U.K. Guardian on Britain’s version of the MLPA – Chagos islanders must be allowed home!

“The British government’s plan for a marine protected area is a grotesquely transparent ruse designed to perpetuate the banning of the people of Mauritius and Chagos from part of their own country,” said Ram Seegobin, of the Mauritian party Lalit de Klas, in a letter to Greenpeace seen by the Guardian.

“The conservation groups have fallen into a trap. They are being used by the government to prevent us returning,” said Evenor.

Just as so-called “marine protected areas” (MPAs) are being used by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his collaborators on the California coast to deny the Kashia Pomo Tribe and other tribes their right to gather seaweed and shellfish as part of their religion and culture, the UK government has created a racist MPA in the Chagros Island as part of the legacy of colonialism.

Fake “marine protected areas,” created by the Mexican government and corporate environmental businesses like Conservation International (Kern County land baron Stewart Resnick is on the board!) are also used in the Colorado River Delta and Sea of Cortez to deny the Cucapa Tribe and other indigenous communities their right to fish. Fortunately, subcomandante marcos, the Zapatistas and indigenous activists from throughout the U.S. and Mexico stood in defense against this cultural genocide in 2007 as a project of La Otra Campana. That struggle to defend their fishing rights continues.

What Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s MLPA (Marine Life “Protection” Act), the Chagros Islands neo-colonial “marine reserve,” and the Sea of Cortez MPAs have all in common is that they do absolutely nothing to stop the real causes of fishery and ecosystem declines – water pollution, habitat destruction, aquaculture, diversions of water from estuaries and corporate industrial fishing – and penalize only the victims of these declines, the indigenous peoples that have been the stewards of marine ecosystems for thousands of years.

Please read this article from the U.K. Guardian by Sean Carrey, followed by previous Guardian article about the Chagros Islanders’ protests about their waters being made into a fake MPA without their consent.

“The British government’s plan for a marine protected area is a grotesquely transparent ruse designed to perpetuate the banning of the people of Mauritius and Chagos from part of their own country,” said Ram Seegobin, of the Mauritian party Lalit de Klas, in a letter to Greenpeace seen by the Guardian. “The conservation groups have fallen into a trap. They are being used by the government to prevent us returning,” said Evenor.

Chagos islanders must be allowed home

Hague must use the Mauritian prime minister’s visit to negotiate an end to the shameful eviction of the Chagos islanders

Sean Carey, Sunday 30 May 2010 11.00 BST

It was very crafty of David Miliband to instruct the commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory to declare a marine protected area in the Chagos archipelago on the afternoon of Maundy Thursday, 1 April. It wasn’t quite a Jo Moore “it’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury” moment, but it came fairly close.

It certainly wrong-footed a significant number of British MPs from all the major parties who had attended a debate on the Chagos islands in Westminster Hall on 10 March and were given the impression that the issue would be discussed in the Commons before any decision was made. The displeasure caused sparked emergency debates in both houses on 6 April, shortly before dissolution.

It is also revealing that the former foreign secretary’s announcement was timed to catch out the authorities in Mauritius where, because the National Assembly had been dissolved in preparation for the general election on 5 May, there was no time for a parliamentary debate or statement.

Nevertheless, the UK’s unilateral decision caused uproar on the palm-fringed Indian Ocean island, one of Africa’s great economic and political success stories. Predictably, it led to a revival of the threat to take the Mauritian sovereignty claim to the archipelago to the international court of justice in The Hague.

The Chagos islands, as successive Mauritian governments have reminded anyone prepared to listen, had been excised in breach of international law from its territory before the country’s independence in 1968 under a deal struck between the US and Harold Wilson’s Labour government at the height of the cold war.

But as well as the concern about the sovereignty issue, Mauritian prime minister and leader of the Mauritius Labour party, Navin Ramgoolam, has also made it plain that he expects the UK government to restore the right of return of the Chagos islanders, around 2,000 of whom had been forcibly removed from their homeland and dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973, to make way for the US military base on Diego Garcia.

The new Ramgoolam government, re-elected with an increased majority, has now informed the UK of its willingness to resume talks, which were suspended last year over the FCO’s plan for the marine reserve – designed at least in part to be a lasting environmental legacy for the outgoing British prime minister, Gordon Brown.

Back in the UK, in the runup to the general election on 6 May, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats made it clear that they wanted the future of the exiled islanders resolved. In his capacity as shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, stated in a reply to a letter from a long-standing supporter of the Chagos islanders: “I can assure you that if elected … we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute.”

The office of Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, additionally highlighted the financial cost of the protracted legal process which has been running since 1998. An aide told me: “Regardless of the legal arguments, Nick and the Liberal Democrats believe that the government has a moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return home. We have actively supported their cause in the past and we will continue to aid their campaign to see justice done. We have been appalled that the government has wasted time, money and effort defending the indefensible. It is a disgrace that £2m of taxpayers’ money … has been squandered in order to uphold this injustice.”

There is a further point. It has been evident for some time that the Obama administration has no objection to the Chagos islanders returning to the outer islands of the archipelago like Peros Banhos and Salomon, which lie around 130 miles from Diego Garcia. Of course, which and how many islanders want to do so, and what infrastructure would need to be put in place to make their return viable, are important questions that will need to be looked at in the near future.

