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),Â the opportunity presents itselfÂ 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 MauritiusÂ -Â 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 â€œspecialist 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 fromÂ some apparent internal contradictions and serious omissions.Â For example, whilst the document’s summary asserts the need for â€œthe essential involvement of all relevant stakeholders in the consultation towards the establishment of an MPA,â€ this statement is weakened by the IUCN’s clear abdication of responsibility for having to conduct such consultations itself: dismissing a direct appealÂ 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.Â 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.Â 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:Â whilst itÂ 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 repeatedlyÂ acknowledges that no decision on the future of Chagos should be taken without the views of allÂ “stakeholders”Â – which, any right-minded person would have to agree, includes the Government of Mauritius andÂ 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.Â 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.Â Instead, it must be discussed as part of a wider package that addresses Mauritian concerns over sovereignty and the Chagossians’ fight for justice.