Archive for January, 2010

Green PPC Tony Juniper departs from party’s previous policy on Chagossians’ right to return

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27th, 2010 by Peter Harris – 4 Comments

+++ Please click here for a related post on the The Guardian‘s coverage of the Chagossians – namely, the response from the Marine Education Trust’s Director Tara Hooper +++

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.

Marine Education Trust responds to Guardian coverage of Chagos

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27th, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Following on from recent coverage in The Times, The Guardian newspaper has today printed two pieces about the Chagos islands and the proposals for a marine protected area in the region. One of these was written by The Guardian‘s own Jessica Aldred, whilst the second was authored by the Green Party’s Tony Juniper (PPC for Cambridge).

Ms Aldred’s article was better than that from Frank Pope at The Times, in that it did at least make some mention of the Chagossians‘ campaign for justice; Aldred also quoted longstanding supporter of the Chagossians and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, Jeremy Corbyn MP. Nevertheless there were some significant flaws with its overall content: The Guardian stopped short of taking a strong and principled editorial stance on the issue, for example.

These concerns have been eloquently and forcefully aired by the Marine Education Trust’s Director, Tara Hooper, whose letter to The Guardian is reproduced in full below:

“Your coverage of the campaign to create a marine protected area in Chagos is much more balanced than that I have seen recently in other national newspapers, and I am cheered to see this.

However, one thing to which you do not refer is that the Chagos Environment Network petition itself makes no mention at all of the Chagos islanders, their pending case with the European Court of Human rights, or the fact that the full no-take option advocated would allow no means for resettled islanders to use their marine resources for subsistence or income generation.

The CEN campaign also fails to mention that the UK Government has agreed to ultimately cede sovereignty of the archipelago to the Government of Mauritius, who are currently refusing to engage in the MPA development process. This too is a major stumbling block to the creation of a full no-take reserve, as the fishery licences to which Mauritius is entitled cannot be unilaterally revoked, so a full no-take zone cannot be declared without their cooperation.

A petition which asks the public to endorse a campaign but fails to fully inform them of the issue involved is misleading, to say the least, and cannot be considered an accurate reflection of the view they would have expressed had they been fully informed.

Jessica Aldred’s article lists the three options for the MPA given in the FCO consultation document. These options arose following a workshop commissioned by the FCO and held at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) in August 2009. The Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG) was invited to that workshop, which perhaps explains why two of the three options allow for, effectively, business as usual for pelagic fishing. That there was not a fourth option proposed, that of zonation within reef areas to allow for sustainable fisheries by resettled islanders, is perhaps because no representatives from the Chagossian community were invited.

One member of the organising committee and other scientists due to attend the NOCS workshop boycotted it for this very reason.

That this fourth option is necessary was the outcome of a second scientific workshop, held at Royal Holloway on 7 January, to discuss the socio-economic issues related to the creation of an MPA, and to which Chagossian representatives and the Government of Mauritius were invited.

The outcome of this second workshop reflects the belief of conservationists that the aggressive campaign for full no-take protection is actually harmful to the long-term prospects for conservation of Chagos, as well as being morally questionable (for the reasons already outlined above).

MPAs fail through lack of engagement, be that the lack of political will to properly manage and enforce the MPA, or through a lack of community ownership. By failing to engage with the Chagossians or the Government of Mauritius, the current approach to the MPA designation is doing a great job of alienating those who will govern and live alongside the MPA in the future, threatening any chance of success in the long term.

A Pew employee has recently said “The CEN position is that if the government decides to designate the Chagos as an MPA, this should be done “without prejudice” to any future changes in circumstances regarding the islands, meaning that any conservation arrangements could be modified if necessary.” 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.

Given that the European Court of Human Rights may make their recommendations on resettlement as early as this spring, it may prove necessary to make modifications to the MPA before the ink on the shiny no-take zone is even dry.

The Marine Education Trust would like to see the Chagos Archipelago become a world-leading example of a successfully functioning MPA, one that actually achieves the objective of long term protection of the marine environment. It is for that reason that we organised the January workshop and also explains why we are campaigning for a process that incorporates the perspectives of the exiled Chagossians and the Government of Mauritius in the development of the MPA.

We are a tiny charity, and lack the resources of the Chagos Environment Network. That our campaign has been supported by, for example, the President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance and the Emeritus Professor of Tropical Marine Biology at Newcastle University clearly shows that respected mainstream reef ecologists endorse this point of view.

