TV presenter and adventurer Ben Fogle and author Philippa Gregory have lent their support to the Chagos islanders in their fight for justice, by becoming patrons of the UK Chagos Support Association.
Needless to say we’re delighted to have them both on board – see below for the full press release announcing the news.
CELEBRITIES BOOST ISLANDERS’ CAMPAIGN
The Chagossian people have won high profile celebrity support. Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory have agreed to become patrons of the UK Chagos Support Association which was formed to support the displaced Chagossian people in their fight for justice and the right to return to their homeland after more than 40 years of exile.
During the late 60s and 70s, the indigenous population of the Chagos archipelago, then part of the British territory of Mauritius, were forcibly evacuated in secret by the British government when the Islands were leased to the US to make way for a US military base. Despite rulings in the High Court and the Court of Appeal in the islanders’ favour, the House of Lords upheld an appeal by the previous Government to prevent the Chagossians’ return to their homeland.
Presenter, writer and adventurer Ben Fogle, has visited the British Indian Ocean Territories (also known as the Chagos Islands) himself and was horrified at the injustice meted by the British authorities on the Chagossian people. He comments: “I am thrilled to become joint patron with Philippa. As a patron I pledge my full unequivocal support and backing to the UKCSA in the pursuit of justice for the Chagossian people.”
British historian and best-selling author Philippa Gregory added: “Like so many people, I was unaware of the plight of the Chagossian people. This monstrous injustice must come to an end and these people must be free to return to their home as soon as possible.”
Speaking on behalf of the UKCSA, Chair Roch Evenor and Vice Chair Marcus Booth said: “We are privileged and proud to have Ben and Philippa on board, we have no doubt that they will contribute hugely to helping the Chagossian people’s fight for justice and we look forward to working with them. Their commitment to highlighting the cause of the Chagossian people is greatly appreciated.”
Notes to Editors
Between 1967 and 1971 the indigenous population of Diago Garcia, then part of the British territory of Mauritius, were forcibly exiled by the British government in a shocking abuse of human rights. In a deal with the US the British government offered Diego Garcia to the US military on a 50 year lease in exchange for an $11 million subsidy on Polaris nuclear warheads. The deal was done behind closed doors.
In 1965 Mauritius was granted independence but the Chagos islands were separated and renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Over the next few years vital supplies of food and medicine were prevented from reaching the islands in an attempt to encourage the islanders to leave, and in 1971 those remaining were loaded onto a boat, SS Nordver, and transported to the Seychelles where they were kept in prison cells before certain islanders were transported to St. Lucia in Mauritius where they were abandoned.
In November 2000 a landmark decision at the High Court ruled that the expulsion of the Chagos islanders was unlawful. Due to the ruling, the order in council that had led to the expulsion of the inhabitants was immediately amended, conferring on those born on the islands, and their children, the right to return home.
A feasibility study into resettlement was carried out by the UK Foreign Office in 2002 but suddenly on Thursday 10 June 2004 an Order in Council was made preventing anyone from setting foot on the Chagos islands. This in effect over-ruled the High Court decision.
On Thursday 11 May 2006 the High Court overturned the 2004 Order, giving the Chagossians back the right of return that they won in 2000.
The islanders’ solicitor Richard Gifford said: “The British Government has been defeated in its attempt to abolish the right of abode of the islanders after first deporting them in secret 30 years ago…This is the fourth time in five years that Her Majesty’s Judges have deplored the treatment inflicted upon this fragile community.”
The government was defeated again at the Court of Appeal but had their appeal upheld by the House of Lords in 2008 by a majority of 3 to 2.
The islanders now await the final decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Ben Fogle is a Presenter, Writer and Adventurer. Ben has visited the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory). His achievements include racing 160 miles across the Sahara desert in the notorious Marathon Des Sables. He has rowed the Atlantic Ocean in 49 days and crossed Antarctica in a foot race to the South Pole. He has presented numerous programme’s including BBC’s Animal Park, Wild In Africa, Countryfile, Crufts, One Man and His Dog and Extreme Dreams. He writes regularly for the Sunday Telegraph and the Independent and has written four bestselling books. He is an ambassador for WWF, Medicins Sans Frontier and Tusk, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the President of the Campaign for National Parks.
Ben highlighted the plight of the Chagossian people in his book, The Teatime Islands which details Ben extensive travels throughout Britain’s remaining Empire, journeying to some of the most remote islands in the world including the British Indian Ocean Territory in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Philippa Gregory was an established historian and writer when she discovered her interest in the Tudor period and wrote the novel The Other Boleyn Girl which was made into a tv drama, and a major film. Now, six novels later, she is looking at the family that preceded the Tudors: the magnificent Plantaganets, a family of complex rivalries, loves, and hatreds.
She lives with her family on a small farm in Yorkshire where she keeps horses, hens and ducks. Her other great interest aside from supporting the fight of the Chagossian people for justice is the charity that she founded nearly twenty years ago: Gardens for The Gambia. She has raised funds and paid for 140 wells in the primary schools of this very dry and poor African country, and thousands of school children have been able to learn market gardening in the school gardens watered by the wells. The charity also provides wells for womens’ collective gardens and for The Gambia’s only agricultural college at Njawara.
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