(BIOT – British Indian Ocean Territory consists of 55 tiny islands and a quarter of a million square miles of ocean)
The Foreign Secretary David Miliband has today announced the creation of a marine protected area (MPA) in the Chagos islands. The full text of his statement is available below.
Whilst committing the Government to the establishment of an MPA, Mr Miliband’s (no doubt carefully worded) statement frustratingly leaves open several key questions that the UK Chagos Support Association will be working to find answers to over the coming days and weeks.
In particular, the statement does not make clear whether the “no-take” marine reserve – the area within which any and all commercial fishing is comprehensively banned, which supporters of the Chagossians’ right of return believe would severely jeopardise their chances of resettling the islands – will stretch to include the entirety of the British Indian Ocean Territory, or whether ‘zones’ could be established within which limited, sustainable fishing could take place.
Secondly, the statement is careful to point out that the Government will “continue to work closely with all interested stakeholders” when implementing the MPA. Leaving aside the questionable usage of the word ‘continue,’ this does clearly leave open the possibility that the Chagossians – the indigenous people of the archipelago – could be involved in the planning, creation, and management of the eventual MPA; after all, even the FCO recognised the islanders as “stakeholders” during its consultation process.
Of course, it speaks volumes that the Chagossians are not mentioned once in the Foreign Secretary’s statement. This is a disgusting attempt to ignore the Chagossians’ campaign for justice that should be completely and comprehensively condemned.
The above questions notwithstanding, it is nevertheless bitterly disappointing that the Government has felt it appropriate to make its announcement now, whilst Parliament is on recess, in flagrant contradiction of assurances given by FCO Minister Ivan Lewis earlier this month that MPs would be kept informed about developments.
Similarly, it is of serious concern that this decision has been arrived at so quickly, just weeks after the conclusion of the consultation, and after the FCO’s own Facilitator is on record as stating that a response would take at least three months to produce.
The tone of Mr Miliband’s statement can also be observed to closely mirror those made before the consultation took place, which raises questions as to how much importance was genuinely attached to the outcome of the consultation: have the alternatives put forward by supporters of the Chagossians really been considered? And if so, why were they rejected?
So far, little has been offered in the way of explanation.
David Miliband’s statement is undoubtedly an affront to the Chagossians and to all of those who believe in the Chagossians’ right of return. However, it will not spell the end of the campaign for justice.