Yours sincerely
Tara Hooper

Marine Education Trust”

The Guardian is renowned for consistently coming down on the side of the disadvantaged and the dispossessed; it is a paper that naturally lends itself to supporting the Chagossians‘ cause. However, the current issues surrounding Chagos are of such gravity and need to be attended to with such urgency that merely mentioning the Chagossians‘ cause as an afterthought is simply not good enough. More could be done, and more should be done.

Parliamentarians write to The Times on Chagossians’ campaign for justice

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26th, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands have today had a letter printed in The Times, responding to the two-page spread that last week appeared in the newspaper. Members of the APPG, drawn from both Houses of Parliament, wrote to point out that the newspaper’s coverage of proposals for a marine protected area (MPA) around the Chagos archipelago had neglected to give proper consideration to the role of the displaced Chagos islanders. That their letter has been printed goes at least someway to rectifying this regrettable imbalance.

The original letter was trimmed by The Times for its inclusion in the paper, but is reproduced in full below:

“On 22 January you published a two page spread on the proposed Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA). The role that the Chagos Islanders could play in this was ignored. Frank Pope’s article stated that 2000 Chagos Islanders were ‘relocated’ to Britain and Mauritius to make room for a US base on Diego Garcia. In fact about 1500 Chagossians, of whom some 700 survive, were removed against their will from the Archipelago to Mauritius and Seychelles in the early seventies. Pope also claimed that resettlement would require an airport and town which would be financially and environmentally ruinous.

How many would wish to return, and the nature of a resettlement on two atolls, 150 miles north of the base, is impossible to determine at this stage.The Chagos Islanders want to be involved with the conservation and environmental protection of the islands. Elsewhere in the world MPAs rely on local people to monitor and enforce the protection MPAs provide. Careful management and planning can, at modest cost, avoid degradation of the environment, provide sensitive transport links, not necessarily an airport, and a trained work force willing and able to police the proposed MPA, The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has urged the FCO to commission a rapid independent study of the numbers who would wish to resettle and the practicalities of resettlement.

The APPG supports both the creation of an MPA and the aspiration of Chagossians to resettle. Many will not want to live permanently in the Islands but they all want the right to visit their homeland at will. The way forward is to make provision in the proposed MPA for Chagossian interests (such as local fishing) and those of Mauritius. Conservation and human rights must go hand in hand. We urge the Government, before the election, to lift the ban imposed in 2004 on the return of the Chagos Islanders and thus bring to an end this 40 year tragedy which has for too long dogged the UK’s reputation for respect for human rights and its international obligations.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Chair Chagos Islands APPG
Baroness Whitaker
Lord Luce
Lord Ramsbotham
Lord Steel
Lord Wallace
Andrew Rosindell MP”

As well as correcting some important facts about the Chagossians’ expulsion and the status of plans for resettlement, this letter represents yet another measured plea for compromise to be found over the future of the Chagos islands.

“The way forward,” they argue, is for the Government “to make provision in the proposed marine protected area for Chagossian interests (such as local fishing) and those of Mauritius. The Government would be judicious to heed their advice, as the long-term prospects of an MPA in Chagos will be substantially dependent upon the cooperation of Mauritius, which stands to inherit sovereignty of the islands at some point in the future, and which has made its support for an MPA contingent upon the Chagossians’ rights being attended to.

With just three weeks left to run of the FCO’s consultation on the Chagos MPA proposal, the intervention of these parliamentarians is especially welcome. Ultimately, however, the Government itself will need to stand up and be counted if conservation and human rights are indeed to go “hand in hand” in Chagos.

Frank Pope muddies the waters of Chagos marine protection debate

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22nd, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

The Times newspaper today included a two-page spread (pp. 22-23) on the Chagos islands and the proposals for a marine reserve to be imposed around the archipelago. Unfortunately, the tone of the coverage was such that supporters of the Chagossians are unlikely to have found it palatable. Times Ocean Correspondent Frank Pope’s article made for particularly chilling reading.

Pope begins his article by committing an offence that seems to be occurring with frustrating regularity at present – namely, citing the Chagossians‘ expulsion from their homeland as something that has done wonders for the environmental preservation of Chagos, an assertion that is as disputable as it is disgraceful.

