Zerbanoo and Richard Gifford have worked long and hard on this issue – see one of several references on this website.
A Moseley reader recently sent a link leading to the good news that the UK’s claim of sovereignty over the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice at the Hague (above), the United Nations’ highest court, which ordered Britain to hand them back as soon as possible. The full article may be read here.
The case was referred to the court, which hears rival legal submissions over international boundaries, after an overwhelming vote in 2017 in the UN assembly in the face of fierce opposition from a largely isolated UK.
Delivering the lengthy judgment, the president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the detachment of the Chagos archipelago in 1965 from Mauritius had not been based on a “free and genuine expression of the people concerned”.
He added: “The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible.”
The UK retained possession of the Chagos archipelago, which includes the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia, after Mauritius gained its independence in 1968, effectively paying Mauritius more than £4m for the islands.
About 1,500 native islanders were deported so the largest island could be leased to the US for the airbase in 1971. They have never been allowed to return home.
In its submission to the ICJ last year, Mauritius argued it was coerced into giving up the Chagos Islands. That separation was in breach of UN resolution 1514, passed in 1960, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies before independence, lawyers for Mauritius said.
Prof Philippe Sands QC, who represented Mauritius at The Hague, said: “The court has given a crystal-clear verdict, which upholds the rule of law. This a historic and landmark judgment. It will be for Mauritius and the UK to sit down and implement this advisory opinion. It will be for Mauritius now to decide on the resettlement of the islanders. There’s no veto at the UN general assembly. It will decide how to go forward with the matter”.
David Snoxell, coordinator of the all-party parliamentary group in the Chagos Islands, said: “Opinion in the UN and the Commonwealth is highly critical of our policy towards Chagos. The UK’s reputation and human rights record suffer. Litigation costs to the taxpayer multiply. Her Majesty’s government should seize the opportunity to engage in serious discussions with Mauritius for an overall settlement. There is no defence, security, political or legal reason to delay it any longer.”
In May, Zerbanoo, with her biographer, Farida Master, spread the word about ASHA on a biography tour in America.
In November, she was invited to speak at Dublin University Undergraduate Awards because of her book on Thomas Clarkson, the abolitionist, after whom they have named their global awards.
- Asha’s Erasmus+ courses and volunteering programme have continued throughout the year and we have again welcomed hundreds of young people from European countries to engage in meaningful and life-changing activities. Zerbanoo comments, “There is certainly no Brexit at ASHA!”
To see a summary of this course’s activity and explore a little of the site. click on the link below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7msanLMu_D4
- In August the seventh batch of 24 young Indian women came for their annual visit, culminating in a spectacular graduation performance at a theatre in Gloucester.
- Since summer the Asha team has been joined by a number of younger team members to help to diversify and expand their work; each one of them is managing an exciting new project. Next year in March, they are hosting the first ever World Zoroastrian Youth Leaders Forum to help envision and shape the future of the Zoroastrian community.
- Asha has been chosen by the British Council in Poland to be their UK partner in a two-year Interfaith programme focused on intercultural dialogue, tolerance and interreligious diversity.
- A new and timely initiative develops the ongoing Middle East connection. The ‘Peace Laureates Israel Palestine Summit’ aims to bring to ASHA 24 of Israel and Palestine’s most successful young leaders across politics, civic society, culture, faith and the media for a 10-day Summit led by some of the world’s most eminent experts in their fields. This is a bold attempt to help support and prepare the next generation of leaders for a more peaceful solution in the region.
- This year a two-year Biodynamic Apprenticeship scheme was launched in association with the Biodynamic Agriculture College. Asha already has one apprentice (from a Syrian and Bulgarian parentage), and another will start in April next year after completing his time in the British army.
Zerbanoo ends with an update on the Chagos exile:
(For many years, since meeting exiled Chagos islanders when Zerbanoo and her husband Richard were on holiday in Mauritius, Richard has given his services as a solicitor in the long struggle to enable those who wish to do so to return to Diego Garcia).
