Ascension : UK CHAGOS SUPPORT ASSOCIATION.
Submitted by The Islander (Nathan Prince) 21.02.2008 (Article Archived on 06.03.2008)
Olivier Bancoult, leader of the CRG in Mauritius, was invited to give Oral Evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee (of MPs) which he did, accompanied by Richard Gifford,
UK CHAGOS SUPPORT ASSOCIATION.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2008
Olivier Bancoult, leader of the CRG in Mauritius, was invited to give Oral Evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee (of MPs) which he did, accompanied by Richard Gifford, on 23rd January. Members of the FAC present were: Mike Gapes (Chairman), Rt Hon Menzies Campbell QC, Eric Illsley, Paul Keetch, Andrew Mackinlay, Sandra Osborne and Rt Hon Sir John Stanley. The Committee are currently conducting a general inquiry on the Overseas Territories and thought it would be useful to have input relating to the situation from the perspective of the Chagos Islanders even though they are not at the moment living in their homeland. The Committee were very well informed and asked searching and pertinent questions about the past, current and future situation. Thanking Olivier and Richard for attending, the Chairman said “As you know…..your islands have a particular history. We hope at some point they will also have people resident there who can act as guardians of the environment.”
On January 19th a Colloquium was organised by the Cambridge Centre for Public Law on “The Common Law, the Royal Prerogative and Executive Legislation”. There were forty-five participants, all lawyers except for David Snoxell (Former High Commissioner to Mauritius) and Dr. Mark Spalding (Chagos marine expert, The Nature Conservancy, who talked about environmental aspects of resettlement.) There were twelve talks and participants included both legal teams involved in Chagossian court cases, eleven law professors and academic lawyers from twelve universities including Paris, Virginia, Melbourne, Sydney and new Zealand. David Snoxell said : “Much of the time was spent exploring arcane legal matters. My task was to set the political context and remind participants of the human drama behind it all. I hope that my intervention will make a contribution to the longer term outcome.”
Funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust is financing a “Let Them Return” campaign which will be launched on February 18th. (www.letthemreturn.com). Digital brochures will then be obtainable from email@example.com. The website will eventually have all sorts of resource material on it including school packs. Various projects are in the pipeline and all proceeds raised will benefit the Chagossians. A huge part of this campaign is to raise public awareness. The campaign address will be The Ilois Trust, c/c Mr. W. Samuel, Foyles Bookshop, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H OEB.
Following the visit by 100 Chagossians to their Islands in March/April 2006, Olivier and the CRG made a request to the BIOT Administrator to have ancestral graves restored as the cemeteries were in a very neglected state. (A great sadness to the Islanders who had cherished their ancestors’ final resting places.) Now John Murton, UK’s High Commissioner, has announced that six masons with several labourers would be going to tidy up the cemeteries on Peros Banhos and Salomon Island. They will fly from Mauritius to Singapore on 19th Feb then catch a US military flight to Diego Garcia. From there, they will travel on by boat (BIOT Patrol Fishing Vessel, “Pacific Marlin”), spending a week on each island.
The CRG held their General Assembly on 3rd of February in Mauritius. Olivier reported on recent events in London. One unanimous decision taken at the meeting was that all Chagossians, both bearers and non-bearers of British passports, would register as British citizens with the High Commission in Port Louis. It was also agreed that, if any proposal of compensation should be made by the UK Government, they would not renounce their right to return to their birthplace.
Allan Vincatassin sends news from the Diego Garcian Society in Crawley: He gave a talk to the Politics Society at Trinity College, Cambridge on 6th February about the Chagos Islanders. The DG Society will be sending their written evidence to the aforementioned Foreign Affairs Committee. Allen had a positive meeting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last month and the DG Society’s campaign for a visit to their homeland is getting more support. The DGS and the Crawley Council for Voluntary Service are working in partnership to provide basic English courses for Chagossians – so far, there are about thirty islanders following these courses.
On 1st February Robert Vervaik, Law Editor of The Independent, reported on a cover-up over government knowledge of rendition flights and the use of UK military bases to hold suspects. Ministers have blocked access to military papers which the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition believe would reveal whether Diego Garcia is/was used as a detention centre for rendition prisoners. Chair of the Group, Andrew Tyrie MP, said : “There have been repeated allegations that the US has used the British base of Diego Garcia in its rendition programme. (US General Barry McCaffrey has twice said in interviews that detainees are being held on the Island by the US military.) Yet the government has done next to nothing to investigate them, and continues to rely on US assurances which have been called into question by the Intelligence and Security Committee.” Robert Vervaik affirms that “The Government has been careful to say as little as possible about what it does or doesn’t know about US ghost flights in which suspects are flown from secret prisons to third party state detention centres….it has relied on US assurances that no British territory loaned to the Americans has or is being used to facilitate this illegal activity.” Supporters of the Chagos Islanders are well aware of how distressing this is to the exiles.
“Sega” has been mentioned before as an integral part of Chagossian culture and identity and supporters may be interested to learn a little more about it. Dr. Laura Jeffery wrote a most interesting article recently for the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute entitled “How a plantation became paradise: changing representations of the homeland among displaced Chagos Islanders.” She has kindly allowed this Update to quote this section: “Sega is Indian Ocean island calypso-style music regulated by a drum beat played on goatskin drums called ravanne. Chagossian sega typically has a slower tempo than Mauritian sega. In Chagossian sega, a principal narrative voice starts to sing solo before the ravanne players join in with their accompaniment, which consists of three quick beats repeated continuously throughout the rest of the song. The solo singer repeats the lines several times before being joined by other singers singing in unison. Verses are interspersed with la-la-la choruses and with occasional cheers and calls from the singers. The musicians are accompanied by sega dancing performed by women and men who dance with one another, the women holding out their skirts and twirling while the men, often holding out their straw hats, circle around them. At the end of the song, the singers and dancers stop before the ravannes peter out gradually. There are particularly gendered roles in the Chagos Tambour Group (resident in Mauritius). Women lead most of the songs and most of the chorus are women, although men lead a couple of songs. Only men play ravanne, while men and women alike sometimes add percussion by playing triangles or using cutlery to tap glass bottles or pieces of metal. The male ravanne players sit in a curved row, and the women take turns as solo singer, chorus singers, percussion players and dancers. There is no overall group leader or co-ordinator and group members decide on the play list collectively.”
Another very interesting piece of work is by a young student in the Department of Politics at Bristol University who wrote a dissertation entitled “The Chagos Islanders: Successful Resistance to Accumulation by Dispossession.” In this, she discusses how people are dispossessed because they are caught up in imperialist strategies when the Goliaths increase their power base – accumulation by dispossession. (Apologies for over-simplification.) Literally a ‘power base’ in the case of Diego Garcia. She details how the Chagossians have fought back, waging a long campaign for recognition, compensation and the right to return: “The Chagossians have resisted being cast as an ‘unpeople’ and have continued to campaign visibly for over thirty years, culminating in a series of high-profile court victories…States pursuing the neoliberal project of accumulation by dispossession have discarded populations in the pursuit of greater imperial control. But the Chagossians have indicated that a small group of displaced people can use emerging norms of human rights and international law to defeat the British government in court. This is one way in which social movements…can hold Goliath to account.”
The Government Appeal to the House of Lords is set for June 30 – when Goliath should be held to account yet again!
The winner of the Island Quiz 2007 was Mrs. Carolyn Hothersall of Clayton-le-Woods near Chorley. Congratulations to her and also a big thank you as she declined to accept the modest cheque, kindly saying that the money should be used for the Chagossians. Thank you, too, to ALL supporters who have kindly made contributions to this cause.