2010-10-26

Dark side of a Western "defense of freedom" (whatever the Hell that means)

By Charles Tannock

The Japan Times

BRUSSELS — The price of freedom, it is said, is eternal vigilance. But that price can take the form of morally squalid decisions in which innocent people bear the brunt of the cost of freedom's defense.

Under the cover of the Cold War, Western governments were regularly forced to make many strategically realistic but morally noxious decisions. Dictators like Zaire's Mobuto and Indonesia's Suharto were embraced on the principle that "he might be a bastard, but at least he's our bastard."

All sorts of dubious "freedom fighters," from the Contras in Nicaragua to Hissene Habre in Chad to Jonas Savimbi in Angola, received Western arms and political backing. Even the genocidal Khmer Rouge were, for a brief time, partly defended by the U.S. in their forest redoubts after their eviction from Phnom Penh.

Twenty years after the Cold War's end, the West has at times recognized its duty to make amends to those who were, in a very real sense, the "collateral damage" of that ideological struggle. For example, the countries that were consigned by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Soviet leader Josef Stalin's un-tender mercies are now mostly part of the European Union. There are other, untold stories of people who paid a heavy price for the West's freedoms that have not gained much attention.

The fate of the Chagossians, the former residents of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, is particularly harrowing. The way in which the inhabitants of this archipelago were systematically dispossessed and thrown off their land in the name of Western strategic interests is a human tragedy for which the West can and should make restitution.

Between 1968 and 1973, British Labour and Conservative governments organized the removal of everyone living on the 55 islands that now constitute the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), and that were split off from Mauritius at the time of its independence. This was done at the behest of the United States, which at the time was embroiled in the Vietnam War and required, for understandable security reasons, the use of the island of Diego Garcia as an air and naval base. The British Foreign Office claimed at the time that the Chagos Islands had no settled population.

The Chagossians were shipped off to the Seychelles and Mauritius, where they were deposited and left to fend for themselves. They were ostracized and isolated. Many succumbed to mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism.

Despite the tragic impact of this removal, the islanders never gave up their campaign to win the right to return home. Many Chagossians eventually moved away from the Seychelles and Mauritius. Some settled in London (my European Parliament constituency). They have been a persistent thorn in the side of successive British governments, but Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government seems to be seeking to conclude this matter in a fair and humane way.

The Chagossians want to return to the outer islands of the Chagos archipelago. They have never sought to resettle on Diego Garcia, which remains off-limits and leased to the U.S. government until 2016 — and continues to play a vital role in Western security and defense.

Given Cameron's determination to place the U.S.-U.K. relationship on a more equal footing than it was under Labour, I hope he will feel free to raise this issue with the Obama administration; indeed, a deal between the late U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was apparently very nearly closed some years ago.

There is no possible threat to U.S. interests from the islanders' return to the outer islands, hundreds of kilometers away from Diego Garcia.

Ten years ago, the Chagossians won a tremendous victory in the British High Court, which ruled that the islanders' expulsion had been unlawful, and that they should be allowed to return. Initially, the government accepted the ruling, but it was overturned by an Order-in-Council (an executive order from the queen) in 2004.

Now is not the time to discuss how appropriate Orders-in-Council are for lawmaking in a 21st-century democracy, but this move showed disregard for the Chagossians' basic human rights. Earlier this year, we saw this cynicism in action once again, when David Miliband, foreign secretary in the previous Labour government, declared the Chagos Islands to be a protected marine zone, thereby preventing the islanders — if eventually they do return — from making their living from fishing.

The British Foreign Office has often used the excuse that resettling the Chagossians would be prohibitively expensive. But when answering a parliamentary question that I put to the European Commission recently, the commissioner responsible for development policy, Andris Piebalgs, indicated that the Commission would consider any request from Britain for co-financing the Chagossians' repatriation, which the EU fully and rightly accepts as a sovereign U.K. matter.

