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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 2:13 pm 
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The Chagos islanders' plight makes me ashamed to be British

The exiled islanders are desperate for the right to return to their homeland – but Britain seems determined to stop them

Between 1967 and 1973, the entire population was relocated to make way for a joint US-UK military base. Photograph: David Levene

The story of the Chagos islanders' treatment at the hands of the UK government is one for which I am ashamed to be British. It is a story of deceit and tragedy that has been described by some as the darkest day in British overseas policy.

It has transfixed me for over a decade and shaken my very principles on conservation and democracy. It is a story of deceit that has left thousands of British refugees living in misery for the last 40 years, exiled from their island home by a conniving and unrepentant government.

I have been involved with the plight of the Chagos islanders for a decade, since I became one of a handful of people to illegally visit some of the islands within the atoll. It was eerie walking through the ghost towns. They were frozen in time. The vegetation had smothered many of the buildings, choking the stones in the graveyard.

The sunlight streaked through the stained glass windows of the church and the small copra factory remained largely intact. I was horrified to find dozens of international travellers living among the ruins while the islanders themselves remained pariahs, exiled by their own government. Why were these itinerant travellers allowed to stay?

Over the years I have got to know a number of Chagos islanders living in forced exile in Manchester, Crawley and in refugee camps in Mauritius. They have little voice, money nor political clout.

The case is currently waiting to be heard in the European court of human rights and should come up later this year.

Last year I went to a cultural day in Crawley library. Hundreds of Chagossians attended with photos, paintings, diaries and food that represented their dying culture.

"We have one dying wish," said an elderly Chagossian, still traumatised by her forced exile, "to set foot on my island and clear my husband's grave. Then I can die happy."

As we have seen in recent years, revolution comes from the people, for the people. It only takes a few of us to create a tide of change.

In Britain, we all share the guilt over the treatment of these islanders, but we also have the power to change history. We owe it to the Chagos islanders to ensure they have access to the most basic human democratic right, to go home.

In April 2010, the UK established a marine nature reserve around the archipelago. According to a cable released by WikiLeaks, a Foreign Office official "asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago's former residents", or "man Fridays" as the Chagossians were called.

This month, I attended a champagne party to celebrate the Chagos MPA, as the reserve is known. It was a far cry from the wretched situation of the exiled islanders desperate for the right to return home. The marine protectorate is undoubtedly important for conservation science but at what cost?

Here, conservation has created refugees.

I have had meetings with the Foreign Office and with William Hague and have been campaigning in Washington for an audience with Hillary Clinton to try to right a terrible wrong.

We fight tooth and nail to save animals from extinction. Do we not owe it to people to do the same? We cannot let this people and their culture die out.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2 ... ed-british

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 2:14 pm 
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Chagos Islanders forced into exile left 'dumbstruck' by court ruling

Court in Strasbourg says islanders 'renounced' claims to island when they received compensation for resettlement


Exiled Chagos Islanders living in Britain and Mauritius have said they are "dumbstruck" by a European court ruling that it has no jurisdiction to examine their forced expulsion by the British government in the 1960s.

Their comments followed a decision by the European court of rights in Strasbourg which declared that the islanders "effectively renounced" their claims 30 years ago when they received compensation for resettlement from the UK authorities.

The ruling dashed the Chagossians' hopes of returning and appeared to block all legal avenues through the ECHR by concluding that individual Chagossians had no right of individual petition to the court in future.

"These proceedings were settled in 1982 on payment of £4m by the United Kingdom and provision of land worth £1m by Mauritius," the decision by the seven judges declared.

"In so settling, the islanders agreed to give up their claims. In the later Chagos Islanders case, the [UK] high court found that an attempt to claim further compensation and make further claims arising out of the expulsion and exclusion from the islands was an abuse since the claims had been renounced by the islanders."

The succession of cases against the British government is a result of the forced removal of 1,500 Chagossians from the island of Diego Garcia between 1968 and 1973 to make way for a US military base. A series of English court cases described their removal as "shameful", an "abuse of power", "repugnant, deplorable and unlawful".

Although judges in lower British courts found unanimously in favour of the Chagossians', in 2008 the Law Lords decided against their right of return by a narrow 3-2 majority.

"We brought this case 15 years ago. All of a sudden everything has been turned upside down. This is a very bad law. We just do not understand how this decision was made," said Roch Evenor, a spokesman for the UK Chagos Support Association in London.

In a statement, the islanders added: "It is obvious to all right thinking people that depriving the Chagossian people, for whom Britain was responsible, of their homes, livelihoods and homeland and deporting them 40 years ago, was a grievous violation of their fundamental human rights.

"This was compounded as late as 2004 byprivy council orders, a means by which parliament was bypassed. The orders overturned a November 2000 high court judgment and the decision by foreign secretary Robin Cook to restore the right to return to the Outer Chagos Islands. It is inconceivable that parliament would have agreed to deprive the Chagossians of this fundamental birthright."

The agreement setting up the US base in the Indian Ocean, signed by the US and UK in 1966, expires in 2016. Though it includes a 20-year optional extension, both parties must agree to extend, modify, or end it by December 2014.

David Snoxell, former ambassador to Mauritius and co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands all-party parliamentary group, said: "We appeal to the coalition government to stand by their pre-election promises to bring about a just and fair settlement to one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century, perpetrated by the UK on the defenceless – the brutal removal of an entire people from their homeland and their way of life, into a life of exile, poverty and hardship."

"We expect our government to reflect the British sense of fair play and to ensure that the same basic human rights apply to Chagossians, who are British, as apply to the people in the UK. As the foreign secretary himself has said: 'The British public expects its government to act with moral integrity'."

"We will never give up. We will keep fighting for our right to return," said Sabrina Jane, a second generation British Chagossian in Crawley.

Diego Garcia was used by the US to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan and for CIA rendition flights. It is almost certainly used by the US for long-range bombers and could be expected to be used in any attack on Iran.

In 2008, foreign secretary David Miliband called for the creation of a giant 1m-hectare marine protection zone around the islands.

This was backed by many of world's major green groups. It later emerged that no one would be allowed to fish there, effectively making it impossible for Chagossians to return.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/de ... urt-ruling

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