Marine conservation zones as cultural genocide? The British marine reserve in the Chagos islands was a deliberate attempt to prevent the return of the evicted Chagossians to Diego Garcia, one of America’s crucial military bases in the Indian Ocean. The Chagos reserve was modeled on the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument and the proposed Mariana Island National Marine Monument, both of which contain broad exemptions for the military. Mahalo to Marta Duenas for sharing the following comments and article:
The displacement of the Chagossian people of the island of Diego Garcia is justified using references to “strategic” purposes and “security.” These are the exact terms used in the rationale & promotion of the military buildup in Guam. The British Indian Ocean Territory – BIOT which encompasses the 55 islands surrounding and including Diego Garcia, and the Mariana Island National Marine Monument prohibit activities in the area. Military activities are EXEMPT from any of the prohibitions and regulations.
Diego Garcia and the Mariana Islands are poised to fulfill the United States Department of Defense “Full Spectrum Dominance Vision 2020.”
The Guardian UK
Wikileaks Cables Reveal Foreign Office Mislead Parliament Over Diego Garcia
UK official told Americans that marine park plan would end the ‘Man Fridays’ hopes of ever returning home
Rob Evans and Richard Norton-Taylor
Thursday, 2 December 2010
Diego Garcia islanders protest WikiLeaks cables suggest the Foreign Office knows its plan to declare Diego Garcia a marine park will end any chance of islanders winning the right to return Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian
The Foreign Office misled parliament over the plight of thousands of islanders who were expelled from their Indian Ocean homeland to make way for a large US military base, according to secret US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
More than 2,000 islanders – described privately by the Foreign Office as “Man Fridays” – were evicted from the British colony of Diego Garcia in the 1960s and 1970s. The Foreign Office, backed by the US, has fought a long legal battle to prevent them returning home.
The islanders’ quest to go back will be decided by a ruling, expected shortly, from the European court of human rights.
New leaked documents show the Foreign Office has privately admitted its latest plan to declare the islands the world’s largest marine protection zone will end any chance of them being repatriated.
The admission is at odds with public claims by Foreign Office ministers that the proposed park would have no effect on the islanders’ right of return. They have claimed the marine park was a ploy to block their return, claiming it would make it impossible for them to live there as it would ban fishing, their main livelihood.
The disclosure follows years of criticism levelled at Whitehall over the harsh treatment of the islanders, many of whom have lived in poverty in other countries since their deportation.
In the past, National Archive documents have revealed how the Foreign Office consistently lied about the eviction, maintaining the fiction that the islanders had not been permanent residents.
The latest leaked documents are US state department cables recording private meetings between Foreign Office mandarins and their American counterparts.
In May 2009, Colin Roberts, the Foreign Office director of overseas territories, told the Americans Diego Garcia’s value in “assuring the security of the US and UK” had been “much more than anyone foresaw” in the 1960s, when the plan to set up the base was hatched.
“We do not regret the removal of the population since removal was necessary for [Diego Garcia] to fulfil its strategic purpose,” he added under a passage that the Americans headed “Je ne regrette rien”.
Roberts, admitting the government was “under pressure” from the islanders, told the US of the plan to set up the marine park on 55 islands around Diego Garcia, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). “Roberts stated that, according to [Her Majesty’s government’s] current thinking on a reserve, there would be ‘no human footprints’ or ‘Man Fridays’ on the BIOT uninhabited islands,” according to the American account of the meeting. The language echoes that used in 1966 when Denis Greenhill – later the Foreign Office’s most senior official – described the inhabitants as “a few Tarzans and Man Fridays”.
The leaked documents also record that Roberts “asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents”.
This private stance differs from the Foreign Office’s public line in April when a series of MPs asked if the marine park ruled out the islanders, known as Chagossians, ever returning home.
The Foreign Office told parliament the proposed park “will not have any direct or indirect effect on the rights or otherwise of Chagossians to return to the islands. These are two entirely separate issues”.
Leading conservation groups have supported the marine park plan. Roberts is quoted as telling the Americans that Britain’s “environmental lobby is far more powerful than the [islanders’] advocates”.
