn’t enough.

Dr Carey’s article concludes by urging Mauritians to hold the UK government to account over its policy towards Chagos. This is something that supporters of the Chagossians should likewise be doing. Check the UK Chagos Support Association website as well as this blog for ideas on how to badger your elected representatives.

Bryant gives OTCC report

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16th, 2009 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant yesterday reported to the House of Commons on last week’s Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC). His statement, in the form of a written answer to a question from Tom Watson MP, can be viewed in its original form here. A fuller account of the Council, given by Dick Sawle (Falkland Islands), can be found here.

The communiqué agreed by the Council contains welcome commitments on good governance and human rights: the Council agreed to “recommit to the principles of good governance“; reaffirmed its belief in “the importance of respect for human rights and the need to safeguard children“; and resolved to “finalise action within Territories to enable extension to all the populated Territories of the International Labour Organisation convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour and the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, during the course of 2010.

These statements are a good illustration of how Britain’s relationship with its Overseas Territories can be positive and productive. There’s little doubt that the delegates who assembled in London for the OTCC will have left reassured that Britain is ready to do its utmost to ensure their safety and prosperity.

It is a shame, however, that the OTCC’s communiqué – laudable as it may be – is effectively neither here nor there as far as the Chagossians are concerned. So long as they are denied the right to return to their islands, and so long as the British Indian Ocean Territory remains devoid of a permanent population, statements agreed at such conferences have little relevance for them as a people.

As a concluding remark, it is interesting to note how this photo from the FCO’s Flickr album has been titled “OTCC 2009 Family Photo.” If Britain and its Overseas Territories do comprise a family unit, then quite how the Chagossians fit in is something worth exploring. But then, as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina begins, “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Chagos in Parliament

Posted in Uncategorized on December 14th, 2009 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Chagos was mentioned twice in Parliament last week, in the form of written answers to questions submitted by two members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group, Andrew George and Jeremy Corbyn. In both cases, the written answer from the minister responsible, Chris Bryant, provides us with some revealing insights. Click here for the full text from Hansard.

The first question was from Mr George, asking the government, “what (a) historic and (b) other entitlements affect his Department’s ability to enforce the proposed new Chagos Archipelago Marine Protected Area.”

With this question, Mr George was probably making reference to (a) Mauritius’s claim of sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago and (b) the issue of Chagossian resettlement. As potential thorns in the side of any future Marine Protected Area (MPA) around Chagos, both of these ongoing and unresolved issues are pertinent ones for the government to be considering.

In reply, Mr Bryant deftly exempted himself from having to provide a proper answer by stating that, “No decision has yet been taken on whether a Marine Protected Area will be established in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). A decision will be taken following the public consultation which is at present underway.”

This evasiveness could belie the fact that the government is already acutely aware of these potential pitfalls. We know from statements by David Miliband (“This is an exciting opportunity to create one of the world’s greatest natural conservation areas.”) that the government is keen on the MPA idea. However, we have also seen statements from the Mauritian Prime Minister that demonstrate just how complex the reality of creating an MPA around Chagos is going to be. Such an ambitious project is not something that the government can unilaterally press ahead with. In order to get its way, the government will have to do more than just consult with its cheerleaders in the scientific community.

The second question came from Mr Corbyn, who asked, “what research [the FCO] is undertaking on the viability of the proposed return of the Chagos Islanders to the archipelago; and if he will make a statement.”

Mr Bryant’s response will be familiar to anybody who has written to the government on this issue before:

“Following the Law Lords judgment of 22 October 2008 in the Judicial Review of the 2004 British Indian Ocean Territory Orders in Council, Government policy remains that no-one has a right of abode in the Territory or the right to enter the Territory unless authorised. The Government have no plans to resettle the Chagos Islanders in the Territory and is not therefore undertaking research on the viability of the return of the Chagos Islanders to the British Indian Ocean Territory.”

This seems to be the standard line being trotted out by ministers whenever asked about the issue of resettlement. It’s obviously not what supporters of resettlement wish to hear, but is there a chance that the wording of the response offers at least a glimmer of hope?

