In defence of resettlement: Olivier Bancoult stresses that Chagossians can help to protect the Chagos marine environment

Chairman of the Chagos Refugee Group, Olivier Bancoult, has had a letter published in the influential Science in Parliament journal (reproduced below), taking issue with a number of claims made by the Chagos Environment Network’s Professor Charles Sheppard. In particular, Mr Bancoult refutes Prof Sheppard’s suggestions that a resettlement of the Chagos islands by its indigenous population would be counter-productive to the aim of environmental protection.

In 2009, Prof Sheppard, who is Professor of Marine Sciences at Warwick University but is also employed by the UK Government as its BIOT Scientific Adviser, wrote in Science in Parliament (full text available here) that the environmental conservation of the Chagos islands could be best achieved by keeping the islands free from human habitation:

Examples of good habitat, like that in Chagos, are running out, so should we now revert to preserving a few ‘legacy’ areas which, on one hand, are in good condition now for whatever reason, and on the other have a good chance of remaining so? Candidate sites are few and diminishing, and we must remember that once gone, all past evidence shows that we cannot get it back.

Chagos is probably the only remaining site in the Indian Ocean where this could work. The social dimension may still need a solution, but the science is pretty clear – the ocean needs Chagos as it is.

The signal from this passage is that Prof Sheppard’s vision for marine protection in Chagos simply does not include the Chagossians. Rather, Prof Sheppard seems to unashamedly prioritise the goal of conservation far higher than the need to address the rights of the archipelago’s indigenous people – two things that he appears to portray as being mutually exclusive.

Let there be no doubt: keeping Chagos “as it is” would involving keeping the Chagossians in exile.

In response to criticism of its campaign, the CEN has been at pains to stress that it is not opposed to a Chagossian resettlement of their islands, instead suggesting that their proposals for a no-take reserve in Chagos are entirely “without prejudice” to the possibility of resettlement. However, the content of this article from Prof Sheppard – who is listed as an individual member of the CEN coalition alongside organisations like the Pew Environment Group and the RSPB – calls that claim into question.

In his letter to Science in Parliament, Mr Bancoult takes issue with Prof Sheppard’s claims.

He points out that Sheppard is wrong to argue that attempts at involving local people in husbanding their environments have invariably failed, citing Elinor Ostrom’s work on how user-managed natural resources can actually be preserved much better than those covered by Government regulation (work for which Ostrom was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Economics last year).

Mr Bancoult further cites UN Environment Programme studies into coral conservation, “community-based habitat regeneration and site preservation activities” in the neighbouring Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, as well as ongoing conservation activities in Mauritius as reasons why Prof Sheppard’s dismissal of community engagement is unfounded.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Mr Bancoult directly challenges the credibility of Prof Sheppard’s claim that “a recent survey” of Chagossians had indicated that “only about a dozen individuals [would] wish to return permanently.”

In fact, Mr Bancoult points out that, to his organisation’s knowledge, no such survey has taken place in either Mauritius or the Seychelles, where the majority of Chagossians now live (given that the CRG is the biggest Chagossian organisation, it is likely that its members would have heard of such a survey if it existed). Furthermore, estimates by the CRG have concluded that as many as 150 Chagossian families want to return to their islands.

Overall, then, Mr Bancoult’s letter raises still more questions about the conduct of the CEN’s campaign to promote a no-take marine reserve in Chagos:

Why does Charles Sheppard appear to have used a prestigious parliamentary journal to lobby in favour of keeping Chagos “as it is,” off-limits to its native population, when the CEN claims not to have policy against resettlement?

And what exactly was this “survey” of Chagossians’ views, which so many Chagossians in Mauritius and the Seychelles have never heard of?

Full text of Olivier Bancoult’s letter to Science in Parliament:

Dear Sir

British Indian Ocean Territory

Professor Charles Sheppard (British Indian Ocean Territory 66/4) makes a strong case for enhancing conservation efforts in the Chagos archipelago which our organisation fully supports. However, Professor Sheppard appears intent on excluding native Chagossians from conservation initiatives by claiming that involving people in husbanding their habitats has been a failure. This fits conveniently with the British Government’s refusal to countenance resettlement of the outer islands, but it does not sit comfortably with the overall evidence of the importance of community participation in conserving natural resources.

It is in recognition of her empirical work on the management of common access to natural resources (particularly Governing the Commons, Cambridge 1990) that Elinor Ostrom has recently been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. Her work stresses not only the necessity of active community participation but also describes the cases where management by users has been more effective than government regulation.

On coral marine environments specifically, the United Nations Environment Programme study (People and Reefs, 2004) describes a number of case studies in successful community engagement in marine protected areas. Nearer to home, there have been successful community-based habitat regeneration and site preservation activities in Rodrigues Island as well as successful training of communities throughout Mauritius in conservation and monitoring.

In such vulnerable marine environments, the importance of training individuals and educating the wider community is clearly essential, as is the need for pro-conservation economic incentives within the community. These are lessons that the Chagos refugees have come to recognise, as well as the importance of an enforceable regulatory environment.

Our concern about Professor Sheppard’s objectivity in dismissing the success of such community involvement is reinforced by his claim that a recent survey of Chagossians indicates that only a dozen individuals wish to return permanently. To our certain knowledge there has been no survey conducted in either Mauritius or the Seychelles, and our own consultations (published in Returning Home: a proposal for the resettlement of the Chagos Islands) suggest that there would be around 150 families with economically active members willing to return immediately, with a similar number prepared to wait a little longer before deciding on permanent return.

Yours sincerely

Olivier Bancoult OSK
Chagos Refugee Group,
Port Louis,


  1. Mr Bancoult is saying a lot of things, which he does not know what he is talking about. Some people do it for him. He is just like a puppet now.