Attached is a copy of the cable archived by Wikileaks:
|HMG FLOATS PROPOSAL FOR MARINE RESERVE COVERING
|C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 001156
EO 12958 DECL: 05/13/2029
Classified By: Political Counselor Richard Mills for reasons 1.4 b and d
¶1. (C/NF) Summary. HMG would like to establish a “marine park” or “reserve” providing comprehensive environmental protection to the reefs and waters of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official informed Polcouns on May 12. The official insisted that the establishment of a marine park — the world’s largest — would in no way impinge on USG use of the BIOT, including Diego Garcia, for military purposes. He agreed that the UK and U.S. should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that U.S. interests were safeguarded and the strategic value of BIOT was upheld. He said that the BIOT’s former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve. End Summary.
Protecting the BIOT’s Waters
¶2. (C/NF) Senior HMG officials support the establishment of a “marine park” or “reserve” in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which includes Diego Garcia, Colin Roberts, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) Director, Overseas Territories, told the Political Counselor May 12. Noting that the uninhabited islands of the Chagos Archipelago are already protected under British law from development or other environmental harm but that current British law does not provide protected status for either reefs or waters, Roberts affirmed that the bruited proposal would only concern the “exclusive zone” around the islands. The resulting protected area would constitute “the largest marine reserve in the world.”
¶3. (C/NF) Roberts iterated strong UK “political support” for a marine park; “Ministers like the idea,” he said. He stressed that HMG’s “timeline” for establishing the park was before the next general elections, which under British law must occur no later than May 2010. He suggested that the exact terms of the proposals could be defined and presented at the U.S.-UK annual political-military consultations held in late summer/early fall 2009 (exact date TBD). If the USG would like to discuss the issue prior to those talks, HMG would be open for discussion through other channels — in any case, the FCO would keep Embassy London informed of development of the idea and next steps. The UK would like to “move forward discussion with key international stakeholders” by the end of 2009. He said that HMG had noted the success of U.S. marine sanctuaries in HAWAII and the Marianas Trench. (Note: Roberts was referring to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. End Note.) He asserted that the Pew Charitable Trust, which has proposed a BIOT marine reserve, is funding a public relations campaign in support of the idea. He noted that the trust had backed the HAWAIIan reserve and is well-regarded within British governmental circles and the larger British environmental community.
Three Sine Qua Nons: U.S. Assent…
¶4. (C/NF) According to Roberts, three pre-conditions must be met before HMG could establish a park. First, “we need to make sure the U.S. government is comfortable with the idea. We would need to present this proposal very clearly to the American administration…All we do should enhance base security or leave it unchanged.” Polcouns expressed appreciation for this a priori commitment, but stressed that the 1966 U.S.-UK Exchange of Notes concerning the BIOT would, in any event, require U.S. assent to any significant change of the BIOT’s status that could impact the BIOT’s strategic use. Roberts stressed that the proposal “would have no impact on how Diego Garcia is administered as a base.” In response to a request for clarification on this point from Polcouns, Roberts asserted that the proposal would have absolutely no impact on the right of U.S. or British military vessels to use the BIOT for passage, anchorage, prepositioning, or other uses. Polcouns rejoined that
¶5. (C/NF) Ashley Smith, the Ministry of Defense’s (MOD) International Policy and Planning Assistant Head, Asia Pacific, who also participated in the meeting, affirmed that the MOD “shares the same concerns as the U.S. regarding security” and would ensure that security concerns were fully and properly addressed in any proposal for a marine park. Roberts agreed, stating that “the primary purpose of the BIOT is security” but that HMG could also address environmental concerns in its administration of the BIOT. Smith added that the establishment of a marine reserve had the potential to be a “win-win situation in terms of establishing situational awareness” of the BIOT. He stressed that HMG sought “no constraints on military operations” as a result of the establishment of a marine park.
¶7. (C/NF) Roberts acknowledged that “we need to find a way to get through the various Chagossian lobbies.” He admitted that HMG is “under pressure” from the Chagossians and their advocates to permit resettlement of the “outer islands” of the BIOT. He noted, without providing details, that “there are proposals (for a marine park) that could provide the Chagossians warden jobs” within the BIOT. However, Roberts stated that, according to the HGM,s current thinking on a reserve, there would be “no human footprints” or “Man Fridays” on the BIOT’s uninhabited islands. He asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents. Responding to Polcouns’ observation that the advocates of Chagossian resettlement continue to vigorously press their case, Roberts opined that the UK’s “environmental lobby is far more powerful than the Chagossians’ advocates.” (Note: One group of Chagossian litigants is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) the decision of Britain’s highest court to deny “resettlement rights” to the islands’ former inhabitants. See below at paragraph 13 and reftel. End Note.)