The logic being used by the government is essentially circular: The Law Lords said that we could oppose resettlement, so we are. We are opposing resettlement because we can, and so forth. What’s missing is a clear and convincing argument to justify the government’s stance. This hollowness could be considered progress from when ministers used to pretend at every given opportunity that a resettlement would be prohibitively costly or would pose an unacceptable security risk.

The next step is for supporters of the Chagossians’ right of resettlement to respond to this gap in the government’s thinking by insisting that the issues of environmental protection and Chagossian resettlement should be taken together. The MPA consultation is currently the best way of making our voices heard: the government is bound to take submissions to the consultation process seriously, making it a perhaps unique opportunity for members of the public to force the government to finally see sense and decide to do the decent thing.

Please see previous posts for details on how to write in or email your submission to the FCO’s consultation on whether to create a marine protected area around Chagos.

Bryant’s blog post gives pause for thought on Britain’s Overseas Territories

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10th, 2009 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Chris Bryant has today made a blog post on the Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC) that is taking place in London this week. At first glance, Bryant’s post looks nothing more than an assortment of platitudes about how fascinating the Overseas Territories are (e.g. “Bermuda and Pitcairn couldn’t be more different. Nor could the Falklands and the Cayman Islands”). However, dig a little deeper and Bryant is actually onto something here; Britain’s Overseas Territories really are different from one another, with one dividing line emerging as being particularly important: some British Overseas Territories have permanent populations and enjoy responsible government whilst others do not.

As a summit, the OTCC only brings together representatives from those Overseas Territories that have permanent populations. See, for example, the “family photo” that the FCO has uploaded to its Flickr account, which shows Mr Bryant standing alongside representatives from Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands and St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island.

All of those Overseas Territories have permanent populations, ranging in size from tens of thousands (Bermuda) to just a few dozen (Pitcairn). They also all enjoy some form of responsible government, i.e. directly elected councils, legislative assemblies and so forth. The only populated, self-governing Overseas Territories missing from the lineup were the Turks and Caicos Islands (where, in the wake of a serious corruption scandal, the UK government re-imposed direct rule earlier this year) and Gibralter.

However, there are other British Overseas Territories not mentioned here: the British Antarctic Territory, the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, the UK military bases on Cyprus and, of course, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). These territories don’t have permanent civilian populations; instead, they’re home to clutches of scientists, a few lonely administrators and, in the case of Cyprus and BIOT, lots of military personnel. As such, they don’t have (or require) responsible government either. They’re governed as extensions of Whitehall, existing as separate legal entities but lacking any form of autonomy to make their own decisions.

It is possible that part of the reason that the UK government is so keen to block the Chagossians‘ right of return is that they don’t want BIOT to join the ranks of Anguilla, Monserrat, the Falklands et al. Rather, they want to keep it akin to the British Antarctic Territory and the military bases on Cyprus. If BIOT became home to a permanent population of Chagossians, then BIOT might also become home to such things as – shock, horror! – responsible government, democracy, human rights legislation and, yes, even legally-binding environmental safeguards.

Could it be that this is what the government means when it talks about the “security risks” associated with the resettlement of the Chagos islands? This would explain why the government even considers settlements on the Outer Chagos islands of Peros Banhos and the Salomon islands (which lie over 200 miles from Diego Garcia) as being out of the question: they fear that self-government on those islands would detract from the overall carte blanche that the government currently enjoys in the territory.

If this is indeed the case, then it reveals something very sinister about government policy towards BIOT and the Chagossians. A desire to keep the territory as a “legal black hole” (the words of Peter H. Sand, former advisor to the UN) is not something that most of the British public would like to see prioritised over the human rights of the Chagossians.

You can use Mr Bryant’s blog post as an opportunity to leave a comment: just click here.

Conservationist network in callous Chagossian snub

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9th, 2009 by Peter Harris – 2 Comments

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
London
SW1A 2AH

(ii) E-mail your response to: biotmpaconsultation@fco.gov.uk

The IUCN itself can be contacted via its website.