Ten years after the Chagossians' Pyrrhic legal victory — a victory that seemed merely to strengthen the Foreign Office's resolve to stop them from returning to the Islands — they have taken their campaign to the European Court of Human Rights, which has suggested that the case be withdrawn in favor of a "friendly settlement."

Many Chagossians who have settled in the United Kingdom would go back immediately — if only the government would let them.

Charles Tannock is ECR Foreign Affairs Spokesman in the European Parliament.

2010-10-25

West Bank olive groves become battleground

by Harriet Sherwood in Luban a-Sharqiya

The Guardian

Most troubled harvest yet has seen attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinian farmers and trees, say human rights groups

Eighty-year-old Rasmia Awase had left the best olive trees until last. She and her family had already harvested most of their crop when they went to a small plot near their home in Luban a-Sharqiya on Saturday morning.

Here were 40 trees that Awase had planted and tended herself, and they were now, two decades later, at their peak – the most productive of all the trees, which support 37 members of the extended family.

But Awase found that someone had got there before them and had chopped down the trees, leaving stumps in the ground and branches scattered about the plot. The family blame hardline Jewish settlers from the nearby Eli settlement.

"I was in shock, I lost my mind," she said. "I planted these trees with my bare hands, I gave them 20 years of hard work – and they are all gone." Each day of her long life was worse than the one before, she said with her eyes watering.

The Awase family are not alone in their experience. Among the tactics used by Jewish settlers this harvesting season are cutting down and torching trees, stealing fruit and attacking farmers trying to pick their crops, according to human rights organisations.

"It has reached a crescendo," said a spokeswoman for Yesh Din, one Israeli group monitoring incidents in the West Bank. "What might look like ad hoc violence is actually a tool the settlers are using to push back Palestinian farmers from their own land."

The upsurge in violence this year is attributed to a rise in settler militancy following the 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank and uncertainty about the outcome of the current, although stalled, peace negotiations.

According to Oxfam, which is trying to help Palestinian olive farmers realise the economic potential of their crops, some families are too frightened to pick the fruit. "We have seen a lot of olive groves burning and trees which have been chopped down," said the charity's Catherine Weibel. "People are clearly very stressed and worried, always afraid the settlers are coming."

Olives have been cultivated in the rocky hills of what is now the West Bank for thousands of years. Around 95% of the harvest is used to make olive oil, worth up to 364m shekels (£64m) a year to the Palestinian economy. Most farmers are small scale, growing trees on land that has been in the families for generations.

In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports of trees being stripped of their fruit overnight. Rabbis for Human Rights claimed that the olives from about 600 trees near the settlement of Havat Gilad were stolen before their Palestinian owners could harvest them. Police confirmed they were investigating the alleged theft.

The police had received 27 official complaints about sabotage since the beginning of this year's harvest, said a spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld. Sixteen Israelis had been questioned. "There are a number of ongoing investigations into damage caused in the past few weeks," he said. "We are working to prevent incidents on the ground. This is an ongoing problem that we have to deal with."

Damage had also been caused to Israeli property, added Rosenfeld.

Akram Awase, Rasmia's son, was sceptical about the protection offered by the Israeli police and military. "In the old days the resistance used to stop them [settlers]," he said. "Now there is no resistance, all of them are in jail. You can't do anything. Who do you complain to? The soldiers protect the settlers. They have raped our land and they will never leave it."

2010-10-23

Chagos: when Bancoult met Bellingham

by Sean Carey

The New Statesman

Leader of the Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius met Foreign Office Minister for the Overseas Territories yesterday.

Yesterday, Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius, as well as Roch Evenor, chair of the UK Chagos Support Association, and two representatives from the thousand or so Islanders and their descendants who have settled in Crawley, met Henry Bellingham, the FCO Minister for Africa and the Overseas Territories and his officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Interestingly, no lawyers from either side were present at the meeting, which lasted about an hour. This reflects the sensitivity on both sides about the case concerning the Islanders' right of return which is currently before the European Court of Human Rights, and perhaps a recognition that in the end there will be a need for a political accommodation, regardless of the outcome of the court case.