Firstly, there is no evidence to suggest that the Chagos islands’ marine environment would have been any worse off had the Chagossians not been deported in the 1960s and 1970s; suggesting a direct causal relationship between their expulsion and the current state of “Chagossian waters” is misleading to say the least. Secondly, and most importantly, it is utterly reprehensible to argue that environmental protection should ever be pursued by denying people their basic human rights. The Chagossians are not irresponsible polluters, bent on destroying the pristine coral reefs of the Indian Ocean; rather, they are the displaced indigenous people of the islands who simply want their right to return to be restored.

Notwithstanding the sorry premise of his article, Pope goes on to completely misrepresent the facts about the Chagossians’ campaign for resettlement. Who, exactly, has said that resettlement would involve the construction of an airport and a new town? Which of the Outer Chagos islands are even big enough for such construction projects to take place? It is wrong for Pope to characterise the Chagossians’ campaign to return in this way when an agreed plan for resettlement has yet to be agreed by all.

If Pope had done his research he would have discovered that, far from seeking to pave over paradise, those in favour of resettlement are actually calling for a limited, small-scale, experimental settlement to be established in the first instance. The exact details of a resettlement programme would, of course, have to be negotiated; all that is non-negotiable for the Chagossians is that their right of return must be restored. And rightly so.

Pope goes on to highlight the risk that tourism could pose to the Chagos environment. Again, this is an entirely specious argument: nobody is suggesting that a Chagossian resettlement programme would have to be sustained by massive tourism. Yes, a controlled amount of eco-tourism could be part of a sustainable resettlement plan, but these details would be ironed out as part of a negotiated deal.

In any case, tourism to the Chagos islands already happens on a surprising scale. Just run a Google search for “Chagos, cruiser, yacht” and you will find umpteen examples of wealthy Western tourists playing volleyball, swapping books and drinking coffee on the pristine beaches of Chagos. Some scientists may well visit the islands without sunscreen, as Pope enthusiastically avers, but can the same be said of the countless yachties who unabashedly frequent the Chagos islands at present? It is likely not.

Lastly, Pope makes the tired argument that resettling the Chagos islands would involve a financial cost to the British Exchequer. Whilst cost is almost certainly a concern for the FCO, it does not represent anything like an insurmountable barrier. Rather, it is all a question of priorities. Money is spent on Overseas Territories like the Falklands and Pitcairn on a regular basis; funds could similarly be found for Chagos if the political will were there.

On this, it is worth pointing out that nobody has ever asked British taxpayers if they would be willing to contribute to the Chagossians’ right of abode being restored. When a similar question was asked of the Ghurkas‘ right to settle in the UK – a campaign that The Times was vocal in its support for – common decency prevailed and the Ghurkas were afforded what was their due. There is no reason to assume that the answer would be any different for the Chagossians.

“An investment now could decide the future of the ocean and all those who depend on its bounty,” Pope concludes his article by saying. True enough, but aren’t the human rights of the Chagossians worth investing in too? And who said that the two had to be mutually exclusive?

There is already too much misinformation about the Chagos islands and the Chagossians‘ campaign for justice without reputable newspapers like The Times adding to the problem. Environmental protection and human rights can go hand-in-hand in Chagos, whatever The Times may print.

Marine Education Trust launches new Protect Chagos petition

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19th, 2010 by Peter Harris – 2 Comments

The Marine Education Trust have today launched a new petition to lobby the Government on its plans to establish a marine reserve in the Chagos islands. In particular, the petition endorses plans to protect the environment of the Chagos archipelago but calls on the Government to work with the exiled Chagos islanders and the Government of Mauritius to devise an environmental protection regime that (a) safeguards the Chagossians’ right to resettlement and (b) protects Mauritius’ legitimate interests.

The MET’s petition is an excellent cause and is well worth signing. It stands in stark contrast to the petition organised by the Chagos Environment Network, which sadly makes no reference to the rights of the Chagossians and quite disingenuously suggests that a no-take fishing ban could be imposed without prejudice to the Chagossians’ interests.

Let there be no mistake: a ban on the Chagossians being able to fish their own waters would be disastrous to their campaign to be able to return home.

Please sign the MET’s Protect Chagos petition now, and show the UK Government that the British peoples’ sense of fair play is as strong as it always has been.

