Another petition this time by Avaaz that makes little mention of the Chagos Islanders (a simple ‘work with Chagossians‘ without mention of their current dispossession by the UK) who were forcibly removed by the UK government so it could rent the islands (primarily the largest one Diego Garcia) to the US military that uses it to launch bombing raids on the Middle East and transit renditioned captives. This marine conservation proposal is greenwashing a historic ethnic cleansing by the UK on the behalf of the US military, worse is the conservationist lobby are aware of this, the prioritising of their pet project above the rights of the islanders is obscene-
Chairman of the Chagos Refugee Group, Olivier Bancoult, has had a letter published in the influential Science in Parliament journal (reproduced below), taking issue with a number of claims made by the Chagos Environment Network’s Professor Charles Sheppard. In particular, Mr Bancoult refutes Prof Sheppard’s suggestions that a resettlement of the Chagos islands by its indigenous population would be counter-productive to the aim of environmental protection.
In 2009, Prof Sheppard, who is Professor of Marine Sciences at Warwick University but is also employed by the UK Government as its BIOT Scientific Adviser, wrote in Science in Parliament (full text available here) that the environmental conservation of the Chagos islands could be best achieved by keeping the islands free from human habitation:
Examples of good habitat, like that in Chagos, are running out, so should we now revert to preserving a few ‘legacy’ areas which, on one hand, are in good condition now for whatever reason, and on the other have a good chance of remaining so? Candidate sites are few and diminishing, and we must remember that once gone, all past evidence shows that we cannot get it back.
Chagos is probably the only remaining site in the Indian Ocean where this could work. The social dimension may still need a solution, but the science is pretty clear – the ocean needs Chagos as it is.
The signal from this passage is that Prof Sheppard’s vision for marine protection in Chagos simply does not include the Chagossians. Rather, Prof Sheppard seems to unashamedly prioritise the goal of conservation far higher than the need to address the rights of the archipelago’s indigenous people – two things that he appears to portray as being mutually exclusive.
Let there be no doubt: keeping Chagos “as it is” would involving keeping the Chagossians in exile.
In response to criticism of its campaign, the CEN has been at pains to stress that it is not opposed to a Chagossian resettlement of their islands, instead suggesting that their proposals for a no-take reserve in Chagos are entirely “without prejudice” to the possibility of resettlement. However, the content of this article from Prof Sheppard – who is listed as an individual member of the CEN coalition alongside organisations like the Pew Environment Group and the RSPB – calls that claim into question.
In his letter to Science in Parliament, Mr Bancoult takes issue with Prof Sheppard’s claims.
He points out that Sheppard is wrong to argue that attempts at involving local people in husbanding their environments have invariably failed, citing Elinor Ostrom’s work on how user-managed natural resources can actually be preserved much better than those covered by Government regulation (work for which Ostrom was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Economics last year).
Mr Bancoult further cites UN Environment Programme studies into coral conservation, “community-based habitat regeneration and site preservation activities” in the neighbouring Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, as well as ongoing conservation activities in Mauritius as reasons why Prof Sheppard’s dismissal of community engagement is unfounded.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Mr Bancoult directly challenges the credibility of Prof Sheppard’s claim that “a recent survey” of Chagossians had indicated that “only about a dozen individuals [would] wish to return permanently.”
In fact, Mr Bancoult points out that, to his organisation’s knowledge, no such survey has taken place in either Mauritius or the Seychelles, where the majority of Chagossians now live (given that the CRG is the biggest Chagossian organisation, it is likely that its members would have heard of such a survey if it existed). Furthermore, estimates by the CRG have concluded that as many as 150 Chagossian families want to return to their islands.
Far better is this petition which I urge you to sign-
The Marine Education Trust’s petition to “protect both the marine ecosystem of the Chagos archipelago and the rights of its exiled community” has reached over 1,400 signatures. The petition can still be signed by clicking this link.
The MET is calling upon the FCO to devise and implement a ”fourth option” for a marine protected area (MPA) in Chagos, acknowledging that the three options laid down in the FCO’s consultation document are inadequate because they (i) do not provide for either the rights of the Chagossians or the interests of the Government of Mauritius, and therefore (ii) seriously jeopardise both the short- and the long-term viability of an MPA in the Chagos islands.
In adopting this stance, the MET is joined by other respected organisations such as the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, the Natural Resource Defence Committee and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, as well as the hundreds of scientists, ecologists, conservationists, academics, activists, students, lawyers, politicians, parliamentarians and others who have signed its petition.
As has been previously discussed on this website, the MET petition is markedly different from another petition doing the rounds on the Internet: that of the Chagos Environment Network (CEN).
In contrast to the MET’s proposal for a “fourth option,” the CEN’s Protect Chagospetition has disingenuously sought to present the FCO’s consultation as a binary “Yes or No” choice: “Do you want to protect Chagos or not?” Of course, the issues are much, much more complicated than this: the FCO is conducting a consultation, not a ”tick any box” referendum!