Wednesday 31 March 2010

Conservation against humans

Geoffrey Lean in The Telegraph today, March 31st:

At first sight it looks great, doesn’t it? Create the world’s biggest marine reserve, larger than mainland France, in one if its most pristine stretches of ocean, home to unspoiled corals and rare fish and other life. But Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is expected imminently to decide in favour of it, and supportive environmental and scientific organisations – ranging from Greenpeace to the august Royal Society – risk setting the cause of conservation back decades.

Not that the area isn’t worthy of preservation. The Chagos Archipelago – 55 islands spread over 210,000 square miles in the middle of the Indian Ocean – is home to fully half of its remaining healthy coral reefs and over a thousand species of fish, including 60 critically endangered ones. Dubbed the ocean’s Galapagos, it is one of its key nurseries of life, giving birth to larvae and young fish that populate the entire region, and providing a critical breeding area for dolphins, sharks and turtles. On this basis, it’s scarcely surprising that the organisations – others include Kew Gardens, London Zoo and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – support plans to ban fishing, construction and other human activities there.

Except that the islands are also home to people, or ought to be. Britain forcibly removed their 2,000 inhabitants in the 1970s to make way for a US base that now dominates Diego Garcia, their principal atoll. They have been fighting to return for decades, winning cases in British courts only to lose ultimately in the House of Lords two years ago, and gaining the support of the then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in 2000, only to see the Government overturn his decision after 9/11.

They are taking their case this summer to European Court of Human Rights. But the bans would deny them a means of making a living, so they understandably view the proposed reserve as a cynical plan to make their return impossible. And their suspicions are only deepened by the fact that the base would be exempted from the restrictions, even though its 3,200 inhabitants do far more damage to the environment than they would ever be likely to perpetrate.

The plan and its supporting organisations appear to be flying in the face of probably the most important development in conservation over the past 30 years, a growing realisation that respect for nature has to go hand in hand with concern for local people – indeed, that it can only be assured when it benefits them as well as wildlife. Now the evicted people of the islands are bitterly pointing out that they being accorded less rights than the area’s sea slugs. How could they possibly be expected to respect the reserve if they win the right to return?

The plan’s supporters say that, if the islanders do win, the rules of the reserve would have to be amended to allow them to live there. At the very least Mr Miliband should spell this out, go into specifics, and cast a guarantee in stone. But, even so, the islanders have good reason to be deeply cynical about British Government promises. Why not at least wait until after the European Court has made a decision and then work with the islanders, whether they won or lost, to create something commanding their support as well as that of conservationists? Could it possibly be that an unseemly rush to establish a green legacy before the General Election is far more important to Mr Miliband than either the wildlife or people of the Chagos Archipelago?

- Quoted in entirety to spare you the "comment'-section.

Let the people go

Sean Carey in The New Statesman:

Whoever came up with the bright idea that turning the Chagos Archipelago, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, into a Marine Protected Area (MPA) would be a fitting and lasting legacy for Gordon Brown's premiership must be scratching his or her head. The two genies -- Mauritius's claim to the territory and the position of the exiled Chagos Islanders who were removed from their homeland by the British authorities -- are now well and truly out of the bottle.

Further reading.

Biodiversity hotspot with bunkerbusters and without original population

The 55 islands of the Chagos archipelago 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.
Further reading.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

The twenty-eight collaborating "nations"

..some of them no nation at all, or a nation deported:.

DIEGO GARCIA(UK): a British possession in the Indian Ocean the U.S. has transformed into a powerful military base to dominate the Middle East and Asia. Reportedly, the CIA has a facility there that was used in 2005-06 to hold Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a Syrian-Spanish national. According to Reprieve, “the UK has a significant military and administrative presence on Diego Garcia, which has its own independent administration run by the East Africa Desk of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.” Reprieve further stated, “In October, 2003, Time Magazine cited interrogation records from the US prisoner Hambali that had reportedly been taken on the island, while respected international investigators at the Council of Europe and the United Nations expressed similar suspicions. US officials went on to make seemingly careless public statements confirming the use of Diego Garcia for secret detentions.”
Further reading.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Questions around bunker busters on Diego Garcia

The Sunday Herald reports:

The Foreign Office is coming under mounting pressure to tell the truth about whether there are plans by the US to use the British island of Diego Garcia as a base to launch an attack on Iran.
Leading opposition politicians are demanding answers from UK ministers on the role played by the Indian Ocean atoll in previous attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, and in any future strikes.
Last week, the Sunday Herald revealed 387 bunker buster bombs were being shipped to Diego Garcia by the US. Some experts suggested the move could be in preparation for a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Further reading 

Tuesday 16 March 2010

US gearing up for attack

..says The Sunday Herald

Hundreds of powerful US “bunker-buster” bombs are being shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.

