Surprise at early announcement on future of Chagos
Supporters of the Chagossians’ right of return have today reacted with surprise at the apparent news that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is preparing to make an announcement this week on the future of the Chagos islands.
The FCO only concluded its consultation on whether to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos islands on March 5th – less than four weeks ago – and so it would be utterly incredible if a final decision had been arrived at already.
However, writing in today’s Guardian, environment editor John Vidal remarked that:
“This week the British government […] is expected to signal that the 210,000 sq km area around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean will become the world’s largest marine reserve.”
It is not clear how, when or by whom this news was leaked to the press. Nor it is clear what the nature of the announcement will be. However, it does not bode well that the Chagossians and their supporters have been kept in the dark.
If it is true that the FCO is poised to announce its final decision on whether to establish an MPA in Chagos then this would surely make a mockery of the lengthy consultation process that has just taken place: can the FCO’s Overseas Territories unit really have gone through all submissions – some of which were extremely technical – already?
It had previously been understood that it would take at least three months for a final decision to be reached. Any deviation from this would be as inexplicable as it was unexpected.
The timing of the announcement – i.e. during the week that Parliament goes on Easter recess – also bears an unsettling resemblance to the way that the Government attempted to conceal its enactment of the 2004 Orders-in-Council which re-imposed the Chagossians’ exile.
Earlier this month, FCO Minister Ivan Lewis told MPs that the Government would keep parliamentarians fully briefed about developments regarding the future of the Chagos islands. This promise would have been broken if a substantive announcement were to be made whilst Parliament was not sitting.
As the UK Chagos Support Association’s Chairperson Roch Evenor has said, creating an MPA that did not include the Chagossians “would be a natural injustice. The fish would have more rights than us.”
It would therefore be absolutely disastrous – for the Chagossians, the Government’s record on human rights, and the UK’s international relations – if the FCO did announce a plan for the future of Chagos that excluded the Chagossians, especially if it did so in a way that showed complete disdain for the Chagossians’ views and the integrity of the FCO’s own consultation process.
In the week that Joanna Lumley once again brought the Government to heel over the Gurkha issue, the FCO should do well to be reminded that trampling on the rights of the Chagossians is not something that the British public, nor international observers, will be willing to tolerate.
Environmental protection and human rights must go hand-in-hand in the Chagos islands, and the Government should exercise the foresight and the integrity to ensure that this is reflected in its policy.