Earlier this year there was a debate on Coral List concerning the Chagos
Archipelago and the proposal by the UK Government to implement a Marine
Protected Area (MPA). Readers may recall that the indigenous population
was expelled in the 1960s to make way for the US Military Base on Diego
Garcia. Since that date the Chagossians have been denied a right of
abode and most recently had pursued their case to the European Court of
Human Rights (ECtHR). The case was due to be heard later this year.
On 1 April 2010 the former Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, announced
the UK’s intention to implement a MPA in the Chagos Archipelago. To date
no further action had been taken pending a Judicial Review of that
declaration by the Chagossians which was filed in the UK Courts in August.
In a remarkable about turn, the new Coalition Government revealed in a
letter from Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP dated 9 September that it is
abandoning its defence of the ECtHR case, “opting instead for a friendly
settlement” with the Chagossians. Furthermore the letter declared that
“The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is also committed to a fair
settlement of this long-standing dispute. Steps have already been taken
to ensure their [Chagossians] return.”
This is wonderful news for everyone. It ensures that the Marine
Protected Area now has a real chance of being implemented, that the
islanders will be entitled to return and indeed could participate in the
enforcement of the MPA, preventing it from just becoming a “paper park”.
Although the concept of a complete “no-take zone” throughout the MPA,
and an archipelago devoid of any human habitation (apart from the
massive base on Diego) was attractive to certain conservationists and
heavily lobbied by some parties, it was also naive and patently unjust.
Although it is still early days and there will be many issues to be
resolved, we now have the opportunity to move forward with this
important decision, whilst including all the stakeholders.
In addition it has been announced that a Swiss billionaire, Ernesto
Bertarelli, and his British wife are in talks with the UK Government
about providing some of the funding which will be necessary to police
the MPA. It was feared that the spending cuts which the UK Government
has had to make might have prevented the implementation. For the full
It is an important day for both conservation and human rights.
Richard P Dunne
Special thanks to: Coral-List mailing list