The Sunday Herald can reveal that the US government signed a contract in January to transport 10 ammunition containers to the island. According to a cargo manifest from the US navy, this included 387 “Blu” bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures.

Experts say that they are being put in place for an assault on Iran’s controversial nuclear facilities. There has long been speculation that the US military is preparing for such an attack, should diplomacy fail to persuade Iran not to make nuclear weapons.

Although Diego Garcia is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, it is used by the US as a military base under an agreement made in 1971. The agreement led to 2,000 native islanders being forcibly evicted to the Seychelles and Mauritius.

The Sunday Herald reported in 2007 that stealth bomber hangers on the island were being equipped to take bunker-buster bombs.

Further reading.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Call to action for British readers

Diane Abbott MP has tabled Early Day Motion 960, available to view here, which calls on the Government to withdraw its case from the European Court of Human Rights, conclude a “friendly settlement” with the Chagossians and make provision for a resettlement of the Chagos islands.

EDMs are essentially a way of gauging parliamentary support for a given issue, and so it is crucial that as many MPs as possible sign up to Ms Abbott’s motion.

The Write To Them website makes it quick and easy for you to lobby your elected representatives on this issue.  If you do, you may wish to consider asking them the following questions.  Note that it is very important to request a response from them, even if they choose not to sign the EDM!
  • Will you sign Diane Abbott’s EDM 960 on the Chagos Islands?
  • If not, will you give me your reasons for declining to do so?
  • Will you write to Gordon Brown and/or the Foreign Secretary asking him to make restitution with the Chagossians and restore their right of abode?
  • Will you include a support for the Chagossians’ rights in your manifesto at the next election?
  • Will you consider becoming active in the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group?

Forgotten Island

 Alex Doherty

Diego Garcia is the largest island in the Chagos archipelago - a group of more than fifty islands in the Indian Ocean. Formerly part of the British colony of Mauritius Diego Garcia is now a huge American naval base. Used to launch strikes against Iraq both during "Operation Desert Storm" and during the recent invasion Diego Garcia was also a vital asset in the bombing of another essentially defenceless target- Afghanistan.

When Mauritius was negotiating its independence the British Government insisted that the Chagos islands must remain under British sovereignty. Unknown to the Mauritian government the British had already made a deal to lease the islands to the United States. However as a condition of the deal the US insisted that the islands must be emptied of its human population and so from 1968 to 1974 Britain carried out, in secret, the removal of the entire population of the islands.

Interestingly Diego Garcia was not the US’ preferred [site] for its naval base; they had originally favoured the island of Aldabra. However that island was populated by a rare species of tortoise and the US feared that any attempt to disturb them might lead to an embarrassing confrontation with publicity savvy green activists. They guessed, rightly as it turned out, that while the removal of endangered tortoises would raise protest, the removal of mere human beings would elicit rather less concern.

A variety of methods were employed to spirit the population from the islands. Chagossian's making routine trips to Mauritius were simply barred from returning to the islands, others were lured by offers of free trips to the mainland and were never to return. Finally Britain forcibly removal of the remaining population. In 1966 foreign office diplomat Dennis Greenhill remarked, with all the studied indifference of Britain's educated elite, that: "along with the birds go some... Man Fridays whose origins are obscure"

Most of these "Man Fridays", who now number around five thousand individuals, found themselves living in the slums of the Mauritian capital Port Louis. Some died of starvation whilst the rest scraped a bare existence working in the lowest paid jobs. Unemployment amongst the Chagossians is high; they are discriminated against and have found adapting to life in Mauritius unbearably hard.

British policy during and after the removal process was to "maintain the pretence that there were no permanent inhabitants." This was essential because "to recognise that there are permanent inhabitants will imply that there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded."

Since their forced removal the Chagossians have been campaigning for their right to return to the islands, a campaign that has been frustrated at every turn by successive British governments. In 2000 the campaigners achieved a partial victory in the High Court, which ruled that the removal of the islanders was a "legal failure" and that the islanders could return to the outlying islands (though not Diego Garcia itself). The British Government refused to implement the ruling; making no attempt to rebuild the infrastructure on the outlying islands, whilst falsely claiming that resettlement was not feasible.

On October 9th 2003 the High Court ruled against the islanders' right to return to Diego Garcia claiming, against all the evidence, that "it could not be maintained that Britain had deliberately deceived the Chagossians."

Following the ruling Richard Gifford, a lawyer representing the islanders remarked that "when you have been kicked around for 30 years, you get a bit used to setbacks."

