Chagossian Justice Pledge Card: Ask want-to-be MPs to sign!

Posted in Campaign, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 13th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Click to see a printable version of our pledge card

Click to see a printable version of our pledge card

As the UK Election campaign proceeds apace, if you live anywhere in the UK there’s a good chance someone will be stopping you shortly and asking for your vote.

In return, you can ask them to sign this pledge card. It states that

It is a simple affair you can print off and get your perspective MPs to sign. Please do let us know if you get any responses, negative or positive. Do also keep a hold of the card so we can hold those elected to account! To find out who is standing in your constituency, check here, it just takes a second.

If you don’t have the pledge card to hand, just grab a piece of paper and scribble down something like the above phrase. What is important is simply getting on-the-record commitment from would-be Parliamentarians to support Chagossian justice.

We need to tell Parliamentarians this is an issue which matters to ordinary people, and that we will not let this human rights abuse continue in our name.

Support Chagos Petition Hand In and Protest! 22nd May

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 12th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

chagos protest 1Long-time Chagossian supporter and TV Presenter Ben Fogle will on 22nd May hand in this Avaaz petition demanding that the Chagossian people’s right to return home is finally respected. The petition will officially be handed in at 10 Downing Street at 12:30 on Friday 22nd May.

Chagossians and their supporters will be outside, however, to show support from 10:30AM through to around 3PM. We invite you all to join us!

Organising a protest is not, however, cheap. We need to pay for transportation costs, create promotional materials and get the word out to as many people as possible. Our recent Indiegogo campaign fell short of our £500, so we really need your help now. So we can send a strong message to whoever forms the next Government, please consider donating anything you can to make this event a real landmark occasion in the fight for Chagossian justice.

 

Story of Chagossian Exile in The Independent

Posted in coverage, Crawley, Exile, Welfare on April 11th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

chagosMuralUC_5The cold, hard reality of life in exile for Chagossians is laid bare in a new article published by UK newspaper The Independent.  Bernard and Willie Nourrice provide real testimony of the struggle Chagossians have faced to survive since their forced expulsion from their homeland in the late sixties and early seventies.

Bernard recalls how he was “left on the dock” in The Seychelles, forced to find a new life almost 2000KM from the land of his birth. Sadly coming to the UK in 2008, after losing his hotel job in the financial crisis, he found no end to the pain of exile.

“Reaching here, the situation is not what I was told. It’s so painful; we go through so many difficulties….the stress is killing people. On Diego Garcia we were free. Here we are not.” Bernard Norrice

 

Later in the article Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch Chairperson Sabrina Jean expands upon the difficulties facing the UK Chagossian community in exile. She recounts her own experience, separated from her family and working 17-hour days when she first arrived in the UK. The older, native born Chagossians, dying without a chance to see their homeland again, are also mentioned as a source of sadness. The practical, financial difficulties of finding funds for funerals are another real concern and mentioned in the article.

“When one of our people passes away it’s very difficult for us.” Sabrina Jean

 

We consider all requests from UK Chagossians experiencing hardship in exile, including helping with funeral costs. See here for how to ask for help.

Diego Garcia Flight Record Publication Delay

Posted in coverage, Diego Garcia, Rendition, USA on April 8th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
US warplanes in Diego Garcia

US warplanes in Diego Garcia

Human Rights legal charity Reprieve have released a statement accusing the Government of “stalling” over their request to publish complete flight logs of arrivals and departures from the US military base on Diego Garcia.

Reprieve’s attention was drawn to Diego Garcia following consistent allegations that the base was used to support ‘rendition’ flights and torture, most recently raised by former senior Bush-administration Lawrence Wilkerson.

Reprieve report that following their official request for the records over 8 months ago, they were recently informed the Government was still “assessing their suitability for publication.” The Government has continued to deny that Diego Garcia has had any role in supporting rendition, with the exception of two cases in 2003 which were acknowledged in 2008 by then Foreign Secretary David Miliband having previously been denied.

Donald Campbell, a representative from the organisation, stated that:

“It is hard to see how such a long delay could be justified. We need to see full publication of those records without delay, in order to reassure the public that Britain is not involved in the cover-up of torture evidence.”

The failure to publish these records has also been picked up by VICE News and Sputnik News.

The reports also feature previous controversy concerning Diego Garcia flight records. Last year in which the Government first claimed certain records were water damaged, before stating this was a mistake and no relevant data had been lost.

Our Thoughts

This delay immediately follows another Government’s ‘delay’ in deciding upon support for Chagossian resettlement of their homeland. Regardless of the truth of these rendition allegations, the native people of Diego Garcia were forced from their homes so this military base could exist. The human rights of Chagossians must also feature in any discussion about Diego Garcia.

Although the coalition Government initially took the positive step of setting up a feasibility study into return, their legacy will be one of inaction. We urge the next Government, whoever they may be, to act urgently and engage fully with the growing concerns of UK citizens on their nation’s treatment of the Chagos Islands and their people.

