Brown refuses to meet Chagossians

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The News Line is pleased to publish two important letters. These concern the decision of the Court of Appeal to uphold the decision of the High Court that the Chagos Islanders should have the right to return to the outer islands of the group, and the decision of the Brown government to continue with a third appeal against this decision, this time to the House of Lords.

The first letter is from the Chagos Islands Community Association to Prime Minister Brown and was delivered to Downing Street on June 29 just days after he took office as Premier:

‘29 June 2007

Dear Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Our return to Diego Garcia

The Appeal Court decision on Wednesday 23rd May 2007 rejected the appeal by the British Government, for a second time, and upheld our right to return to part of the Chagos Islands.

You are now Prime Minister and we are asking you to reverse one of the last decisions of the Blair government which was to appeal to the House of Lords against the decision of the Appeal Court to allow us, Chagos Islanders, to return to part of our territory.

We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss the arrangements for our return after forty years of exile, the restoration of our lands, compensation that is due to our families as a result of being removed for this length of time from our homes and for the anguish and suffering arising from families being split up in different countries for many years.

Also, we have adult Chagossians who still have nightmares from the way that their pets were destroyed by the authorities as they were put on to boats to Mauritius after it was made clear that they would never return to the Chagos Islands again.

We wish to discuss arrangements that can be made for our return as soon as possible and despite all our bitter experiences, we are now optimistic about the future and are sure you, and your new government, will wish us well.

We look forward to hearing from you

Yours sincerely

Hengride Permal

Chair of Chagos Islands Community Association’

The reply from the government followed over a month later:

‘Gordon Brown

Prime Minister

10 Downing Street, SW1

Dear Mr Permal

Your letter of the 29 June to the Prime Minister has been passed to us for reply, having been passed to us on 13 July.

You ask that the Prime Minister reverse the decision to appeal to the House of Lords against the judgement of the Appeal courts on the 2004 BIOT Orders in Council. You may be aware that the former Foreign Secretary, Mrs Beckett lodged her petition on 25 June.

The full judgement can be found at

http://www.bailii.org/cgibin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2007/498.html&query=bancoult&method=boolean

The former Foreign Secretary decided to appeal primarily because the judgement raises issues of constitutional law of general public importance that, in her view, would adversely affect the effective governance of all British Overseas Territories. This would include confusion in the legal system to be applied in those Overseas Territories and potential conflicts between local and English courts. For these reasons, the Foreign Secretary thought it to be in the public interest that the effect of the Court of Appeal’s judgement, even if correct, should be clarified.

If permission is granted, and we do not expect to know before October, we believe the case will be heard by the House of Lords in 2008. It would be inappropriate to comment further in relation to these ongoing legal proceedings or to arrange a meeting.

You might also like to be aware that on 7 July 2004, former Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell, stated in Parliament:

‘I shall start by acknowledging that, in my view, the decisions taken by successive Governments in the 1960s and 1970s to depopulate the islands do not, to say the least, constitute the finest hour of UK foreign policy. In no sense am I seeking to justify the regrettable, but the Government must deal with the current situation. The responsibility of the UK Government for the decisions taken in the 1960s and 1970s has been acknowledged by successive Governments since then, as is demonstrated by the substantial compensation that has already been paid to the Chagossians.’

Full text of this statement can be found at

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmhansrd/vo040707/halltext/40707h03.htm

For your information, compensation has been paid by the UK to the Chagossians in two stages. Firstly, £650,000 was paid to the Mauritian Government for the benefit of the Chagossians in the early 1970s (£5.5 million at today’s prices) for the express purpose of assisting resettlement.

Secondly, under a 1982 Agreement between the UK Government of Mauritius and representatives of the Chagossians a further £4 million (£9 million at today’s prices) was paid by the UK into a Trust Fund for the benefit of registered Chagossians. This was in full and final settlement of any claims they might have had. The High Court Judgement of 9 October 2003, upheld by the Court of Appeal on 22 July 2004, thoroughly examined the circumstances in which this settlement was reached. The islanders were advised at the time by their own lawyers that this represented a fair and reasonable settlement. It established that the UK had no legal obligation to make any further compensation.

Your sincerely

Nihar Lathigra

Overseas Territories Directorate’

This second appeal was lodged just days before Gordon Brown took office in the dying moments of the Blair government. Mr Brown decided not to meet with the Chagos Islanders to discuss the issue, but to pass the matter onto the Foreign Office.

The FO implies that the government does not agree with the way that the islands were ethnically cleansed by the Wilson government, and by implication agrees with their right to return, and that the appeal is just to clarify issues concerning the governance of the 13 British Overseas Territories.

If this is so why have the arrangements not already been made for the return of the Chagos Islanders? The government is in fact engaging in a delaying action because the US wants to hang on to Diego Garcia since it may well go to war with Iran.

It is horrific to see that the price tag for the ethnic cleansing of the islands and the destruction of the lives of the Chagossian families (resettlement) is put at £650,000, a payment allegedly made in ‘the early 1970s’. Chagossian lives are very cheap!

There was allegedly another pittance payment made in 1982 of £4 million into a Trust fund, of which Chagossian families complain not to have received a penny.

Such costing for ethnic cleansing would do credit to Nazi Germany, but heaps shame onto democratic Britain.

Mercenary lawyers may well have established that the ‘UK has no legal obligation to make any further compensation,’ but the British government is going to be made to pay adequate compensation to those who were ethnically cleansed, and their descendants, and return them to their homes, including Diego Garcia, terminating the US base there.

The first task of the British trade unions must be to force the Brown government to withdraw its appeal.