    What has he done to protect Chagos?

    Only standing outside the ring and making lots of noise, talk is cheap.

    Bancoult is saying that CRG is the biggest Chagossian organisation. Biggest in gossiping may be.

    I hope my comment will be allowed for freedom of speech sake.

  2. Andreas says:

    @ Allen Vincatassin
    Do you support the right of the Chagossian people to return to the outer islands of the Chagos archipelago, Mr Vincatassin? If not, why not?

  3. Marie sabrina jean says:


  4. Return to the outer islands is matter for the people born on the outer islands to make not for me.Bancoult is deciding for some of them I believe, he has a plan(see John Howell proposal) with Mauritian investors and the support of Mauritius. I am against the Sovereignty of Mauritius over my homeland.

    I am a Diego Garcian, and I dont like people putting me in the same basket(Chagossian) as others, I was not born in the outer islands as Mr. Bancoult.

    I get you an example. In November 2000 Bancoult case no 1 was won in the UK High Court. There was a big jubilation and the words that spread around the world was thatn ‘Chagossian can go back to their home’ who? Chagossian, who are Chagossians? My understanding about this word is all people that were born in the Chagos. But the reality was that those born on Diego Garcia(Diego Garcians) had no right to return. The campaigners of ‘Return’ did not fight about this. I fought for it and thats why I pioneered a resettlement in the UK until we were to return one day in our home whenever the base will cease to exist.

    Return to the outer islands is matter for those born there to make. Mr Bancoult can make that decision.

  5. @ Mr Bancoult
    Let Bancoult answer me himself, I dont want his advisers.

    How can you be so dishonest to ask Her Majesty’s Government to make a resettlement for ‘Chagossians’ on Peros Banhos, and then you want to be governed by the Mauritian Government.

    You always say that Sovereignty is a matter for Governments only, just for you to be on the safe side and not to offend. If I was the UK Government, I would not agree to put my money in a resettelment of people, who will then revolt and want to be governed by the Mauritians.

    The Mauritian Government is trusting you and thats why they support you. If for example you are resettled on Peros Banhos by the UK Government, you will accept to be Governed by the UK wont you? You will leave the Mauritians on their own, wont you?

    If you want to lead people, you need to be able to say clearly whether you agree with Mauritius gaining Sovereighty or not. You cannot hide. I have make a decision let me see your decision.

    Say yes or no, any other things come from the evil one. To be or not to be.

  6. @ Sabrina Jean
    I think you got your facts wrong. Diego Garcian Society is here to help and support people to the extent that it can. We are only funded by our members. The current economic climate does not allow us to do everything free of charge unfortunately. We sometimes in certain cases ask for a donation, for the work that we do from those that work only. Diego Garcian Society has bills to pay.
    We are volunteers but the work that we do cost money, that is the reality of the UK. Why dont you complain when Mauritians ask for exhorbitant sums of money for the work we do free of charge for our community. May I remind you that when you came to us for help in the past you were not asked for a donations. Let me acertain you that its current practice now in this current climate for voluntary organisations and charity to ask for donations. We are a responsible organisation and we function in a climate of sustainability. I dont think your point is relevant, and its normal for you to say these kind of things because you work with Olivier Bancoult. I understand your frustration.

  7. Andreas says:

    @ Allen Vincatassin
    Do you agree that now would be the time to strive for unity instead of division? If not, why not?

  8. [...] aware of this, the prioritising of their pet project above the rights of the islanders is obscene- Chairman of the Chagos Refugee Group, Olivier Bancoult, has had a letter published in the influential Science in Parliament journal (reproduced below), [...]

  9. Jose Palazzo says:

    Enough of abusing social issues as reason to prevent conservation. Giove Chagossians their just and deserved compensation, but stop using their plight to prevent conservation of the invaluable Chagos region. I´ve seen the same scam played with Brazilian indians, artisanal fishermen, etc. etc., all made pawns of anthropologist psychopaths who hate conservation and spread the criminal myth of the beau sauvage, dismissed historically by a multitude of examples, in particular on tropical islands. Just go read some decent literature on it.
    Conservation of the Chagos now, justice to the Chagossinas now, but not at the expense of actual conservation that benefits everyone on the planet, not just this small group of humans.

  10. Peter Harris says:

    Jose – nobody is trying to prevent the conservation of the Chagos islands. We are simply calling for the right of return to be restored alongside that. Isn’t that reasonable enough?

    Allen – don’t all Chagossians agree that their right of return should be restored? If so, isn’t it sensible that both the UK and Mauritian Governments are engaged to try and make sure that this becomes a reality. This year represents a historic chance for the UK Government to finally do the decent thing – let’s not allow that chance to pass by.

  11. @Andrea .What unity are you you talking about? the one to agree to Mauritian Sovereignty?
    The one to resettle in Peros Banhos where I was not born? To unite to lie to the community? To unite to make Chagos a landfill of Mauritian Hotels?

    Please tell me which one?

  12. Alvis Nourrice says:

    Until the day Chagossians stop fighting amongst each other and instead join up to fight for one righteous cause, we shall not be able to overcome the greatest injustice caused to us by the British and US Government. And yes, I called everyone Chagossians as we all come from the Chagos Archipelogo which is comprise of Diego Gracia, Perros Bannos and all others.
    And for all those who has in the past stolen from us under the act of suposedly helping us, all those gainning fames and ridiculous titles which they cannot even define, all those whose got their big business plan and ulterior motives, do keep in mind that our silence are not act of stupidity, the cat havent got our tongue but instead we focusing our energy and time on working our brain cel, something which you should consider for the repurcusion of stealling from your own brother and sisters can indeed be huge.

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