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

+++ 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.

4 Comments

  1. Richard Crawford says:

    I, like Tony Juniper, am a Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (for Gravesham in Kent). I must emphasize my commitment to the Chagossians’ right to return. My own article on the disgraceful expulsion of the Chagossians & their subsequent struggles, was published in Green World (official magazine of the Green Party), issue 60, Spring 2008 (see http://www.greenworld.org.uk/Past%20Editions/gw60/page95/page95.html ). An updated & enlarged version of this article has been placed on the website of Kent Green Party (see http://www.kentgreenparty.org/resources/misc/091114%20diegogarcia.pdf ).

    Furthermore, it is worth pointing out the existence of the following paragraph in a policy statement from the Green Party (RIP 07.1, British Overseas Dependent Territories) –
    “The Green Party is opposed to the use for foreign military bases of dependent territories for which the UK has responsibility. The UK should end such current use by foreign countries, and should enter into no further agreements for such use.”
    This of course relates directly to the American military base on Diego Garcia, which was the reason for the expulsion of the Chagossians in the first place.

  2. Peter Harris says:

    Richard, thankyou for your comment. I am heartened to learn that you are a supporter of the Chagossians’ right to return. I am sure that the vast majority of the Green Party, including Tony Juniper, also share this viewpoint. However it’s crucial that sentiment is matched by action, otherwise it is merely lip service.

    Our problem is with Tony Juniper’s support for the “option 1″ no-take marine reserve in Chagos, which is opposed by those Chagossians who wish to return to their islands. We are urging him and others to abandon support for option 1, and to call for a marine protection regime that makes clear and explicit provision for the islanders’ rights and needs.

    I have emailed the Greens to ask for a restatement of their policy on Chagos, to urge them to write to Gordon Brown, and request that they contribute to the FCO’s consultation (which ends on Friday 12 February). If there was anything you could do to raise this further, then that would be excellent.

    Can I ask that you also respond to the FCO’s consultation? And sign the Marine Education Trust petition (link below).

    http://www.marineeducationtrust.org/petition/protect-chagos

  3. Richard Crawford says:

    Dear Peter,
    Thanks for the reply. I feel you’re worrying needlessly about the Green Party possibly ‘changing its tune on the issue of the Chagossians’ right to return.’ Our leader Caroline Lucas has always called for the Chagossians to be allowed to return home and for them to be granted compensation. Back in 2005, Caroline asked the Green Group advisers in the European Parliament to look at the legality of expelling the population of Diego Garcia under EU law. In 2008 she wrote to Commissioner Michel from DG Development and Humanitarian Aid, trying to get EU aid made available to the Chagossians.
    Tony Juniper is his article is not opposing their right to return, saying, as you noticed, ‘without prejudice to future decisions about the people returning.’ Nevertheless, prior to reading your reply, I did send an e.mail to Tony emphasizing the need for the Chagossians to be able to use the marine resources, & highlighting the petition of the Marine Education Trust. I had already signed this petition myself, and had also asked others on our Green Party International e.mail list to consider signing it too.
    As for your comment about sentiment being match by action, otherwise being lip service, I guess we could all do more for the Chagossians’ cause. I have made some efforts though to promote the Chagossians’ right to return, get compensation etc.:
    writing twice to the Foreign Secretary / Foreign Office;
    talking to & e.mailing (twice) my own MP, and e.mailing a few other politicians too;
    donating to the Ilois Support Trust & the UK Chagos Support Association;
    writing 3 articles, published in different places;
    assisting someone who had read one of my articles and wanted to have the topic covered in a couple of Quaker magazines;
    trying to get Amnesty International to take up the cause (even resigning when they didn’t);
    promoting the cause within the Green Party.

  4. Peter Harris says:

    Richard – we today received clarification from Caroline Lucas’s office on what Green policy is, and I have blogged about it this evening. Personally, I am very happy to recommend it as a model of what political parties should be saying on Chagos, So, yes, it appears that you are right and that I was worrying needlessly!

    I also really commend you for the work you’ve done to promote the islanders’ cause. I hope that, with all of this noise being made, others will come to match the Greens in marrying environmental concern with a pursuit of social justice.

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