Please also circulate the petition widely, to your friends, family, colleagues and elected representatives, using this shortened link:

Chagos environmental protection means taking Mauritius and the Chagossians seriously

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17th, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

The former High Commissioner to Mauritius, David Snoxell, has today had a letter published in the Sunday Times. Mr Snoxell was responding to a letter by the current Mauritian High Commissioner, printed last week, which had asserted the Mauritian government’s right to be involved in deciding the future of Chagos. Both letters relate to Charles Clover’s article several weeks ago about how a marine protected area around the Chagos islands could help boost Gordon Brown’s personal “legacy.”

The text of Mr Snoxell’s printed letter is reproduced here:

In his letter (last week) commenting on Charles Clover’s article “Brown can build his legacy on coral reefs”, the Mauritius high commissioner raises two issues, sovereignty and resettlement, which need to be addressed if the proposed Chagos marine protected area is to be legitimate and workable. It was a Labour government in the 1960s that expelled the islanders. What better legacy for a Labour prime minister than to resolve one of the most shameful episodes in recent colonial history, while also agreeing a timetable for transfer of sovereignty to Mauritius and creating the largest marine reserve in the world?

David Snoxell
Former High Commissioner to Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group

Mr Snoxell’s attempt to link the MPA issue to the wider context is especially pertinent given the Chagos Environment Network’s current campaign to impose a no-take fishing ban throughout the Chagos islands. The CEN are presenting their proposal as a benign measure to ensure the protection of the Chagos archipelago and its wildlife, but in actual fact it would be disastrous to the Chagossians’ cause: banning the indigenous people of Chagos from fishing their own waters is patently the wrong thing to do. It would also create a further bone of contention between the UK and Mauritian governments. As Mr Snoxell points out, the CEN are actually doing the conservation cause a great disservice by attempting to ignore the issues of sovereignty and resettlement: for an environmental protection regime to be successful, it must be part of a holistic solution.

The CEN’s campaign is well-resourced and is gathering significant attention. Fortunately, support for the Chagossians is always forthcoming when the reality of the CEN proposal is made clear. It is crucial, then, that the Chagossians’ interests are publicised as widely as possible.

When the FCO’s consultation on the Chagos MPA issue comes to an end next month, the Government will be faced with a number of choices. One of these will involve choosing between the CEN’s narrow and short-sighted proposal for a no-take fishing ban on the one hand, and the Mauritian government’s demands for sovereignty and Chagossian resettlement to be addressed on the other. As Mr Snoxell points out, the most ambitious of these – and the one most likely to succeed – is clearly the latter.

Chagos workshop contributes to debate over islands’ future, university says

Posted in Uncategorized on January 14th, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

As reported on this blog, last week saw the bringing together of numerous experts from many different fields to discuss the future of the Chagos islands. Participants at the workshop, held at Royal Holloway, University of London, discussed the socio-economic impact of a marine conservation zone around Chagos, in particular. Now, Royal Holloway have issued a statement on the event, which is reproduced in full below:

“Following the launch last March of the proposal by the Chagos Environment Network to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for the Chagos Archipelago, experts gathered at Royal Holloway, University of London on 7 January 2010 to consider the socio-economic issues surrounding this proposal. This workshop was chaired by Professor David Simon, Head of Geography at Royal Holloway, and its findings will contribute to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s consultation on the Chagos’ MPA.

“While the 55 islands of the Chagos Archipelago have a combined land area of just 16 sq km, their total Exclusive Economic Zone for jurisdiction of marine resources, based on 200 nautical mile limits, is 635,000 sq km2 – nearly three times greater than the UK land area. This marine space includes abyssal habitats of the open ocean as well as coral reefs and banks, and has exceptional biodiversity value due to its species richness and the low level of human impacts. The near-pristine Chagos Archipelago area provides both a source region and refuge for marine life in the wider Indian Ocean.

“A workshop held at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton in August discussed the science issues and opportunities related to the potential creation of a substantial MPA in the Chagos Archipelago.

“The principal aim of the workshop at Royal Holloway was to bring together participants from Marine Centres, Universities, and NGOs who have practical experience of MPA development and management, as well as Chagossian, Government and marine industry stakeholders, to discuss socio-economic obstacles and opportunities in the context of a possible MPA in the Chagos Archipelago. The meeting provided the opportunity for input from stakeholder groups, particularly representatives from the Chagossian community, the Indian Ocean fishing industry, and the Government of Mauritius.

