Marine Education Trust petition continues to gain momentum

The Marine Education Trust’s petition to “protect both the marine ecosystem of the Chagos archipelago and the rights of its exiled community” has reached over 1,400 signatures. The petition can still be signed by clicking this link.

The MET is calling upon the FCO to devise and implement a “fourth option” for a marine protected area (MPA) in Chagos, acknowledging that the three options laid down in the FCO’s consultation document are inadequate because they (i) do not provide for either the rights of the Chagossians or the interests of the Government of Mauritius, and therefore (ii) seriously jeopardise both the short- and the long-term viability of an MPA in the Chagos islands.

In adopting this stance, the MET is joined by other respected organisations such as the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, the Natural Resource Defence Committee and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, as well as the hundreds of scientists, ecologists, conservationists, academics, activists, students, lawyers, politicians, parliamentarians and others who have signed its petition.

As has been previously discussed on this website, the MET petition is markedly different from another petition doing the rounds on the Internet: that of the Chagos Environment Network (CEN).

In contrast to the MET’s proposal for a “fourth option,” the CEN’s Protect Chagospetition has disingenuously sought to present the FCO’s consultation as a binary “Yes or No” choice: “Do you want to protect Chagos or not?” Of course, the issues are much, much more complicated than this: the FCO is conducting a consultation, not a “tick any box” referendum!

The CEN’s Protect Chagos website gives only scant treatment to the concerns of the Chagossians, and stops well short of calling for their rights to be explicitly provided for within an MPA framework, whereas Care2 – a private company hired by the CEN to corral signatures for its petition – has comprehensively neglected to mention the Chagossians in its mailshots to advertise the “cause.”

Furthermore, both CEN and Care2 have consistently sought to paint the creation of an MPA as something that the UK Government could easily and unilaterally achieve, ignoring the concerns of the Government of Mauritius and the Maldives – two Indian Ocean littoral states that have opposed the unilateral imposition of an MPA and whose cooperation will be absolutely essential if an MPA is to succeed.

Following news stories in the New Scientist, The Guardian and the New Statesman about the Chagossians’ campaign for justice, the Internet is now littered with signatories to the CEN petition who feel cheated that they were not made fully aware of the complex issues that surround the Chagos islands – including fundamental issues of human rights.

There is no doubt that the CEN, backed by the powerful Pew Environment Group, has been more successful in gaining signatures than has the MET – but then amassing signatures was never the raison d’etre of the MET’s campaign. Rather, the MET set out to offer people the opportunity to put their name to a petition that called for a robust marine protection regime in Chagos that also respected the rights of the archipelago’s indigenous people and neighbours.

By attracting so many signatures from so many concerned individuals, including a host of luminaries as well as people intimately connected with the archipelago – Chagossians, conservationists, activists, lawyers and politicians – the MET has achieved just that: when presented with the facts, it is invariably peoples’ considered opinion that the UK Government should do the decent thing by the Chagos islanders.

As the FCO’s consultation nears its end, let’s hope that the MET’s approach will carry more weight than that of the CEN. When it comes to issues as serious as this, it’s quality not quantity every single time.

NB: Members of the public can still contribute to the FCO’s consultation process. Click here for details.


  1. Derek Smith says:

    “the CEN’s Protect Chagos petition has disingenuously sought to present the FCO’s consultation as a binary “Yes or No” choice: “Do you want to protect Chagos or not?””

    Whereas the UKCSA has chosen, disingenuously, to present the choice as a binary “Do you want justice for the Chagossians or not?” You have neglected to mention the fact that protecting the Chagos as an MPA would be of benefit to Chagossians if they return. You have also neglected to mention that the Mauritian cause and the Chagossian cause are not one and the same – many Chagossians vigorously oppose the islands being ceded to Mauritius. Furthermore, you have encouraged the idea that the designation of an MPA will represent a legal barrier to the Chagossians’ return.

    This is, as you point out, a complicated issue, and I’m sure many people have sympathy with your cause. However, you do yourselves no favours by attacking other campaigns for lack of transparency and disingenuousness when you are guilty of those charges yourself, and from the evidence I’ve seen to date, rather more guilty.

  2. Peter Harris says:

    Dear Derek

    I am sorry that you have concerns with what I have written, and I will try to address each of these in turn.

    With respect, your criticism that I have “neglected to mention the fact that protecting the Chagos as an MPA would be of benefit to Chagossians if they return” is extremely unfair: that criticism only works if we are to conflate marine protection in Chagos with a no-take marine reserve. I enthusiastically support the conservation of the Chagos marine environment, and I hope that this has always been made clear, however I oppose a no-take reserve because it is NOT in interests of the Chagossians in any way, shape, or form.

    I don’t accept that I have presented people with a binary choice, implicit in the fact that I am campaigning for a “fourth option” to be devised by the FCO. By contrast, the CEN is positing the FCO’s consultation as a choice between action (a no-take reserve) and inaction (no reserve), hence binary. It has plucked one of the FCO’s three options and portrayed the consultation as a referendum on this option, which is not what the consultation should be about.

