Archive for August, 2010

Does FCO statement really reflect govt policy?

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Foreign Office has been writing to Chagossians and supporters saying that the coalition government is against resettlement and will pursue the case at the European Court of Human Rights. But the coordinator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos has warned that these statements may not be all they seem.

Below is the text of a letter sent by David Snoxell to the New Statesman in response to a blog post by Sean Carey revealing the government’s apparent change of heart.

“Sean Carey assumes (Coalition ditches promise to reverse policy, 27 August) that the Government has taken the decision to maintain the policies of its predecessor and quotes from a letter from the FCO Minister in charge of the Overseas Territories. It is doubtful that this letter represents the views of the Government as a whole and may not even reflect those of the Foreign Secretary who told a constituent on 9 July that he “was very sympathetic to the position of the Islanders and that he would look at the situation over the next few months”. He also said “it appeared that the best solution would be for the Chagos people to return to the outer islands”.

In Opposition both Nick Clegg (“The Government has a responsibility to allow these people to return”) and William Hague (” If elected to serve as the next British Government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long standing dispute”) supported the Chagossians, as did several members of the present government. It is doubtful that in mid August they have been consulted. In a letter to the Foreign Secretary in June the Chairman of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group, Jeremy Corbyn MP, said he hoped that the Group (which includes several current ministers and former FCO ministers) would soon have a meeting with Mr Bellingham. The purpose of the meeting will be to feed the views of Parliament into the review that the Foreign Secretary is conducting on Chagos policies. This review was not expected to conclude until Parliament returns in October when the meeting will take place. Presumably the Cabinet would then be consulted.”

We’re waiting with great interest to see what the Government does next on this, especially when MPs return from the summer break in a few days time.

New govt will not allow resettlement, says Foreign Office minister

Posted in Uncategorized on August 28th, 2010 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Remember the statements of support for the Chagossians from William Hague and Nick Clegg during the election campaign?

Hague, now Foreign Secretary, promised that the new government would “work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”, while Clegg, now Deputy PM, said New Labour had “mistreated” the Chagossians, and that the government had a “moral responsibility” to allow them home.

As a result, the Chagossians were expecting a break with the policies of the previous government. But there seems to have been a sudden change of heart. In a letter sent to Olivier Bancoult, chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group, Henry Bellingham, Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories, has said:

“The UK government will continue to contest the case brought by the Chagos Islanders to the European Court of Human Rights. This is because we believe that the arguments against allowing resettlement on the grounds of defence, security and feasibility are clear and compelling… The Government also believes that a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is the right way ahead for furthering environmental protection of the Territory and encouraging others to do the same in important and vulnerable areas under their sovereign control.”

Bellingham’s letter goes on to restate the arguments we’re so familiar with hearing from the Foreign Office: that compensation has already been paid in a full and final settlement and that feasibility studies deemed resettlement “precarious and costly”.

To say this comes as a surprise is an understatement. The last thing we knew, Hague was still conducting a review of policy on Chago, which wasn’t expected to be complete until after parliament returns in the autumn. It’s hard to see how he can reconcile the view outlined in Bellingham’s letter with his previous pledge to seek a “fair settlement” of the matter, or his comment since the election (in a July meeting with Philippa Gregory, bestselling author and patron of this association), that a return to the outer islands would seem like the best solution.

The statement (variations of which have also been sent by Foreign Office officials to supporters of this association) has been released during parliament’s summer recess, without the opportunity to consult the All Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos or, for that matter, cabinet.

Is this really how the new government intends to conduct itself in dealing with Chagos? Breaking its promises of change? Burying bad news in the summer recess? Failing to consult parliament? If so, it’s going to face resistance from within its own ranks. Government members who have called for the legal case against the islanders to be dropped include senior Lib Dems such as Business Secretary Vince Cable, Ed Davey, Chris Huhne and Lynne Featherstone. From the Tories, Keith Simpson has said the islanders “must be placed at the heart of any decisions taken about their homeland”, while Henry Smith (who represents the hundreds of Chagossians living in Crawley) said the decision to bypass parliament with the 2004 Orders in Council was “quite wrong” and that the islanders have a human right to be allowed home. Mark Field, Peter Bottomley, Bill Cash and Anne McIntosh have also criticised New Labour’s treatment of the islanders.

It’s starting to look like the words of support for the Chagossians during the election campaign may have been just that: words. Parliament returns from recess on 6 September – make sure your MP knows that you expect the promise of ‘new politics’ to be fulfilled.

See Sean Carey’s post on the New Statesman blog, here, for more on this.

Diane Abbott pledges to campaign for Chagos right of return if made Labour leader

Posted in Uncategorized on August 26th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Kieran Roberts of the Labour Friends of Chagos has received the following email from Diane Abbott‘s campaign team, in response to a query about the Chagos islanders’ right of return. The statement says that, if elected as Labour leader, Abbott “would certainly campaign vigorously for the cessation of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius and the right of return for all native Chagossians”.

Diane Abbott is a committed supporter of the islanders, and tabled an Early Day Motion in parliament earlier this year calling for the government to withdraw its case against the islanders from the European Court of Human Rights. It’s great to see an assurance that she would continue the fight if elected as leader.

It’s worth noting that none of the other candidates for the party leadership were among the 62 MPs who put their names to the Early Day Motion.

Dear Kieran

Thank you for emailing us regarding the situation surrounding the right of return for native Chagossians.

As you may know, Diane is a massive campaigner on human rights. On hearing about the Chagossians plight Diane was not hesitant to criticise her own Government, including the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband about the the dishonest and deceitful way they and the US authorities had treated the Chagossians. Diane was in fact the only one of the current leadership candidates to speak out and challenge her Government, in public or private, about the injustices surrounding the Chagos Islands and its indigenous people.

Diane has written many times to Ministers on this issue and attended a debate in April to question the then Foreign Minister for Europe Chris Bryant. Diane is also a member of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group and tabled an EDM in March, which read:

That this House believes that the interests of the Chagossian people and of Mauritius must be fully protected in the proposed Marine Protected Area; urges the Government to withdraw its case from the European Court of Human Rights and to settle out of court, as already suggested by the Court; and requests the Prime Minister to engage with Mauritius and the Chagossians, before the general election, in order to initiate discussion on an overall settlement of the issues, including timetable for eventual transfer of sovereignty of the Outer Islands to Mauritius and provision for a limited settlement on the Outer Islands.

Diane is committed to seeing the people of the Chagos Islands gain the right to return to their Native Homeland. Should she be elected as Leader of the Labour party, she would certainly campaign vigorously for the cessation of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius and the right of return for all native Chagossians..

Thank you once again for your email highlighting this issue. Hopefully this answer will be sufficient but if not please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Regards

Diane 4 Leader Campaign Team

Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory support the Chagossians

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5th, 2010 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

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.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The Struggle

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

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

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.

CONTACTS

Ben Fogle:

Alison Griffin
Lake-Smith Griffin Associates
0207 836 1020 or 07768 964 935
alison@lakesmithgriffin.co.uk

Philippa Gregory:

Zahra Moussavi
Mason Ventures
07736 273750
zahra@mason-ventures.com