“Dr David Bellamy, the world-renowned conservationist, said: “I am delighted that this workshop took place, and commend the organisers for having taken this initiative. It has long been my contention that the preservation of this unique Archipelago requires everyone to work together – Chagossians, the British and Mauritian Governments, scientists, environmentalists and conservationists across a wide spectrum of disciplines.”

“He adds, “The issues are complex and challenging but with good will and cooperation on all sides we can help to bring about a secure future for the Chagos Islands that protects the environment and bio-diversity as well as the interests of the Chagossian people. Carefully managed, a limited resettlement should be compatible with conservation, and indeed could enhance the overall protection of the Islands. The challenge to us all is to make this possible.”

“Professor David Simon adds, “This specially convened workshop formed a vital step in the contentious process of negotiation over the future conservation status of the renowned Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It brought together the many interested parties and stakeholders who debated how to secure the environmental integrity of the islands in a manner compatible with the interests of the Chagossian people who were evicted some 40 years ago and who may yet have their right of return restored by the European Court of Human Rights. Viable proposals must also take account of the possible future change of sovereignty from Britain to Mauritius. It was a great honour to have been asked to host and chair this important event at Royal Holloway.”

“The workshop contributed in important ways to the ongoing debate. For many participants, it was their first exposure to the firmly held views of the Chagossian representatives. These perspectives, echoed by some other participants, informed debate and the agreement that the FCO consultation required a fourth option that includes resettlement as a fundamental component and which would be acceptable to whichever government exercised future sovereignty over the archipelago.”

Participants at the workshop will hopefully have left with a fuller understanding about what an MPA could mean for the Chagossians. In particular, it should have been made clear that a no-take ban on fishing would be disastrous for the Chagossians’ campaign to pursue a future resettlement.

UPDATE 17/1/2010 – Dr Sean Carey’s impressions of the workshop are available to view here, on the Mauritius Times website. The workshop’s official report has yet to be published.

UK-Mauritian high politics over Chagos MPA

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11th, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Further to last month’s post on Mauritian policy towards Chagos – and towards the marine protected area (MPA) issue in particular – it appears that the Mauritians are indeed maintaining a rigid stance towards the twin issues of sovereignty and (Chagossian) resettlement. For the UK government, this could prove to be a real problem: with just weeks remaining of the FCO consultation process, and with a general election due within months, Mauritian cooperation over the MPA issue is sorely needed. If the MPA proposal is to succeed, then, the FCO should act – and fast.

In a recent letter to the Sunday Times, the Mauritian High Commissioner Abhimanu Kundasamy wrote:

“The right of Mauritius to enjoy sovereignty over the [Chagos] archipelago, and the failure of the promoters of the marine project to address this issue meaningfully, are serious matters. There can be no legitimacy to the project without the issue of sovereignty and resettlement being addressed to the satisfaction of the government of Mauritius.”

This is harsh diplomatic language and leaves no doubt as to the strength of feeling that exists within the Mauritian government. If the UK wants the MPA proposal to be truly comprehensive and to enjoy any kind of longevity then it must surely move to assuage the Mauritians’ concerns. As mentioned elsewhere, it has long been UK policy that Mauritius will assume sovereignty over Chagos at some point in the future, thus making its cooperation absolutely essential. The Mauritian position is effectively set in stone (its claim to Chagos is enshrined in the Mauritian constitution and internal pressure – especially during an election year – will be enough to keep the issue firmly positioned at the top of the domestic political agenda) and so it really comes down to the FCO to make things happen.

Luckily, this should not be an insurmountable task; in truth, the Mauritian position is not at all unreasonable. Nor is it antithetical to the UK’s own interests. Mauritius has received repeated promises about sovereignty over the years, and the Chagossians’ right of resettlement should be restored. Diplomatic spats aside, taking these two important issues alongside the MPA proposal is actually quite a sensible thing to do. So why does the FCO keep insisting on treating them separately?

Mauritius has made its stance clear: there will be no Chagos MPA without meaningful talks over sovereignty and the pressing issue of Chagossian resettlement. The question is, what will the FCO’s response be?

If they get it wrong, they will risk scuppering not only the chance to preserve the world’s largest coral atoll, but also the best chance for delivering justice for the Chagossians that has existed in years.

Dr David Bellamy urges consensus over Chagos conservation

Posted in Uncategorized on January 6th, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Tomorrow, the long-awaited workshop to discuss the socio-economic aspects of environmental protection in the Chagos archipelago will take place in Egham. The outcome of the workshop will feed into the Government’s ongoing consultation on whether to establish a marine protected area (MPA) in Chagos. As previously mentioned on this blog, the event represents a real opportunity for all of those who care about Chagos to find common ground – a message that has been echoed by the renowned conservationist Dr David Bellamy.