“Chagos Islanders Betrayed” Observer Article on Government’s failure to deliver justice

Posted in coverage, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 5th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Click on the image to read the full article

Click on the image to read the full article

There is a major new article in this morning’s Observer on the Government’s failure to deliver a promised decison on Chagossian right to return home prior to the election. Quoting our Secretary and Patron Philippa Gregory’s initial reaction, the piece records that this is “another serious betrayal of the Chagossian community.” It also rightly notes that another of our Patrons, Ben Fogle, is to hand in this petition next month (22nd May) as part of a protest by Chagossians calling for their right to return home to finally be restored.

Voluntary Coordinator of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group David Snoxell is also quoted as saying the failure of the Government was “a lack of political courage.” Our own argument, that claims UK taxpayers would be liable for the full costs of resettlement are “disingenuous,” is also noted.

Just to clarify, we do not believe KPMG’s estimate is “disingenuous” (although many have suggested that it is overly high, and a recent freedom of information request confirmed even KPMG officials believed it a “pessimistic” figure). Rather we argue costs could be largely covered by income associated with the expected renewal of an agreement on the Diego Garcia US military base in 2016, European Development Fund resources and private sector investment.

Elsewhere in the article, Chair of the Chagos Conservation Trust Charles Sheppard rightly states “the Chagos marine biodiversity and condition are a valuable international asset.” As the Chagos Conservation Trust website clearly states, however, a returned Chagossian society can be entirely compatible with conservation efforts, and the Trust itself has no position on the Chagossian people’s return. One of the Trust’s senior members also confirmed their belief Chagossian return could be achieved with minimal environmental impact in a recent short film.

If you are as deeply disappointed as the Chagossian people, please do consider supporting their protest in Westminster on 22nd May. We’ll be telling the next Prime Minister, whoever they are, that this failure must be rectified as a matter of real urgency.

Economist Article analyses Government failures on Chagos issue

Posted in coverage, Letusreturn, Parliament, Return, Return 2015 on April 4th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

COMMASSThis week an article in The Economist provided a concise summary of the UK Government’s failures to deliver justice for the Chagossian people, both this year and the last several decades.  The piece begins by noting the Government had “quietly avoided” dealing with the issue. Click on the link above to read: a short piece, it is a good one to share to explain Chagossians’ fight for justice.

 

“[Diego Garcia] is home to more than 3,000 troops and support staff who, according to a navy website, enjoy “a unique assortment of quality of life opportunities”. The majority of Chagossians remained in Mauritius and the Seychelles, often living in abject poverty”

Featuring comments from Chagossian leader Allen Vincatassin and Chagos Islands All-Party Group Coordinator, the article provides plenty of evidence a returned and renewed Chagossian society could be successful. Chagossians arrival in the UK in the early part of the last decade is also recounted, as it is recalled how Chagossians, British citizens, were mistaken for asylum seekers as they were forced to sleep at Gatwick Airport.

 

“Mr Vincatassin sees the moral cost of inaction as outweighing the financial ones. “In the next 40 to 50 years there won’t be any Chagossians left,” he says. “The government will make them extinct.””

A Chance for Chagos: New Short Film

Posted in coverage, Letusreturn, Return, Return 2015, video on April 4th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

A Chance for Chagos is an excellent short film produced by Emily Wakefield. In consultation with various members of the Chagossian community, Ms Wakefield’s piece looks at just why this is the perfect time to implement return.

Speaking with Chagossian leaders, politicians and members of conservation group the Chagos Trust, it becomes clear there are no significant barriers to return.

The Government may have failed to deliver justice prior to the election, but this piece makes clear the case for return remains compelling.

SNP confirm their support for Chagossian return home

Posted in Labour, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, SNP, Uncategorized on March 31st, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

SNP Annual ConferenceFollowing our report on positive political backing for the Chagossian people in the last week, we have received confirmation that at the recent SNP conference the party backed a motion calling on the UK Government to “end the unacceptable delay in implementing the Chagossians right to return home to their islands.”

We wholly welcome the party’s formal support for the Chagossian people. The full text of the motion, approved unanimously by SNP delegates, can be read below.

 

The SNP Motion Backing Chagossian Return

Conference notes the Award dated 18 March 2015 in the matter of Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v United Kingdom), and notes the Chagos Archipelago is administered by the United Kingdom as the ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’.

Conference further notes the written statement made in the UK Parliament on 24 March 2015 by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office announcing delay until after the General Election on a decision about resettlement of the Chagos Islands.

Conference expresses frustration with the ongoing approach of the UK Government in relation to the Chagossian people, and notes that the behaviour of the UK Government has consistently been contrary to well established laws on decolonization and self-determination.

Conference calls upon the UK Government to end the unacceptable delay in implementing the Chagossians right to return home to their islands.

 

We have SNP National Council member William Henderson to thank for propsoing the motion, which was seconded by Julie Hepburn, an elected member of the National Executive Committee.

We should also thank the many Scottish activists who have picked up the Chagossian cause and helped us raise awareness on social media. Their vocal and pro-active backing no doubt contributed to the issue grabbing the party’s interest.

With the SNP expected to gain a number of seats in the next election (polls indicate they could win 50 seats) this could a major development in the fight for Chagossian freedom. We look forward to working with the party to win Chagossians’ right to return home.