The disputes over the continuing exile of the islanders has reached the worldwide stage this year. In June a large majority of nations at the UN passed a resolution, fiercely resisted by the UK Foreign Office, to ask the International Court of Justice for an “Advisory Opinion” on the legal consequences of snatching the islands from Mauritius and deporting the population.
Meanwhile, Theresa May’s refusal in November to resettle the islanders, but offer £40m for them to stay put away from the islands, has been shunned by them, and Richard is starting yet another Judicial review (the fifth in twenty years!) of Government intransigence. Full retirement seems to be a diminishing prospect for him.
By the time Zerbanoo’s newsletter arrived, there had been a decision which dashed the dreams of Chagossians.
She recalls that the Feasibility Study of 2002 was finally discredited in 2012 but immediately Wm.Hague announced a new one which reported in 2014 that there was no obstacle to resettlement. Then in June 2016 the Supreme Court decided that any failure to follow the new study could be attacked in Court as “irrational” and gave leave to challenge the Marine Protected Area which Wikileaks had disclosed was intended to prevent resettlement. This followed a decision of a UN Maritime Tribunal which held the MPA unlawful because it did not respect the rights of Mauritius as a neighbouring state and one with residual sovereignty rights to Chagos. The UN required Britain to start negotiations over the return of sovereignty of the islands to Mauritius.
Her husband Richard had been giving legal services pro bono for 20 years since meeting exiled islanders in Mauritius and the first court victory in 2000 led to premature hopes of a humane solution. Zerbanoo commented ruefully: “But foreign policy is not changed so easily, and FCO had many tricks up their sleeve, requiring two decades of court cases and parliamentary oversight to turn the tide and bring the islanders back home. The effects of the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were all deployed to defeat resettlement”.
Shamefully, Chagos islanders who were expelled in the 1960s to make way for military bases will not be allowed to return to their Indian Ocean homes, the British Foreign Office announced in November 2016, citing the UK’s interest in its “defence relationship” with the US.
Reacting to the decision, David Snoxell, who was deputy commissioner for British Indian Ocean Territory in the 1990s, said: “A small-scale resettlement could have been tried and 15 years of deception, litigation, wasted public funds and damage to the UK’s human rights reputation avoided. Judges at all levels have deplored the treatment of the Chagossian population since 2000. I cannot recall any other issue, at least in the 35 years that I was in the diplomatic service, which has so let down the FCO, undermined our ethical standards, been so carelessly and unsympathetically handled and caused so much unnecessary anguish than this one. I still feel ashamed at the way the FCO has treated and tricked a people whom we had a sacred duty to protect.”
The US is to be granted a further 20-year lease to use the military base on the largest island, Diego Garcia, when it comes up for renewal at the end of this year.
Later, in Part 2, Zerbanoo’s news of cheering work at the Asha Centre.
In other posts on this site readers can learn more about Zerbanoo and the Asha Centre in the Forest of Dean. Amongst a host of other activities, for years she and her husband Richard, freely giving his legal services, have worked to achieve justice for the Chagos Islanders.
Zerbanoo writes about their winter visit to India, where her new book, An Uncensored Life was launched in Mumbai at the Times Literary Festival. She reports that there were many gatherings and some really good publicity for the book and for the ASHA Centre that continues to go from strength to strength, with a new auditorium, secret garden and labyrinth.
She then went to New Zealand and attended the World Youth Zoroastrian Conference and spoke as the guest of honour, receiving a standing ovation.
I had already read, in the excellent magazine Hamazor, about the 6th World Zoroastrian Youth Congress held under the auspices of Kings College, Auckland, between December 28th 2015 and January 2nd 2016.
Zerbanoo was described as an acclaimed human rights campaigner, author, political pioneer for British Asians and the founder of the beautiful ASHA Centre.
The young audience listened ‘with rapt attention’ to uncensored stories and were encouraged to make their world a kinder and more beautiful place, as their prophet Zarathustra always hoped they would, and the second day started off with the Green Initiative presentation to highlight both the initiatives carried out prior to, and during the event, to make it the first ecologically conscious Youth Congress.
Zerbanoo Gifford’s biography ‘AN UNCENSORED LIFE’ by Farida Master and published by Harper Collins is available on Amazon and bookshops – http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9351776360