Je Ne Regrette Rien
¶8. (C/NF) Roberts observed that BIOT has “served its role very well,” advancing shared U.S.-UK strategic security objectives for the past several decades. The BIOT “has had a great role in assuring the security of the UK and U.S. — much more than anyone foresaw” in the 1960s, Roberts emphasized. “We do not regret the removal of the population,” since removal was necessary for the BIOT to fulfill its strategic purpose, he said. Removal of the
Administering a Reserve
¶9. (C/NF) Roberts acknowledged that numerous technical questions needed to be resolved regarding the establishment and administration of a marine park, although he described the governmental “act” of declaring a marine park as a relatively straightforward and rapid process. He noted that the establishment of a marine reserve would require permitting scientists to visit BIOT, but that creating a park would help restrict access for non-scientific purposes. For example, he continued, the rules governing the park could strictly limit access to BIOT by yachts, which Roberts referred to as “sea gypsies.”
BIOT: More Than Just Diego Garcia
¶10. (C/NF) Following the meeting with Roberts, Joanne Yeadon, Head of the FCO’s Overseas Territories Directorate’s BIOT and Pitcairn Section, who also attended the meeting with Polcouns, told Poloff that the marine park proposal would “not impact the base on Diego Garcia in any way” and would have no impact on the parameters of the U.S.-UK 1966 exchange of notes since the marine park would “have no impact on defense purposes.” Yeadon averred that the provision of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea guaranteed free passage of vessels, including military vessels, and that the presence of a marine park would not diminish that right.
¶11. (C/NF) Yeadon stressed that the exchange of notes governed more than just the atoll of Diego Garcia but expressly provided that all of the BIOT was “set aside for defense purposes.” (Note: This is correct. End Note.) She urged Embassy officers in discussions with advocates for the Chagossians, including with members of the “All Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos Islands (APPG),” to affirm that the USG requires the entire BIOT for defense purposes. Making this point would be the best rejoinder to the Chagossians’ assertion that partial settlement of the outer islands of the Chagos Archipelago would have no impact on the use of Diego Garcia. She described that assertion as essentially irrelevant if the entire BIOT needed to be uninhabited for defense purposes.
¶12. (C/NF) Yeadon dismissed the APPG as a “persistent” but relatively non-influential group within parliament or with the wider public. She said the FCO had received only a handful of public inquiries regarding the status of the BIOT. Yeadon described one of the Chagossians’ most outspoken advocates, former HMG High Commissioner to Mauritius David Snoxell, as “entirely lacking in influence” within the FCO. She also asserted that the Conservatives, if in power after the next general election, would not support a Chagossian right of return. She averred that many members of the Liberal Democrats (Britain’s third largest party after Labour and the Conservatives) supported a “right of return.”
¶13. (C/NF) Yeadon told Poloff May 12, and in several prior meetings, that the FCO will vigorously contest the Chagossians’ “right of return” lawsuit before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). HMG will argue that the ECHR lacks jurisdiction over the BIOT in the present case. Roberts stressed May 12 (as has Yeadon on previous occasions) that the outer islands are “essentially uninhabitable” and could only be rendered livable by modern, Western standards with a massive infusion of cash.
¶14. (C/NF) Regardless of the outcome of the ECHR case, however, the Chagossians and their advocates, including the “All Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos Islands (APPG),” will continue to press their case in the court of public
¶15. (C/NF) Comment Continued. We do not doubt the current government’s resolve to prevent the resettlement of the islands’ former inhabitants, although as FCO Parliamentary Under-Secretary Gillian Merron noted in an April parliamentary debate, “FCO will continue to organize and fund visits to the territory by the Chagossians.” We are not as sanguine as the FCO’s Yeadon, however, that the Conservatives would oppose a right of return. Indeed, MP Keith Simpson, the Conservatives’ Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, stated in the same April parliamentary debate in which Merron spoke that HMG “should take into account what I suspect is the all-party view that the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognized, and that there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands, if not the inner islands.” Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO’s Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the BIOT. End Comment.
DE RUEHLO #1156/01 1350700
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