Anthro in the news 12/24/2012

• Hopes dashed for Chagossians

Aw’s Sean Carey published two articles in The Independent about the recent consideration of the Chagossians‘ claim for a right to return to their homeland.

Chagos. Source:
In his first piece, he reviews the marathon battle that began in 1998 in the British courts, led by electrician Olivier Bancoult, the newly appointed leader of the Chagos Refugees Group. Although all of the judges in the lower courts unanimously found in favor, in 2008 the Law Lords decided against the Chagosssians’ right of return by a narrow 3-2 majority. The islanders are supported by the former British High Commissioner to Mauritius, David Snoxell, novelist Philippa Gregory and conservationist Ben Fogle.

In his second article, Carey reports on the decision: “Yesterday, there was huge disappointment amongst Chagossian communities in Port Louis, Mahe, Crawley, Manchester, Geneva and Montréal. A seven-judge chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided by majority that the case regarding the right of return of the exiled islanders was inadmissible. Geographically and legally, it has been a long journey with many twists and turns for the islanders, the descendants of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers. The decision by the Strasbourg court means that they continue to be barred from returning to their homeland in the Chagos Archipelago, after their forced removal by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973, so that the US could acquire Diego Garcia, the largest and southernmost island, for its strategically important military base.” After eight years, a decision of inadmissable.

• Declining monkhood in Thailand

In Thailand, Buddhist temples grow lonely in villages as consumer culture rises and there is a shortage of monks. According to an article in The New York Times, monks in northern Thailand no longer perform one of the defining rituals of Buddhism, the early morning walk through the community to collect food. The meditative lifestyle of the monkhood offers little allure to the distracted iPhone generation. Although it is still relatively rare for temples to close down, many districts are so short on monks that abbots here in northern Thailand recruit across the border from impoverished Myanmar, where monasteries are overflowing with novices.

”Consumerism is now the Thai religion,” said Phra Paisan Visalo, one of the country’s most respected monks. He continues, ”In the past people went to temple on every holy day,” Mr. Paisan said. ”Now they go to shopping malls.” William Klausner, a law and anthropology professor who spent a year living in a village in northeastern Thailand in the 1950s, describes the declining influence of Buddhist monks as a ”dramatic transformation.” Monks once played a crucial role in the community where he lived, helping settle disputes between neighbors and counseling troubled children, he wrote in his book, Thai Culture in Transition. Klausner says that today most villages in northern Thailand ”have only two or three full-time monks in residence, and they are elderly and often sick.”
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Chagossians still want to go home

By contributor Sean Carey

The case concerning the right of return of the Chagos Islanders, who were forcibly removed from their homeland by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973 to make way for the U.S. base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, is before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In the near future, the judges will rule whether the case falls within the court’s jurisdiction. If it does, a verdict is expected by July or August.

Diego Garcia Atoll, Chagos Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory. WikiCommons

In the meantime, a petition to the Obama Administration is calling for the Chagossian exiles to be able to return to the outer islands of the Chagos Archipelago like Peros Banhos and Salomon, along with financial compensation and targeted employment programs. The petition has just been launched by the SPEAK Human Rights and Environmental Initiative. The organization was founded in 2010 by a small group of Mauritian lawyers, and is working with the Port Louis-based Chagos Refugees Group led by Olivier Bancoult.

The aim of the petition is to collect at least 25,000 signatures by April 4. A successful number of signatories on the “We the People” website will oblige White House staff to review the issue, seek expert opinion and provide an official response. Details can be found here.

For a comprehensive study of Diego Garcia and the Chagossians’ situation, see the books Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia by David Vine and Chagos Islanders in Mauritius and the UK: Forced Displacement and Onward Migration by Laura Jeffery. Vine is a cultural anthropologist and professor at American University in Washington, DC. Jeffery is a social anthropologist at the University of Edinburgh.

Stealing a Nation: A Film Screening and Discussion

When: Tuesday, November 9 at 7pm
Where: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library
2nd Floor West Lobby
901 G Street NW, Washington, DC

As part of Native American Heritage Month, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library presents a screening of the award-winning documentary Stealing a Nation by acclaimed investigative journalist John Pilger. The film tells the story of the expulsion of the Chagossian people from Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. Between 1968 and 1973, the U.S. and British governments exiled the Chagossians from their homeland so that Diego Garcia could be turned into a major U.S. military base that has been used prominently in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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