Both sides are playing their cards close to their chest -- the FCO, for example, has indicated that it will not be issuing a statement. But it is clear that the Chagossians found Henry Bellingham friendly and far more open than any of his predecessors with whom they have had contact.

This won't come as a surprise to seasoned observers as Henry Bellingham is well liked amongst his parliamentary colleagues - think of him as the political equivalent of another old Etonian charmer, chef, Hugh Fearnley -Whittingstall (not to mention David Cameron) - but it seems that he had nothing new to offer the Islanders other than tea and sympathy. Indeed, Mauritian newspaper, Le Matinal, reported this morning that Bellingham was certainly not going to halt the coalition government's commitment either to carry on the legal case in Strasbourg or backtrack on the announcement made by former foreign secretary, David Miliband, on 1 April that the British Indian Ocean Territory is to be made into the world's largest marine reserve, which would effectively block any returning Islanders making a living from fishing.

Nevertheless, the two sides have agreed to a further meeting, probably in the third week of November, when it is likely that bestselling novelist, Philippa Gregory and TV presenter Ben Fogle, patrons of the UK Chagos Support Association, will also attend.

In the meantime, Bellingham has a meeting in parliament with the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group on November 15. When I interviewed Vince Cable in January 2009, he said that knowledge of the forced removal of around 2000 Islanders from the Chagos Archipelago by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973 amongst his parliamentary colleagues was "about zero". This is no longer the case and thus Bellingham will need more than charm to escape the scrutiny of the 41 APPG members, which includes three former foreign office ministers -- Baroness Kinnock, Lord Luce and Tony Lloyd and five members of the current government.

In particular, they will be interested to know why the minister stated in a written answer to Henry Smith, the new Conservative MP for Crawley, on 18 October that resettlement was ruled out because:

"Full immigration control over the entire British Indian Ocean Territory is necessary to ensure and maintain the availability and effective use of the territory for defence purposes of both the UK and the US with whom the UK has treaty obligations. US authorities have always made clear that their concerns about the possible restoration of a settled civilian population in the territory which, they have said "would severely compromise Diego Garcia's unparalleled security and have a deleterious impact on our military operations." In October 2010, the US reconfirmed that they remain concerned about the implications of any resettlement of the outer islands.

But could it be that Henry Bellingham is misinformed about current US views on resettlement in the outer islands of the Chagos Archipelago like Peros Banhos and Salomon, which lie over 140 miles from the US base on Diego Garcia? It is certainly a possibility since there have been no public comments by members of the current Obama Administration on Chagos.

Instead, the suspicion is that Bellingham's advisers at the FCO are relying on statements made by State Department officials in the Bush administration in 2004 for use in the courts, about the dangers of a "settled civilian population" to the security of the US military base (dismissed as "fanciful speculation" by the Law Lords in the 2008 case). If the US really had security concerns it would not hesitate to say so publically, as Clinton did last week over the UK defence cuts. It's unlikely that they would leave it the FCO to do speak on their behalf. That could open the government to the serious implication that parliament has been misled.

Don't say you haven't been warned, Henry.

Dr Sean Carey is Research Fellow at CRONEM, Roehampton University

2010-10-15

U.S. soldier given only 32 months in jail over fatal Okinawa hit-and-run

Mainichi Shimbun

NAHA (Kyodo) -- An Okinawa district court sentenced a U.S. Army serviceman to 32 months in jail on Friday for causing a fatal hit-and-run accident last November in the southern Japanese prefecture.

Presiding Judge Nobuhiro Takamori of the Naha District Court found Clyde Gunn, a 28-year-old staff sergeant at the Torii Communication Station, guilty of knocking down Masakazu Hokama, 66, and fleeing the scene at around 5:50 a.m. on Nov. 7 when Hokama was taking a walk in the village of Yomitan.

