St Helena : Chagos Islands Update
Submitted by Saint Helena Herald (Juanita Brock) 08.10.2006 (Article Archived on 22.10.2006)
Celia Whittaker updates us on the latest in the fight to bring Chagos Islanders home.
CHAGOS ISLANDS UPDATE
The Government is pressing ahead with its appeal despite having been beaten on this issue twice in the courts. It’s the taxpayer’s money they are using – money which could be put to better use. The date of the hearing will not be known until it is published in the Daily Cause list. However it is expected to take place possibly in early February next year.
At the end of last June, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This asserts that indigenous peoples worldwide should have the right to restitution of land and resources taken from them. The HRC voted by a margin of 30 – 2 to approve the declaration which calls for indigenous people to be free from discrimination and have a right to consider themselves different. The Commission for Human Rights (which was replaced by the HRC earlier this year) had been negotiating the declaration for indigenous peoples for eleven years.
The HRC also adopted a resolution endorsing the draft International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which would require signatories to refrain from engaging in forced disappearances. The convention now goes to the General Assembly. (Jurist: Legal news and research) The Chagossians certainly qualify as an indigenous people…..
At a time of current huge injustices (in terms of numbers affected) it’s all too easy to forget continuing relatively tiny injustices that are even more important because the obstacles to correcting them are so slight. All they involve is recognition of a historic injustice and the application of good will to correcting them. (As in the Japanese/Canadian issue discussed in August Update.) When that is NOT done, by UK and US governments, it points to a cancer still at work in the body politic and capable of erupting in unexpected areas. As it does.
Any correspondence with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the moment (even via MPs) just gets a curt “the matter is sub judice and we cannot discuss”. This is a huge copout and reinforces the view that they are simply using the law as a delaying tactic. Here are some questions for your MP to ask which CAN be answered :
1. What about another trip to their homeland for some more of the Chagossians? Numbers on the only trip so far were limited to one hundred.
2. What is the total cost to the taxpayer so far in legal fees from 2000 onwards in order to deny the Chagossians their human rights?
3. Will you please ask the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to hold a FULL enquiry into how the Chagossian (and Ascension) Islanders have been treated and not just to listen to the FCO self-justification?
4. Will you please support John Austin MP in getting BIOT(Chagos Islands) included in the UK Overseas Territories Association along with Falklands, Gibraltar etc?
We have heard from Olivier Bancoult that the CRG have had sets of eleven postcards printed based on the visit to their homeland earlier this year. We will let you know when we have a price for these and perhaps you could buy some for your own use and sell some to help raise money for the Chagossian cause.
Allen in Crawley tells us that they will be celebrating the fourth anniversary of their first arrival in the UK on the 16th of September with an art competition for the young people and a social evening. He also plans to meet with ministers this week. Thank you to those who have sent financial help this month. Your money is being used to repair more homes. Sometimes all it takes is four bags of cement (for Claudia Michel) or four planks (for Denise Raphael). Veronique Antalika’s house caught fire and five corrugated sheets were needed. The wooden posts of one lady’s home were giving way and considered dangerous. When we say “homes” we are talking about very basic structures. If you can, visit the website www.chagossupport.org.uk to see photographs. Another project we are prepared to help fund is spectacles. Consultation is done free of charge by a member of the British College of Ophthalmic Opticians. Only frames and lenses are paid for. Being able to see clearly is so important – as spectacle wearers will know! As with the house repairs, this work is organized by a church group in Mauritius
The way we help with these projects is via a church charity in Mauritius. The Reverend Mario Li Hing D.D. is Chaplain to the Chagos Refugee Group and he has volunteers amongst his parishioners and friends who provide the professional expertise whilst we provide some funds. Chagossians help each other to do the necessary repair work to their homes.
You should all have received the Resolution passed by the California State Central Committee of Peace and Freedom Party. It is good to see more and more Americans becoming aware of the Chagossian situation. Reaction from one supporter (via email) was “I was listening to one of Arni Swarzeneger’s speeches about California leading the way in cutting Carbon Emissions the other day and it does seem that there is a growing and powerful voice in the USA that is not at all shy in opposing Bush and the ‘Official US Policy’. So maybe the Peace and Freedom Party’s demands re the Chagossians aren’t JUST a nice idea but actually stand a chance of being heard.”
Another correspondent has written “I have often been ashamed and embarrassed by my government’s actions but never as much as I am now upon learning of the immense injustice that was, and still is, being perpetrated on the Chagossian people. It is unconscionable that an innocent, peaceful, independent people be treated this way. It makes a mockery of so-called democracy. I wish to deeply apologise for the behaviour past and present of the governments who claim to act in my name. I believe that the Chagossian people should be allowed to go home and that the British Government should give financial support to help them re-establish their lives.”
We appreciate all the emails and letters of support we receive which often contain very useful ideas – and sometimes criticism! Dan Whitehead, writing in The Big Issue, says “A superb example of Pilger’s ability to seek out the stories and angles overlooked elsewhere, is the award-winning 2004 documentary ‘Stealing A Nation’ which unearths the absolutely scandalous conspiracy between British and American governments in the Sixties and Seventies to expel the indigenous people of the British-owned Chagos Islands. Callously condemned to poverty and malnutrition in the slums of Mauritius so that the US could build a billion dollar military base on their homeland….you’re left feeling angry, shaken and determined to pay more attention to the world around you.”