Under the spotlight: the IUCN’s submission on Chagos marine protection

Now that the original deadline for submissions to the FCO’s consultation on Chagos marine protection has expired (the consultation will now run until Friday 5 March), the opportunity presents itself to look at the evidence submitted by various groups. For the next few days, we will be rummaging through those submissions that have been made publicly available and providing a dissection of their content. Today, it is the turn of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The IUCN caused controversy last November after a briefing paper on Chagos, sporting the organisation’s logo and purporting to be intended for 10 Downing Street, mysteriously appeared on the Internet. The paper unsettled some within the IUCN community because of its callous treatment of the Chagossians’ exile, prompting the organisation’s Director General to confirm that, in fact, the briefing had not been submitted to the Government and did not represent IUCN policy.

Similar controversy has surrounded the IUCN’s formal submission to the FCO consultation (available to view in full here).

Most notably, the IUCN came under intense public pressure not to participate in the consultation from the Government of Mauritius - a state member of the IUCN that has previously made its support for marine protection in Chagos conditional upon the twin issues of sovereignty and the islanders’ right of return being discussed.

Further question marks exist over whether the proper decision-making process was followed when preparing the IUCN response. In particular, the IUCN has a “specialist group,” charged with considering issues of ethics in environmental law, that does not appear to have been invited to assist in the submission’s preparation.

These concerns about propriety seriously reduce the gravitas of the IUCN submission.

The submission also suffers from some apparent internal contradictions and serious omissions. For example, whilst the document’s summary asserts the need for “the essential involvement of all relevant stakeholders in the consultation towards the establishment of an MPA,” this statement is weakened by the IUCN’s clear abdication of responsibility for having to conduct such consultations itself: dismissing a direct appeal from the Government of Mauritius is hardly a model of stakeholder involvement.

It is also clear from the document that the IUCN did not consult with any Chagossians, despite its claimed commitment to the views of all “former inhabitants of Chagos” being heard.

The IUCN has been pressured by the Chagos Environment Network (CEN) to support its preferred option of a “no-take” marine reserve in Chagos, which was included as Option One in the FCO’s consultation document. In particular, the head of the IUCN’s global marine program, Dr Carl Gustaf Lundin, is thought to be particularly sympathetic to the CEN position.

However, the IUCN’s final submission can be observed to use the curious language of supporting a “full” marine reserve in Chagos, notably avoiding making reference to a “no-take” reserve as endorsed by the CEN. It is therefore not immediately clear from the IUCN’s formal submission whether the IUCN is in favour of Option One or not.

In short, the IUCN’s submission appears to be something of a fudge: whilst it deals with the issue of resettlement in quite an unsatisfactory way, supporters of the Chagossians’ right of return can take some solace in the fact that the IUCN repeatedly acknowledges that no decision on the future of Chagos should be taken without the views of all “stakeholders” – which, any right-minded person would have to agree, includes the Government of Mauritius and Chagossian groups – being taken into account.

If the IUCN are serious about taking the views of these “stakeholders” seriously, then it is clear what the logical extension of their argument should be. Mauritius and the Chagossians have already made clear their separate views that environmental protection in Chagos is not something that the UK Government can unilaterally press ahead with. Instead, it must be discussed as part of a wider package that addresses Mauritian concerns over sovereignty and the Chagossians’ fight for justice.


  1. Emily says:

    I think you’re misrepresenting this.

    The Iucn say in their note verbale to the government of mauritius:

    “After careful consideration of all the inputs, we have come to the conclusion that awarding full
    protection to the entire archipelago and surrounding waters is preferable to protecting only
    some areas or features of the archipelago or restricting only certain extractive uses, as it will
    realize greater global conservation benefits today as well as in the future. The alternatives,
    including continued exploitation, would gradually erode many of the values that make Chagos

    So they are in favour of full no-take, and they have responded to the mauritians.

  2. Peter Harris says:

    But Emily, isn’t it striking that the IUCN did not use the terminology of a “no-take” marine reserve, despite this terminology being used by the FCO as Option One in its consultation document, and it being the preferred term of the CEN and others? It seems quite apparent that references to a “no-take” reserve were omitted from the document as a way of assuaging those members of IUCN who are not happy with the no-take proposal (hence a fudge).

    I wrote to the IUCN before Christmas about their position on Chagos, and was copied into a response from the Director General to several prominent members of the organisation who were obviously very unhappy with the way the IUCN was handling policy formation in this area. This response, I think, is the result of those fractures.

    And yes, the IUCN have responded to the Mauritians, as they were obliged to do given that Mauritian is a state member of the organisation, but I very much doubt the Mauritians found the response to be satisfactory!

  3. Emily says:

    You may be right that they are trying to appease some of their members by careful choice of wording, but I do think that you saying that “It is therefore not immediately clear from the IUCN’s formal submission whether the IUCN is in favor of Option One or not.” is deliberately misleading, as it is clear from what they say in their statement and the note verbale that they are in favor of option one, and you know this. You are deliberately trying to make it look as if they don’t support something when they clearly do.

  4. Peter Harris says:

    Hi Emily, I disagree that the IUCN’s policy is at all “clear” from its submission.

    By not responding to the “no-take” terminology that specifically appears in Option One of the FCO consultation document – and, indeed, by failing to make any reference whatsoever to the three options laid down by the FCO – the IUCN have surely (and probably deliberately) left open the question as to which of the three options (if any) they are supporting. If they were unambiguously supporting Option One, then I think it is reasonable to expect that a suitably unambiguous statement of support would appear in the document, which it does not.

    I am not trying to disguise the fact that elements of the IUCN, including the Head of its Global Marine Programme, are probably very much in favour of Option One. That is certainly true. However, my point is that the IUCN’s submission does not come across as “clearly” in favour of Option One (for the reasons outlined above), and that its content betrays the very real fractures that exist within IUCN about the appropriateness of supporting a proposal that is, at least arguably, not in the interests of the archipelago’s indigenous population.

    We obviously interpret this aspect of the document differently – but I would suggest that this is, in itself, because of the way that the document has been constructed: to hedge against the IUCN being seen to fully back something that many of its members would simply never agree to.

  5. Allen Vincatassin says:

    What a shame that this MPA Consultation has been an occassion to show how silly some people are.There has been too much presumption. This has become an occassion for lots of people and organisations to promote only the agenda of Bancoult and the Government of Mauritius. Do you know how much we suffered under the Mauritian Government? No you dont.

    No to Mauritian Sovereignty. If Bancoult want to sell his dignity with the Mauritian Government thats entirely up to him. But on Diego Garcia this will never be agreed by the Diego Garcians.

    What a shame for the ‘self Determination of our people’

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