    Secondly, I did not wish to conflate the issues of Mauritian sovereignty and Chagossian resettlement, and I apologise if I have come across as doing so. However, both are (separately) important issues that unavoidably relate to Chagos, and must be considered when deciding upon the future of the archipelago, which the FCO and CEN have thus far sought to exclude from their plans for an MPA. This is something that the two issues have in common, which is why I have sometimes mentioned them in the same breath.

    I remind you that failing to engage Mauritius and the Chagossians could seriously jeopardise the viability of an MPA in Chagos – especially now that the Maldives seem to be siding with the Government of Mauritius. Saying that the UK cannot unilaterally impose a workable MPA in Chagos is a slogan that has been invented to further any political goal, it’s a statement of political fact! I cannot understand why the CEN and others are ignoring this, given that it is in their interests to secure a viable future for the MPA regime?

    Thirdly, I do not think I have encouraged the idea that an MPA will represent a legal barrier to the Chagossians’ return. If I have written that where, then I will be happy to provide a correction. A no-take marine reserve would, however, create a real added obstacle to the Chagossians’ return that should be resisted. The Chagossians have faced quite enough hurdles over the past 40 years and needlessly imposing another one is something that I find unconscionable.

  3. I believe Derek Smith is right. We have suffered exclusion and treated as second class citizen in Mauritius. We came out of bondage when we came to settle in the UK, although we are not on a bed of roses.

    Mauritius received millions of pounds from the UK. They are interested in getting money from the Americans if they get sovereignty. Do you know something about the Sugar quota?

    I believe its wrong to be fed with information that does not represent the wish of the majority of our people. Diego Garcians and other Chagossian Communities do not want to be under Mauritian bondage in future nor do they want to be represented by the Government of Mauritius in anything, but the Chagos Refugee Group and the Chagos Social committee in Mauritius seem to have no problem being under the bondage of Mauritius. I have a problem with this for conscience sake and because I represent my community, not only me, but majority of Diego Garcians and other Chagossian communities dont share the opinion of Bancoult and Fernand Mandatrin.

    We are not Mauritians, we were included in their constitution expressedly. There are people that knows nothing about how much we suffered under Mauritius, when we were living in exile there. Today there are some campaigners who think they know better, they promote a resettlement in the outer where only a minority will benefit, while the Diego Garcians continue to be in exile. Do they care? No they dont. People are only after economic advantages not the true rights of our people. Why should a proposal plan for the outer islands only include Mauritian investors? Are there no British companies? Why would Mauritius become like a hub? We dont need them.

    Lets separate the issues here. If Bancoult want to return, I want to return too, but I am being realistic. My homeland Diego Garcia is occupied by a strategic base, our people will have to wait for a long time. How many people want to return there? Not many, only a handful, but some people are saying everybody. They have put everybody in one basket, because they dont have a majority that profess return.

    They are taking sides with Mauritius because of my two silly ideas:

    ‘Get the Government of Mauritius on your side by not opposing their claim of sovereignty, rather ask for their support then you have a bigger voice to put pressure on the UK Government’

    ‘ lets use Bancoult and Mandarin and say that we will support a resettlement project in the outer islands, but only if they agree with us by not opposing us. At the end of the day they are foolish and dont know how these things work. We can then close a deal somewhere if we can embarass the UK Government a lot’. The Marine Park project is dangerous because they(Diego Garcians and other Chagossian Communities) have been consulted by the UK Government this time. This is a precedence that has been occassioned by the UK, and this could back fire on us, if they are consulted on Sovereignty one day’

    Well I know enough about the dirty tricks of the Mauritian Government. I am an old dog, dont show me new tricks.I know how we suffered under the hands of the Mauritian Government My Grandfather sued the UK in 1975, I know how in 1982 they made us to accept only 4 million pounds and they made us to renounce our right of return and acceptance of a full and final settlement of all claims, past , present and future.Mauritius procured the UK Government with these forms from the community, and they made us also to sign forms not to be able to sue them in future. Why?

    Well I can write a book on this, but I think thats enough.

    Diego Garcia belongs to Diego Garcians, and they are born British.

    If others want to let the Mauritians to govern them in bondage, let them go in bondage.

    I want my people to be free.

  4. Jean says:

    @Derek, “Do you want justice for the Chagossians or not?” You have neglected to mention the fact that protecting the Chagos as an MPA would be of benefit to Chagossians if they return.”

    The problem here is the “if”. The British government has shown so much dedication over the last 40 years to make the return of Chagossians impossible, that it can no longer be trusted.

    It is very clear to me that this British initiative is just another tactic in this direction.

    Chagossians deserve independence from all powers, especially British brutality, and decide for themselves the conservation terms of their archipelago.

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