Although to our knowledge this is the first time the SNP have offered their formal support to the Chagossian people’s fight for justice, their former leader Alex Salmond has taken an interest in the cause previously.

In 2004 Mr Salmond accused the then Government of behaving in a “sneaky” and “under-hand” manner, and being “morally homeless.” This related to the then Government’s use of Orders-in-Council, essentially Royal Prerogative, to effectively nullify a High Court ruling which permitted Chagossians to return home.

 

Political Backing for Chagos Justice: Positvie Comments from Labour, SNP & SDLP

Posted in Campaign, Election 2015, Labour, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, SDLP, SNP on March 29th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

mlk hopeAs if to prove the truth of Dr King’s quote (pictured right), the disappointment of the Government’s failure to deliver a decison on Chagossian return last week has been followed by much more hopeful political developments this week. Read new comments and commitments below from Labour, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

Labour

A supporter has forwarded us an email from Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and Labour Party Chairperson Harriet Harman regarding deported Chagossians’ right to return home.

Harriet Harman addressing the Labour Party Conference

Harriet Harman addressing the Labour Party Conference

Labour Shadow Ministers have been by and large publicly silent on the issue since a 2013 House of Lords debate. Approaches to the relevant Shadow Ministers from ourselves have not received a response.

In an email dated the 27th March, however, Labour’s deputy leader states that:

 

“The recent feasibility of return report and UN ruling on the Marine Protected Area (MPA) offer a real opportunity for the Government to resolve this issue, and I await their decision which they promised would be made in this Parliament, which will hopefully allow the historical wrong of the expulsion of the islanders from those islands finally to be put right. ” ( Harriet Harman, Deputy Labour Party Leader and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister)

 

 

We agree, and commend the (somewhat belated) recognition that this is an excellent opportunity to deliver justice for Chagossians. Although the statement stops short of support of resettlement, we are glad Ms Harman acknowledges more needs to be done “put right” the “wrong” of Chagossians’ forced expulsion.

Labour could well form the next Government and if they do support for Chagossian return must be a priority. We encourage Labour to make formal commitments to the Chagossian people before the election.

The SNP

Delegates at the conference voted to support Chagossians

Delegates at the conference voted to support Chagossians

Elsewhere, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) passed a motion at their conference this week pledging support the Chagossian people’s fight for justice. We are trying to get hold of the exact text of the motion at the moment but we welcome the formal support of a party which has provided strong advocacy in the past.

As the motion passed, supporting the Chagossian calls for justice is now official SNP policy. With the party expected to win a high number of seats in the upcoming elections (polls have suggested anywhere between 40 and 50+ in the last few months), their support could be highly valuable in the next Parliament. We will reserve further comment until we have the full text of the motion.

 

The SDLP

And the backing kept coming! The Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) also confirmed their support for Chagossian right to return home this week. The confirmation was prompted by our hopeful but thankfully successful contribution to a Twitter Q&A with their Foreign Affairs and International Development Spokesperson Mark Durkan, which can be seen below.

Mark Durkan speaking in Parliament

Mark Durkan speaking in Parliament

The SDLP currently hold three seats in the House of Commons (they only stand in Northern Ireland). Mr Durkan has a strong record backing human rights causes during his time in Parliament and he and his party’s support could be highly valuable to Chagossians in the next Parliament.  

The Green Party

In the interests of fairness, we should point Mr Durkan was following the footsteps of Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, who confirmed her party’s ongoing support for the Chagossian people last summer following our Twitter haranguing.

The run up to the election is the perfectly opportunity to get those politicians seeking your support to commit to backing the Chagossian people’s right to return as a matter of urgency. Next time you see a politician, don’t forget to mention Chagos!  

Chagossians on “shaky ground”: Seychelles News Agency

Posted in coverage, Diego Garcia, Mauritius, MPA, Philippa Gregory, resettlement, Return, Seychelles, UN on March 27th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Diego_Garcia_Abandoned_PlantationA new report from Seychelles News Agency highlights the uncertainty felt by Chagossians after a turbulent week. On Wednesday the UK Government refused to live up to their promise to decide on supporting Chagossian return before the election. Earlier in the week the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) judged that the UK had acted illegally in creating a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands in 2010.

Although the PCA decision has been reported as a positive development for Chagossians, the Seychelles News Agency quotes Chairperson of the Chagossian Committee in the Seychelles Gilberte Grendron arguing it remains “quite unclear” what the consequences are for Chagossians.

The PCA case was really about Mauritian sovereignty, not Chagossian rights, she notes. Ms Grendron also adds there are concerns about what would happen to Chagossians’ UK citizenship if their homeland became Mauritian territory. Although she acknowledges the verdict of the PCA was probably correct, Ms Grendron adds that there are worries that with significant alteration to the MPA the environment of their homeland could be damaged.

Ms Grendron is entirely right to raise these concerns. If we did not already know already, one thing we should have learned in recent weeks is that Chagossian politics is extremely complex.

Elsewhere in the article our reaction to the Government’s failure to support Chagossian return is referenced, with a quote from our Patron and Secretary Philippa Gregory.