Following on from the previous post (below; please read!), there are also significant concerns surrounding today’s The Guardian article from Tony Juniper – Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge. The Greens have traditionally been strong supporters of the Chagossians‘ right to return, and leader Caroline Lucas last year wrote to the UK Chagos Support Association committing herself to backing the Chagossians‘ campaign for justice.
It is a real shock, then, to see Mr Juniper – perhaps unwittingly – supporting plans that actually put in jeopardy the Chagossians‘ campaign to return home. From the article, Juniper is clearly completely supportive of the Chagos Environment Network’s proposals to impose a no-take marine reserve in the Chagos islands – that is, a reserve where all forms of fishing are comprehensively banned. As has previously been pointed out, such a ban would be disastrous for the Chagossians by making any future resettlement programme completely unsustainable. Banning indigenous people from fishing their own waters is simply not acceptable.
To his credit, Juniper does attempt to qualify his support for a no-take marine reserve towards the tail end of his article by saying:
“Irrespective of arguments about fish, the protection of the natural features of this outstanding area must be achieved with justice for the Chagossian people. The nine conservation groups who have proposed that the British government should act to protect the islands have suggested that any conservation designation should be made “without prejudice” to future decisions about the people returning. This would mean that if that Chagossians do finally come back, that the arrangements being considered now might be reopened.”
So a no-take marine reserve should be established but then tinkered with if the Chagossians win their court battle to return? There are several problems with this position.
Firstly, any right-minded humanitarian – let alone a Green Party PPC – should be categorically supporting and campaigning for the Chagossians‘ right to return to be restored through political means. They should not be hiding behind ongoing court proceedings, leaving the decision entirely in the hands of judges. Let’s not forget that the UK Government already has at its disposal the power to restore the Chagossians‘ rights; it does not need to wait for a European Court of Human Rights decision to do this.
Secondly, as the Marine Education Trust’s Tara Hooper has averred, it is also problematic to claim that a no-take MPA could simply be altered if and when the Chagossians are allowed to return: “Viewing an MPA as something that is transitory, that can be modified as circumstances change, sends entirely the wrong message and, again, has implications for the long term success of the initiative.” Therefore, not only would it be wrong to erect yet another hurdle for the Chagossians to overcome if the ECtHR decides in their favour (haven’t they faced enough obstacles over the past 40 years?), but this suggestion also severely enervates the whole purpose of an MPA in the first place.
It is worrying to think that the Green Party might be changing its tune on the issue of the Chagossians‘ right to return. Surely, politicians of all stripes should be insisting that the FCO makes satisfactory provision for the needs of the Chagossians in its final MPA plans.
For the FCO to listen, however, the Chagossians‘ concerns must be noisily and forcefully kept high on the agenda. This, in turn, requires more than just lip service.