Friday, December 10, 2010

WIkileaks and Chagos - what we suspected was true.

"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." - HMG Cable May 2009 (09LONDON1156)

According to US information released under the Wikileaks programme on the Chagos Islands, the recently established marine park over the Chagos Is was a deliberate ploy to maintain US-UK defence relations and prevent the return of the islands inhabitants.

The islanders, who were forcibly removed from their Indian Ocean homes from 1968 make space for the US Airforce base of Diego Garcia, have pressed for a right of return across various legal fora. Currently the case is sitting before the European Court of Human Rights. The cable shows that the MPA had been proposed by Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials to preserve the Chagos Archipelago – officially part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and and home to one of the world's most abundant coral reefs – as a military outpost, and prevent the native Chagossians from returning.

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 population is the reason that the BIOT’s uninhabited islands and the surrounding waters are in “pristine” condition."

In addition, the cable specifies, in language eerily reminiscent of colonialism, that "there would be "no human footprints" or "Man Fridays" on the BIOT's uninhabited islands." Establishing a marine park would 
"put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago's former residents". The cable also highlights that the environmental lobby was used to support the case for the park:

"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." 

A sobering but illuminating outcome - but one that may provide additional support to the legal case in the ECHR. The environmental lobbies that supported the MPA should focus their considerable lobby power on supporting the Chagosian right to return and become the owners and managers of the MPA - or the MPA should be revoked and removed in its entirety. This important piece of informaton from Wikileaks  has been very useful in illuminating what many of us suspected in the first place - the FCO used conservation as a means to masquerade and reinforce defence relationships and avoid the resolution of an issue that damages the UK's reputation for human rights.

Make no mistake - the Chagos MPA is NOT about sustainability or conservation.

Sustainable Seas will watch with interest.


  1. For background and further documentation, you may be interested in an essay published in the October issue of 'Environmental Policy and Law':

  2. - Environmental Policy and Law.pdf

  3. Peter...superb paper...thanks for the link. A lot of useful information there.

  4. How can anyone possibly endorse Travis' call that "The environmental lobbies that supported the MPA should focus their considerable lobby power on supporting the Chagosian right to return and become the owners and managers of the MPA - or the MPA should be revoked and removed in its entirety." How irresponsible is that? Sacrifice what is in effect a Wilderness Area the size of France to the economic industries of as few as 5,000 islanders and their descendants, as well as their Mauritian hoteliers and commercial fisheries?

    It is the isolation and uninhabited status of the archipelago and the surrounding seas that make it not only unique in the tropical oceans, but of unimagined value to science and the future. The fact that less than 1/10th of 1% is occupied by a military base is irrelevant because the base practices no extractive activities, abides by strict environmental regulations, and is completely supplied from elsewhere.

    In contrast, for the islanders to resettle islands comprising less than 16 square kms will require the creation of everything needed for the settlers, and all that implies - fuel storage, power generation, water/sewage facilities, and most destructive, air and sea ports. And what will they do to feed themselves and create an economy? The only thing to do (which has been proposed repeatedly by their advocates) is to exploit what is most often described as one of the world's last unspoiled and virtually pristine environments.

    Despite the legalese of my friend Peter's arguments, the clearances of the Chagos were justified in the context of the times, and were nothing more than a Compulsory Purchase, following which the Chagossians initiated lawsuits and received 20 years worth of salary, room and board, and for four years (2000-2004) had the right of return, but not one single islander returned.

    This entire issue is, indeed, not about sustainable seas or conservation. On my side of the issue, it is about preservation, and on the other, it is about money. Otherwise the advocates of the Chagossians would be screaming to return to Diego Garcia - where the infrastructure is already in place, and the jobs awaiting. Instead, they want to team up with the commercial interests of Mauritius and others as, as Travis so blatantly states "owners and managers", operating independently of any conservation concerns.

    Travis' proposal is a travesty, and ensures that there will be no Sustainable Seas in the Chagos - one need only look at Mauritius to see what will happen to the Chagos under Travis' proposal.

    The real solution to benefit the islands, the oceans and the Chagossians, is for the UK to reestablish the community (for those who want to go) on Diego Garcia, where they can tie in to the existing infrastructure, work on the base, and sally forth to act as wardens for the MPA. But you will never hear that proposal from the "Let Them Return!" advocates, because that means the Chagossians would remain British Citizens and there would be no 5-star eco-tourist hotels (a potential loss) nor any commercial factory ships catching every last tuna (the last license lapsed in November - so that is an actual loss of revenue).

    It sounds to me that Travis has joined the ranks of the commercial interests anxious to despoil the Chagos, or is at least one of their spokespersons...

    For a history of the Chagossians that dispels the mythology with documentation, try

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Thanks for the contribution and further information. First I must point out Mr Morris, if you would oblige to read down and look at other posts you will clearly see that this blog is about sustainable use of the sea, that includes people, society, industry, protected areas and conservation. However, as you clearly point out, this issue for many green advocates is about preservation - not sustainability. IN the past 12 months the UK government has endorsed at all levels principles of oceans governance and development that include people and ecosystems, social justice and ecology. In fact one cannot be separated from the other. However, in the case of Chagos, these principles have been conveniently set aside and ignored when it comes to the establishment of the Chagos MPA. That is the issue that this blog has debated.

    Bad was never about preservation the wiki cables identify. Its a paper park purely designed to keep people out. The right of return issue is being tested in the European Court of Human Rights.

