Sunday, 30 June 2013

Zoo's Fooling Who?

The Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) stands on a platform of fighting for the right of return for Chagossians who were expelled from their islands.  It represents the largest number of Chagossians, a majority who reject the creation of the Marine Protection Area (MPA) in its existing form.

I explained to a supporter the other week that my own personal position is that I am against the MPA in all of its forms, at least prior to any resettlement of the Chagossians.  I believe that any future discussions around marine preservation should be led by Chagossians, to determine their own destiny.  If they want a marine zone, let them decide for themselves- from the Chagos Islands once they have resettled there.  I believe it is cataclysmically wrong to impose this upon the Chagossians who in all honesty have suffered enough.

It is for this reason that I personally argued so passionately at the beginning of 2010 against the zone being created.  I predicted that the area was being used as a mechanism to pre-empt the judicial action in Strasbourg.  Six months later I was vindicated when the release of the wikileaks cables confirmed that the creation of the zone was being used to place ecologists in direct conflict with Chagossians and their supporters.

Earlier this year I brought to public attention the activities of a minority movement within the Chagossian community who were being misrepresented as the voice of the majority.  As I stated at the time, it would be wrong to deny the Diego Garcian Society (DGS) a role to play in determining the future of the Chagos Islands, but that their contribution should be assessed on the basis that they represent the smallest number of Chagossians.

Similarly a campaign currently being promoted by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to attempt to engage Chagossians in their vision of the future of the Chagos Islands, should not be silenced.  However it is critical again that there must not be a distortion of the current state of play.

The ZSL have made much of Chagossians participating in their series of events including a “family fun day” and it is noted that their campaign does emphasise this point quite explicitly.  The inference being that the Chagossians are endorsing the ZSL’s agenda.  For the avoidance of any doubt, the ZSL support the no-take fishing proposals and the MPA in its existing form which by definition means they are against a permanent resettlement of the Chagossian community on the islands.

There is no dispute that Chagossians have participated in several ZSL events or that some are seen to be supportive of their agenda.  It is just that to date the proportion of Chagossians who have engaged with the ZSL only represent a very small minority, something which is not underlined at all when the organisation highlights the presence of islanders at their functions.  Unfortunately this has created further confusion, coupled with a suggestion that the stance of organisations like the CRG has been damaged or undermined. 

This is not true.  The support for the position adopted by Olivier Bancoult is as strong as ever.  There have always been minority factions who have followed alternative paths, as outlined when I explained the existence of the DGS.  And it is right that different views and arguments should be recognised.  What is not right is for the situation to be manipulated or for inaccuracies to be allowed to fester unchallenged. 

The British Foreign Office has commenced a period of consultation as part of its commitment to “take stock” following last December’s highly contentious European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in Strasbourg.  Supporters and Chagossians are invited to make their submissions before the 31st July 2013 to the BIOT Policy Review team who can be contacted here.

In 2010 we lost the argument not because a majority of Chagossians were in favour of marine preservation.  It was due to the ecological movement, thanks to a decisive financial advantage,  being able to convey their message more effectively.  Over 250,000 people supported the proposal to create an MPA around the Chagos Islands during the initial consultation.  This month it is up to supporters to ensure that the will of the majority of Chagossians is upheld instead of a minority who can utilise powerful allies.

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