Hokama died after suffering a broken neck and other injuries.

The Naha District Public Prosecutors Office argued at the courthouse Gunn is not repentant about his acts as he argued he could not avoid hitting Hokama in the dark surroundings at the sparsely populated scene.

A lawyer for Gunn said he could not foresee that someone would be taking a walk in such early morning hours in the area lacking street lamps.

Gunn refused to show up for additional questioning by Okinawa prefectural police investigators after being questioned three times.

The local police then sent papers on the case to the prosecutors, who indicted him in January on a charge of hit-and-run resulting in the death of Hokama.

After this procedure was taken, the U.S. military handed over Gunn into Japanese custody in accordance with the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.

2010-10-11

Chagos - Lalit brings the struggle home

by Nicholas Rainer

allAfrica.com

Port Louis — At the end of this month, Lalit will hold an international conference on the thorny Chagos issue. It will be a wonderful opportunity to come up with a global strategy to correct this monumental injustice.

There's a lot to be said for people power. Even in the face of overwhelming might, well coordinated grassroots actions, coupled of course with a hefty dollop of political will, can yield remarkable results. Take the Manta Air Base in Ecuador for instance. Widespread public opposition to the presence of the US military in this Latin American country culminated in a nationwide anti-base campaign in 2007. Barely two years later, the Ecuadorian president, Hugo Correa, decided not to renew its contract. Lalit's Lindsey Collen was part of that historical event. By organizing an international conference on the Chagos later this month, she and her fellow members of Lalit hope to create the same sort of impetus here.

"This conference can really make a difference," opines the author and political activist. Her optimism is attributable, in large part, to timing. "The US military is currently overstretched and there's a lot of pressure to shut down some of its bases." Indeed, the country's massive indebtedness and protracted military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan mean that now is as good a time as any to bring pressure to bear on its government. "Every year a commission looks at which bases should be closed," adds Lindsey Collen.

The conference, which will take place from October 30 to November 2, will be the opportunity to treat several issues - the closure of the military base, the right of return and the payment of compensation to Chagossians - concomitantly. This approach is not fortuitous. By covering all the, ahem, bases, Lalit wants to enlist the support of as many organizations as possible.

A cursory look at the list of speakers that have been enrolled seems to indicate that this course of action is paying off. Experts on geopolitical matters will rub shoulders with peace activists and, if everything goes according to plan, outspoken British MP Jeremy Corbyn.

Several cultural events and a national forum involving the minister of Foreign Affairs, Arvin Boolell and the leader of the opposition, Paul BĂ©renger, have also been programmed. Although he won't be present at the conference, journalist and filmmaker John Pilger of "Stealing a Nation" has pledged his support to this ambitious initiative. "Justice for the people of the Chagos is one of those rare issues about which there are no 'ifs' and buts'. Never in my lifetime have the rights and demands of people been clearer. And the people of the Chagos and their supportersare remarkable. They have fought back tenaciously and courageously, and they will win - I have no doubt about that.

"Yes, sometimes it seems the world never changes, that great power is invincible but the world is always changing and the great power that denies justice to the Chagossians and despoils their homeland is rotten at the heart. It is time for all freedom- loving peoples to stand up for the return of the Chagos - Mauritians, British, Americans. A victory for the Chagos will be a victory for every one of us," he wrote in an email.

Over and above the financial and military problems currently being faced by the US, several other developments give reason to hope that the situation will be unblocked. Lalit cites namely Arvin Boolell's robust recent intervention at the UN General Assembly, the Chagos Refugee Group's case in front of the European Court of Human Rights and the entry into force of the Pelindaba Treaty, which aims to make Africa a nuclear weapon free zone.