- Looking for the most infamous quote from the Colonial Office in Westminster I only found this story on the net on a site (or a portal?) in Arabic of which I do not understand anything, frankly.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Dénonciation au nom de Maurice de Marine Protected Area

Le Mauricien fait savoir:

À la onzième session spéciale du Conseil d'administration du Programme des Nations unies (PNUE) pour l'environnement/Forum ministériel mondial sur l'environnement, du 24 au 26 février dernier à Bali, Indonésie, le ministre de l'Environnement, Lormus Bundhoo, a fait un vibrant réquisitoire contre la "décision unilatérale" de la Grande Bretagne d'aménager une Marine Protected Area aux Chagos.

"La République de Maurice ne peut permettre des décisions par une tierce partie d'établir une Marine Protected Area sur un territoire qui lui appartient. Je parle ici de la tentative unilatérale de la Grande Bretagne d'établir un parc marin dans l'archipel des Chagos", s'est écrié M. Bundhoo devant un parterre composé de ministres de l'environnement des pays du monde entier, de représentants des agences environnementales internationales et de ceux de diverses agences des Nations unies. Le Secrétaire d'État britannique pour l'Environnement, de l'Alimentation et des Affaires rurales, Hilary Benn, qui agissait en tant que modérateur, était également présent.

"C'est une tentative du Royaume Uni de contourner les voies diplomatiques pour s'accaparer de façon illégale le contrôle et la souveraineté sur les Chagos", a poursuivi le ministre.

"Par conséquent, la République de Maurice réitère son souhait que l'exercice de consultation sur le projet britannique de Marine Protected Area initié par le Foreign Commonwealth Office soit arrêté et que le Consultation Paper, qui est unilatéral et préjudiciable aux intérêts de Maurice, soit retiré".

Lormus Bundhoo a expliqué que le Consultation Paper est une initiative unilatérale de la Grande Bretagne "qui a ignoré les principes convenus et l'esprit des pourparlers en cours entre Maurice et la Grande Bretagne et qui constitue un revers sérieux dans le processus de dialogue".

M. Bundhoo a ensuite exprimé la volonté du gouvernement mauricien de travailler avec les autorités britanniques à l'élaboration d'une proposition conjointe pour protéger l'environnement marin autour de l'archipel des Chagos " qui, de façon significative, prendra en considération la position de Maurice sur la souveraineté de l'archipel et la question du retour des Chagossiens sur leur île". "C'est la seule et unique façon de protéger l'environnement dans et autour de l'archipel des Chagos", a insisté le ministre.

"Maurice recherche le soutien de la communauté internationale et exhorte ceux qui pourraient être tentés de soutenir cette initiative de la Grande Bretagne à revoir leur position eu égard aux faits troublants que la délégation vient de révéler. Nous nous attendons à ce que la communauté internationale s'oppose à toute manœuvre des autorités britanniques qui serait en infraction des lois internationales et des principes fondamentaux des droits de l'homme. Nous croyons fermement que personne ne peut, sous le couvert de la protection de l'environnement, s'arroger le droit de violer les principes fondamentaux des droits de l'homme".

Auparavant, le ministre a rappelé que Maurice a une aussi longue histoire que la Grande Bretagne en matière de la protection de la biodiversité. " Nous sommes non seulement le premier pays au monde à avoir ratifié la Convention sur la Biodiversité, mais nous sommes en train de mettre en œuvre notre Stratégie nationale et notre Plan d'action en matière de protection de notre biodiversité. Sans compter que nous sommes en train de donner vie à notre concept Maurice, Île Durable", a-t-il rappelé.

Friday 5 March 2010

Petition for Chagos nature and humans

The UK Government is considering declaring the Chagos Archipelago the World’s largest Marine Protected Area, in order to conserve its globally important coral reefs and related ecosystems.

This is a unique and vital opportunity for marine conservation, but the issue is not as simple as that.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has launched a consultation on Chagos. The consultation proposes three main options for a Marine Protected Area, all of which exclude any kind of fisheries or similar marine activities within the reef areas.

What these options do not take account of are the wishes of the Chagossian community. The islanders were removed from their homeland by the British Government in the late 1960s and have been campaigning ever since for their right to return.

The full no-take protection of reef areas (as proposed by the consultation) would provide no means for resettled islanders to utilise their marine resources for subsistence or income generation. Communities and Marine Protected Areas coexist across the world, and there is no reason why the islanders could not be successful stewards of their coral reef environment.

We endorse the efforts of the Foreign Secretary to protect the marine ecosystems of the Chagos archipelago but we call on him to work with the Chagos islanders and the Government of Mauritius to devise an MPA solution that makes provision for resettlement and protects Mauritius’ legitimate interests.

Further reading and site to sign on:
This petition was closed on March 5th 2010. Please scroll down for other postings.