    I for one would very much support the right of displaced Chagossians to return to Diego Garcia and integrate with the existing base, start businesses, and enjoy and use the ecosystem services that the pristine environment offers. Locking people out from their home, on the basis of a defence contract and a forced green utopia is not the basis of sustainable development. Ultimately, it is up to the Chagossians to decide how to use their resources, and one would hope responsibly and within the limits of the natural system. And tourism and sustainable fisheries could be a part of that use- as can conservation. While MPAs can be a successful approach for managing and restoring ecosystems, in this case, an MPA has been used to violate human rights.

    I’ll end with a passage from ‘in their own words’ (

    We had and lived a life that was our own. We had our own traditions, culture, norms and values. We may physically look like the Mauritian or Seychelles ‘Creoles’, i.e people of African origin, we may also share, to some extent, the same language, but the comparison stops there. We cook our food differently, drink different drinks, sing, speak, dance, live, have fun and think differently. Although we speak ‘Creole’, we have a large number of expressions which come from the Chagos, which we use in our daily lives and which other Creoles in the Indian Ocean do not use or understand. We have our own festivities. ……………We have been forced to adapt to and adopt another culture, another way of living, which, frankly speaking, we do not like.

    That is how we used to live, like a family where family values were very strong and respected. We have now lost all this and we are all torn apart today.

  7. Travis: "Ultimately, it is up to the Chagossians to decide how to use their resources"

    Hear hear. That's why it's so great that the British government have now called a halt to commercial fishing. If Chagos belongs to the Chagossians, what right have the British to profit from its resources?

  8. SOrry folks... its Tavis (not Travis!) :)

  9. Tavis

    What exactly is your beef against the Chagos marine park?

    Are you against marine parks per se, or this one in particular?

    The sovereignty and human rights issues are legally distinct from the marine conservation issues. Every time a fishing licence was issued by the BIOT Government it was an act of sovereignty in every way as explicit as establishing a marine reserve. The human rights issues will ultimately be resolved in Court and the marine park will not be a relevant consideration for that hearing. Since the fishery traditionally ran at a significant loss, the BIOT earned less in licences than it had to pay for enforcement, there is no economic incentive for the continuation of the fishery, and any government of the area will be left with a management headache.

    Polemic language about empire doesn't really help this debate, it could just as easily be directed at the Franco's Spain which used expansionist imperial aspirations to dominate global fisheries (indeed there were Spanish boats fishing off Chagos until the closure) ...... but such a reductionist analysis doesn't really go anywhere sensible .... we might just as well say that the closure in fact represented the eternal tussle between the British and Spanish fleets which has been going on sporadically since the Spanish Armada .... great fun for academics I am sure but not entirely practical.

    Why fish everywhere?


  10. Ted’s observation that “[t]he fact that less than 1/10th of 1% is occupied by a military base is irrelevant because the base practices no extractive activities, abides by strict environmental regulations, and is completely supplied from elsewhere” needs to be put into context – the 3.6km airport runway of the military base in Diego Garcia was built on crushed coral – which required dynamiting and dredging more than 4.5million m³ of coral reef (see Peter Sand’s article, posted above). Were the “strict environmental regulations” conveniently set aside for this construction? And doesn’t this smack of the more global pattern of the “developed” world exploiting resources for its own enrichment, and preaching a “green” rhetoric after the event?

    I always become wary when I see labels being pinned on people – eg describing Tavis as a spokesperson for commercial interests. When we label things, we are inhabiting a black and white world where “good “ and “bad” are clearly defined and separate. In psychological terms, the ego (by which I mean one’s self-constructed sense of identity rather than the common understanding of the term) operates in this dualistic realm. When the ego is threatened, it naturally seeks to strengthen itself by defining what is threatening it as “opposite” or “other”. This feeds conflict, which the ego loves, because it strengthens it even more – it now has enemies and adversaries to fight against for what the ego believes is “right” and “good”. This observation is not intended to devalue Ted’s comments. Rather, once again, the intention is to set such comments in context, more specifically in the context of how we, as human beings, act (or, more usually, react). I can hear a real concern for the natural environment in Ted’s comments and I can relate to that, as it is important for me that I live as gently as possible on the earth and I try to reflect that in the choices that I make, for myself. But I can also relate to the plight of the Chagossians and the social injustice that they perceive as having been perpetrated against them. I am very aware that, in the words of Nietzsche, I only have a “perspective seeing, a perspective knowing”. My vision of the world is necessarily limited by my own ego filters and blinkers, but in my experience, awareness of this has sometimes allowed the filters and blinkers to shift, even temporarily, and allow a broader vision to come through. So I try to remain open to the possibility of catching a glimpse of that broader vision.

    It is ironic that Tom’s post talks about human rights and marine conservation being legally distinct, when in the next paragraph he refers to a “reductionist analysis” being unhelpful. Viewing humans and nature as distinct is simply feeding another reductionist analysis, albeit a different one. I believe that the complexity of the natural world is mirrored by the complexity of the inner world of human beings. And I don’t believe that they are separate. Biological diversity and cultural diversity enrich each other, but it’s hard to see that if caring about human as well as non-human species is labelled as being a spokesperson for commercial interests or as being against marine parks.

    Rumi once said “Out beyond the realms of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there”. It’s not easy to get to this field – the ego tries every trick in the book to stop us reaching it – because the more time we spend there, the more the ego-illusion softens and dissolves. And that’s when we really start to see.

  11. Simple answer to this one - the land should be given back to them. Anything less is insufficient.