Dr Bellamy has issued a pertinent message of support to participants in the workshop, which reads as follows:

“I am delighted that this workshop is taking place, and commend the organisers for having taken this initiative. It is gratifying to note that all interested parties have been invited, especially the Chagos Islanders. It has long been my contention that the preservation of this unique Archipelago requires everyone to work together – Chagossians, the British and Mauritian Governments, scientists, environmentalists and conservationists across a wide spectrum of disciplines.”

“The issues are complex and challenging but with good will and cooperation on all sides we can help to bring about a secure future for the Chagos Islands that protects the environment and bio-diversity as well as the interests of the Chagossian people. Carefully managed, a limited resettlement should be compatible with conservation, and indeed could enhance the overall protection of the Islands. The challenge to us all is to make this possible. I hope that the workshop will agree recommendations that will result in the preservation of the Chagos Archipelago for all mankind, not least the people who once lived there.”

Not only is this a balanced and measured assessment of the complex issues that surround Chagos, but it is also a timely call to arms for those will be in attendance at tomorrow’s gathering. As Dr Bellamy makes clear, respecting the Chagossians’ right to return does not have to compromise the practical imperative to preserve the Chagos environment. All that stands in the way of these two objectives becoming reconciled is a lack of political will; tomorrow’s workshop should be seen as a golden opportunity to marry the two together into one comprehensive plan.

Those who battle their way through Greater London’s transport network to attend tomorrow’s event will be rewarded with the opportunity to have a great say in the future of the Chagos archipelago. Let’s hope they heed Dr Bellamy’s words.

Joanna Lumley named Briton of the Year, but who will stand up for the Chagossians?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3rd, 2010 by Peter Harris – Be the first to comment

Readers of The Times will have noticed that last week the newspaper named Joanna Lumley as their 2009 Briton of the Year in recognition of her role in whipping up parliamentary, public and media support for the rights of the Ghurkas. Following that announcement, David Snoxell (former British High Commissioner to Mauritius) wrote to The Times to urge the newspaper and Lumley herself to throw their combined weight behind the Chagossians’ own campaign for justice:

“There is another noble cause crying out for the New Avenger to lead it to victory in 2010 which also requires humility, grit and respect for the institutions of power. That is the cause of the Chagos Islanders who were expelled from their homeland in the Indian Ocean in the late sixties by the then Labour Government. As with the Ghurkas this is an issue of moral responsibility, justice and basic decency.

Joanna Lumley’s fearlessness, fame, flair and fortune would galvanise the widespread public and parliamentary support for this cause. What finer legacy for a Prime Minister than to restore the human rights of a people who have suffered the tragedy of a 40 year exile from a British territory.

David Snoxell

Former High Commissioner to Mauritius
Coordinator of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group”

As The Times admits, the mix between celebrity and politics is not always successful. But Joanna Lumley’s impassioned pleas on behalf of the Ghurkas resonated deeply with the British people and, as a result of her efforts, politicians were forced to take notice. Given the current climate of apathy and voter disengagement, it was refreshing and invigorating to see that an effective civil society campaign can still force politicians to do the right thing.

Now, with the Ghurkas rights secured, it would be wonderful if Ms Lumley and The Times were to back the Chagossians in their not-too-dissimilar fight for justice. The Ghurka campaign showed just how strong the British sense of fair play still is; if the British public were presented with the facts of the Chagossians’ case then there is no doubt on whose side they would come down on. Unfortunately, whilst the Chagossians do enjoy widespread support in many corners, their profile is often lacking in the established media. This is an opening that desperately needs responding to.

In May last year, the then Communities Secretary Hazel Blears criticised the government over the Ghurka issue, warning: “We put ourselves on the wrong side of the British sense of fair play, and no political party can stay there for long without dire consequences.” Unfortunately, this is only true if parties are held to account for their actions and the public is given the opportunity to punish them at the polls. It is therefore absolutely crucial that supporters of the Chagossians are able to make as much noise as possible in the run-up to this year’s general election and beyond.

Are The Times and their Briton of the Year up to this challenge? Could 2010 be the year when Gordon Brown and the Labour party are convinced to do the decent thing towards the Chagossian people?