"We've got to pressurize the Mauritian government into using this mechanism," asserts Lindsey Collen. Indeed, this treaty, in principle, affords, Mauritius the right to request the conduct of weapons inspections on Diego Garcia. For some reason, Port Louis has chosen not to pursue this avenue with any perceptible amount of zeal. Hopefully, Lalit's international conference will make this inertia untenable and motivate the authorities to take the bull by the horns. The gathering will also be the perfect opportunity to thrash out a "global strategy" for how best to get the Chagos back. Creative thinking is vital. With regard to the creation of a Marine Protected Area, for instance, Lalit believes government can show the plan up for the subterfuge it is by submitting an application to transform Diego Garcia, one of the largest coral atolls in the world, into a UNESCO world natural heritage site.

The horseshoe-shaped island would also make a wonderful weather station for the detection of tsunamis in the western Indian Ocean. In isolation, these proposals might seem incongruous, outlandish even but, taken together, they could contribute to building a head of steam against the presence of the US military in the Chagos.

"We're trying to enlarge our support base, to come up with a series of initiatives that will help pile pressure on the authorities," explains Ram Seegobin. He argues convincingly that the traditional approach to the issue has been glaringly ineffective. "Since the 1970s there has been a tendency to focus on bilateral discussions. The problem with such negotiations is that they imply a power relationship."

And as the minnow of this relationship, Mauritius usually ends up drawing the short straw. In addition, the US and the UK have been very adept at using economic arguments (think sugar and textiles) to prevent Port Louis from succumbing to any nationalist fervour. As the balance of world power shifts eastwards, such forms of dissuasion will become increasingly tenuous. Ram Seegobin is also quick to dismiss the recent election of a Tory/LibDem government in the UK as yet another false dawn. "Every one knows that foreign policy is decided by the mandarins at the Foreign Office, by the same people who decided on the dismemberment of the Chagos."

For Alain Ah-Vee, the moral imperative to shut down the military base on Diego Garcia is more powerful than ever. "The base is the root of the suffering of the Chagossian people. Closing down the base will be the beginning of the end of their suffering." And Lalit has very little time for those peddling the official line that the archipelago will be restored to Mauritius once it is no longer needed for military purposes. For, as Lindsey Collen explains, the US and UK governments will always find a reason to retain control over Diego Garcia.

"At first, they said they needed the base in the fight against communism, then as a control base for the Global Positioning System and then in the war on terror. Next, they'll argue that it's needed in the fight against piracy." Lalit is one of the only political parties to have shown any sort of consistency on the issue over the years and the upcoming international conference is in tying with its indefatigable advocacy for the Chagossian community. As the example of Manta Air Base in Ecuador shows, it's never too late to right a wrong, even when the high and mighty of the world are doing their utmost to perpetuate it. Yet, the Ecuadorian example offers another salutary lesson: even people power has its limits government also has to play its part in the fight for justice. The international conference will certainly drive that message home.

2010-10-09

Gush Shalom: It seems Lieberman is Israel's true Prime Minister

by Adam Keller

Gush Shalom

This week Israel's security forces practiced the putting down of mass demonstrations and protests among Israel's Arab citizens and their imprisonment in a large detention camp to be established at Golani Junction in Galilee. The exercise was based on a scenario of the riots being provoked by implementation of Avigdor Lieberman's plan for "an exchange of populations", i.e. massively depriving Arabs of their Israeli citizenship. A week ago Lieberman voiced this heinous idea on the podium of the UN Assembly General and Prime Minister Netanyahu murmured some weak reservations. Now it turns out that the security forces are already preparing to implement it in practice, under the responsibility of none other than Labor Party leader Ehud Barak - the Minister of Defence.

It goes without saying that in a country having any pretence to be a democracy it would be unacceptable and unthinkable for the security forces to practice waging war against the country's own citizens. Together with the racist "Loyalty Oath Bill"
which gained the support of the government, and with the demonstrative resumption of settlement construction in the Occupied Territories, it increasingly seems that Lieberman is the true Prime Minister, and that the government follows on his path, leading the State of Israel in big and rapid strides into the abyss.