The new UK coalition looks likely to succeed in bringing to an end this most shameful episode of recent British colonial history which three successive foreign secretaries – Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett and David Miliband – actively entrenched by overturning Robin Cook’s decision in November 2000 to restore the right of return of the Chagos islanders.

Pressure is also likely to come from the UK Chagos all-party parliamentary group when it has its first meeting of this parliament on 9 June. Significantly, Glenys Kinnock, former minister of state with responsibility for Africa in the last government, who last month was obliged (though not very convincingly) to defend the UK’s position on the Chagos islands in the House of Lords, has joined the group.

An indication that things are moving in the right direction will be given if the new UK government signals that the current case before the European court of human rights is to be withdrawn in favour of a “friendly settlement” as the court has suggested.

An early meeting between the UK and Mauritius governments would also be an advantage. As Foreign Office officials are no doubt aware, Ramgoolam will be making a brief visit to London at the end of next week. This obviously provides the UK’s coalition government with a golden opportunity to meet the Mauritius prime minister and thus get substantive negotiations underway. For most of the 700 or so surviving inhabitants of the Chagos islands, many of whom are well advanced in years but who never gave up hope of returning to their paradise homeland, a breakthrough can’t come quickly enough. Alas, for others it is too late.

Chagos Islanders attack plan to turn archipelago into protected area

UK government proposals a ploy to block displaced Chagossians from returning to their homeland, say campaigners

John Vidal, environment editor, Monday 29 March 2010 19.06 BST

The 55 islands and the sparkling seas around them are famed for their clean waters and pristine coral reefs. They are described by naturalists as the “other Galapagos”, “a lost paradise” and a “natural wonder” and are officially recognised as a biodiversity hotspot of global importance.

This week the British government, backed by nine of the world’s largest environment and science bodies, including the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Royal Society, the RSPB and Greenpeace, is expected to signal that the 210,000 sq km area around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean will become the world’s largest marine reserve. If it does, all fishing, collection of corals and hunting for turtles and other wildlife will be banned across an area twice the size of the British isles.

More than 275,000 people from more than 200 nations have sent messages in support of Britain’s full protection of the Chagos Islands and their surrounding waters, but one group is distinctly uneasy.

The original Chagossians, who were deported between 1967 and 1973 to make way for a giant US nuclear air force base on the largest island, Diego Garcia, say they would in effect be barred from ever returning because the marine protection zone would stop them fishing, their main livelihood. “There would be a natural injustice. The fish would have more rights than us,” said Roch Evenor, secretary of the UK Chagos Support Association, who left the island when he was four.

The islanders, who number about 4,000 and live in exile in Britain, Mauritius and elsewhere, have battled through the British courts for nearly 20 years for the right to return and appeared to have won an important victory in 2000 when the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, decided in their favour. But following the September 11 attacks, the UK government reversed Cook’s decision and the Chagos case has migrated between courts. Most recently, the House of Lords ruled against them after Britain cited American security concerns. Their last hope is that the European court of human rights will overturn the decision in their favour in the next few months.

Today, Chagossian supporters accused the government of duplicity. “The British government’s plan for a marine protected area is a grotesquely transparent ruse designed to perpetuate the banning of the people of Mauritius and Chagos from part of their own country,” said Ram Seegobin, of the Mauritian party Lalit de Klas, in a letter to Greenpeace seen by the Guardian. “The conservation groups have fallen into a trap. They are being used by the government to prevent us returning,” said Evenor.

They were backed by Clive Stafford Smith, director of the human rights group Reprieve, who has challenged the UK government on the use of Diego Garcia by the US to render suspected terrorists. “The truth is that no Chagossian has anything like equal rights with even the warty sea slug. There is no sense that the British government will let them go back. The government is not even contemplating equal rights for Chagossians and sea slugs.”

Supporters of the islanders also suspect that the timing of the announcement of the protected area is highly political. “Clearly, the British government is preparing a fall-back plan; if they lose the case in Europe, then there will be another ‘reason’ for denying the banished people their right of return,” said Olivier Bancoult, a Chagossian leader in Mauritius.

Today, scientists and conservationists denied that they were being “used” by the government.

“The UK government agrees that a marine protection area will not create a barrier for the Chagossians to return. The two issues are separate. If the Chagossians are given a right to return, any conservation measures will be adjusted. The aim is to protect the reserve now so that the resources there would be available for the Chagossians if and when they return. As it is, the seas there are being heavily depleted by French and Taiwanese fleets,” said a spokeswoman for the US-based Pew environment group, which is expected to contribute millions of dollars to establish the reserve.In a letter on its website, Greenpeace said: “[We] acknowledge and support the Chagossians in their struggle, and hope that they are successful. But at the moment, the Chagos Islands are being administered by the UK government, and whatever way you look at it, taking steps to protect the marine life there is a good idea. If and when the Chagossians are repatriated, then the protection of the seas around the archipelago will need to be readdressed, and yes, that may well involve allowing fishing by the islanders.”

But David Snoxell, former high commissioner to Mauritius, said the marine reserve would set up a significant barrier to the Chagossians’ return. “The environment groups were beguiled [into giving their support]. If the government were to designate a protection area they would be erecting a psychological, legal and economic barrier against the Chagossians, and send a strong message that they would not be welcome in their homeland. It would be highly prejudicial.”

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