[Coral-List] The Story of the Chagos Islanders

Richard Dunne RichardPDunne at aol.com
Mon Jan 25 13:28:19 EST 2010

Dear Listers

Jim Hendee has asked me to post some accessible information concerning 
the Chagos islands and the fate of the Chagossians in the light of the 
current debate on the new proposed Marine Protected Area in the British 
Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

There is an excellent website hosted by the UK Chagos Support 
Association at http://domain1164221.sites.fasthosts.com/index.htm I 
recommend that you visit it. This Association is directly supported by a 
serving and one ex Member of the UK Parliament. Its opening page 
features an aerial picture of the US Air Base on Diego Garcia in which I 
could count thirty-one B52 bombers and other large military jets.

I also invite you to visit the Marine Education Trust Petition at 
http://www.marineeducationtrust.org/petition/protect-chagos where you 
can see all the signatories to date from those who support the rights of 
the Chagossians. Inter alia it includes a former Deputy Commissioner of 
the BIOT and British High Commissioner to Mauritius, David Snoxall.

I re-iterate my personal stance here lest it has been misunderstood, 
namely "that there should be no MPA in the British Indian Ocean 
Territory pending the outcome of the Chagos islanders case at the 
European Court of Human Rights". I fully support the MPA concept from a 
purely scientific and conservation standpoint.

I include some additional very recent material below which re-iterates 
the rights that should be accorded to the Chagossians in the MPA 
deliberations and which they have currently been denied by the UK 

Letter to the Sunday Times Newspaper 17 January 2010 by the former High 
Commissioner to Mauritius, David Snoxell

// Mr Snoxell was responding to a letter by the current Mauritian High 
Commissioner, printed last week, which had asserted the Mauritian 
government's right to be involved in deciding the future of Chagos. Both 
letters relate to Charles Clover's article several weeks ago about how a 
marine protected area around the Chagos islands could help boost Gordon 
Brown's personal "legacy." The text of Mr Snoxell's printed letter is 
reproduced here:

/*In his letter (last week) commenting on Charles Clover’s article 
“Brown can build his legacy on coral reefs”, the Mauritius High 
Commissioner raises two issues, sovereignty and resettlement, which need 
to be addressed if the proposed Chagos marine protected area is to be 
legitimate and workable. It was a Labour government in the 1960s that 
expelled the islanders. What better legacy for a Labour Prime Minister 
than to resolve one of the most shameful episodes in recent colonial 
history, while also agreeing a timetable for transfer of sovereignty to 
Mauritius and creating the largest marine reserve in the world?

David Snoxell
Former High Commissioner to Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the Chagos 
Islands All Party Parliamentary Group */

Mr Snoxell's attempt to link the MPA issue to the wider context is 
especially pertinent given the Chagos Environment Network's current 
campaign to impose a no-take fishing ban throughout the Chagos islands. 
The CEN are presenting their proposal as a benign measure to ensure the 
protection of the Chagos archipelago and its wildlife, but in actual 
fact it would be disastrous to the Chagossians' cause: banning the 
indigenous people of Chagos from fishing their own waters is patently 
the wrong thing to do. It would also create a further bone of contention 
between the UK and Mauritian governments. As Mr Snoxell points out, the 
CEN are actually doing the conservation cause a great disservice by 
attempting to ignore the issues of sovereignty and resettlement: for an 
environmental protection regime to be successful, it must be part of a 
holistic solution.

On 7 January 2010 a Workshop was convened at the University of London. 
The following statement was issued:

Following the launch last March of the proposal by the Chagos 
Environment Network to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for the 
Chagos Archipelago, experts gathered at Royal Holloway, University of 
London on 7 January 2010 to consider the socio-economic issues 
surrounding this proposal. This workshop was chaired by Professor David 
Simon, Head of Geography at Royal Holloway, and its findings will 
contribute to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s consultation on the 
Chagos’ MPA.

While the 55 islands of the Chagos Archipelago have a combined land area 
of just 16 sq km, their total Exclusive Economic Zone for jurisdiction 
of marine resources, based on 200 nautical mile limits, is 635,000 sq 
km2 – nearly three times greater than the UK land area. This marine 
space includes abyssal habitats of the open ocean as well as coral reefs 
and banks, and has exceptional biodiversity value due to its species 
richness and the low level of human impacts. The near-pristine Chagos 
Archipelago area provides both a source region and refuge for marine 
life in the wider Indian Ocean.

A workshop held at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton in 
August discussed the science issues and opportunities related to the 
potential creation of a substantial MPA in the Chagos Archipelago.

The principal aim of the workshop at Royal Holloway was to bring 
together participants from Marine Centres, Universities, and NGOs who 
have practical experience of MPA development and management, as well as 
Chagossian, Government and marine industry stakeholders, to discuss 
socio-economic obstacles and opportunities in the context of a possible 
MPA in the Chagos Archipelago. The meeting provided the opportunity for 
input from stakeholder groups, particularly representatives from the 
Chagossian community, the Indian Ocean fishing industry, and the 
Government of Mauritius.

Dr David Bellamy, the world-renowned conservationist, sent a message of 
support: "I am delighted that this workshop took place, and commend the 
organisers for having taken this initiative. It has long been my 
contention that the preservation of this unique Archipelago requires 
everyone to work together - Chagossians, the British and Mauritian 
Governments, scientists, environmentalists and conservationists across a 
wide spectrum of disciplines.”

He adds, “The issues are complex and challenging but with good will and 
cooperation on all sides we can help to bring about a secure future for 
the Chagos Islands that protects the environment and bio-diversity as 
well as the interests of the Chagossian people. Carefully managed, a 
limited resettlement should be compatible with conservation, and indeed 
could enhance the overall protection of the Islands. The challenge to us 
all is to make this possible."

Professor David Simon adds, “This specially convened workshop formed a 
vital step in the contentious process of negotiation over the future 
status of the renowned Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It 
brought together many interested parties and stakeholders who debated 
how to secure the environmental integrity of the islands and their 
marine resources in a manner compatible with the interests of the 
Chagossian people who were evicted some 40 years ago and who may yet 
have their right of return restored by the European Court of Human 
Rights. Viable proposals must also take account of the possible future 
change of sovereignty from Britain to Mauritius. It was a great honour 
to have been asked to host and chair this important event at Royal 

The workshop contributed in important ways to the ongoing debate. For 
many participants, it was their first exposure to the firmly held views 
of the Chagossian representatives. These perspectives, echoed by some 
other participants, informed debate and the strong feeling that the FCO 
consultation required a fourth option that includes resettlement as a 
fundamental component and which would be acceptable to whichever 
government exercised future sovereignty over the archipelago. 
Unfortunately, the Mauritian High Commission withdrew shortly before the 
event due to dissatisfaction with the FCO’s handling of the MPA 
consultation prior to resolving the sovereignty dispute between the two 

Richard P Dunne

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