"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.