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.Â The petition can still be signed by clicking this link.
The MET is calling upon the FCO to devise and implement aÂ “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 eitherÂ 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?”Â Of course, the issues are much, much more complicated than this: the FCO is conductingÂ a consultation, not aÂ “tickÂ any box”Â referendum!
The CEN’s Protect Chagos websiteÂ 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 comprehensivelyÂ 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 essentialÂ if an MPAÂ is to succeed.
Following news stories in the New Scientist, The GuardianÂ and theÂ New StatesmanÂ 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,Â 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.Â Rather,Â the METÂ 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.Â 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.Â Click here for details.