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How Greenpeace Campaigned for a Marine Park while Betraying its Own Aims by Rada Kistnasamy


At the LALIT symposium held in Grand River North West on 30 and 31 July, Rada Kistnasamy gave a paper on how Greenpeace, through being one of those single-issue NGOs, betrayed its own aims. Here is his talk, translated into English for our website:

 Greenpeace is one of the biggest NGO’s in the world. On their website, they announce that they operate “in 55 countries”. They say they do not accept donations from Governments but only from individuals and Foundations. We take it this announcement means they are independent.

 On their website, they describe Greenpeace as a “campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace”. It will do this inter alia by, it continues:

 * Defending our oceans

* Creating a global network of marine reserves

* Working for disarmament and peace by tackling the causes of conflict

* Calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

 What this paper is about is how this NGO, Greenpeace International, despite its fine aims and its good track record, ended up acting in collaboration with and in collusion with imperialist military forces in order to serve the interests of their military ends. We are referring to their falling into the Anglo-USA trap over the Chagos Archipelago, that part of Mauritian territory illegally retained by Britain in the run-up to Independence, and part of which, Diego Garcia Island, was then sub-leased to the USA for the purposes of a US military base which the UK-USA still occupy until today. This example shows some of the weaknesses of this type of organization i.e. the “NGO”.

 In LALIT, in 1985 we were following and supporting the Greenpeace mission when it was in New Zealand to protest about the nuclear tests that France was carrying out on the Moruroa Islands. We supported them and criticized the French State again and again over these tests. The French secret services actually killed a Greenpeace photographer/activist, Fernando Pereira, when they sank the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior in Auckland when it was due to go to the Moruroa Islands for the protest.

 And we have had personal organization-to-organization contact with Greenpeace over the years, in particular about a joint action on Chagos.

 In October 1998, our member Lindsey Collen, after some correspondence with Greenpeace, had an official meeting with Greenpeace at their Amsterdam headquarters in order to plan the joint action. This initiative was endorsed by the common front called Komite Rann Nu Diego that grouped 10 organizations together. There she met with Ms. Stephanie Mills, a very capable Australian woman. Greenpeace agreed with the action and we were to go ahead with a visit to Chagos on their boat, The Arctic Sunrise in March 1999, a window of opportunity when a boat was available. The aim was to protest against the military base there, against the nuclear arms and materials we knew were there, highlight the suffering of the Chagossians who had been forcibly removed between 1963 and 1973, and to draw attention to the UK’s illegal dismantling of Mauritian territory prior to Independence and thus flaunting the UN Charter.

 This plan, for technical reasons, did not go ahead. The Arctic Sunrise got iced up during a mission to the Antarctic.

 All this is to show how well we worked with Greenpeace.

 Later, in January 2004, on the fringes of the World Social Forum in Mumbai, LALIT jointly with the Chagos Refugee Group took a second initiative to get a Greenpeace boat to join the Flotilla to Chagos and Diego Garcia the same year. Greenpeace let it be known that they could not contemplate an action so bold. In the space of 5 years, they could no longer contemplate the very action that they agreed to in 2004 – even though this time around, there were other boats to share the risks.

 But, the British acted fast in order to block this mission. On 10th June, 2004, the British Government passed Orders in Council banning the Chagossians from all the Islands, and then immediately set about, themselves as the British State, organizing a visit as a favour, to place flowers on tombs and so on.

 So, Greenpeace knew all about the Chagos and Diego Garcia. They understood the political stakes, the social stakes and the military stakes. They knew very well what the USA and Britain were up to.

 So, we would have expected Greenpeace, in line with its aims as expressed on its own official website, to oppose the nuclear base on Diego Garcia and to agree with LALIT’s demand for inspections by the UN, i.e. by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

 If Greenpeace had taken such a stand, this would have been in harmony with the Pelindaba International Treaty (2009) for a Nuclear Arms Free Africa.

 But, what happened in 2010 was startling, even alarming. Instead, Greenpeace supported a British Government subterfuge to set up a Marine Protected Area (MPA) on the territory that they occupied militarily and illegally, the Chagos. On their site, Greenpeace announced its supported for the British MPA. Greenpeace even launched an international appeal for other people to endorse this sneaky plot of the British State. Here is the link to read their appeal: “Take Action Email David Miliband and let him know you support the creation of a no-take Marine Reserve in the Chagos »

 So much for their aim as a “campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace”, as their website puts it. They are rather confirming pro-imperialist plots. In fact, Greenpeace, like many others, had fallen right into the trap set so carefully for them by the British State.

 The whole idea of the MPA was nothing but a plan that the British State concocted so as to continue to keep Mauritius and the Chagossians away from the territory that they had illegally dismembered from the rest of Mauritius before Independence. Their aim had nothing to do with looking after fish or other sea creatures.

 And what makes the Greenpeace position cynical is that the British Government was continuing to maintain a military base, one that has nuclear pollution attached to it, in that same Chagos. So, the entire MPA is nothing but a ruse to let the USA keep its base and, worse still for Greenpeace, to go on polluting the waters around Diego Garcia, which is part of Chagos.

 To put Greenpeace into public disgrace, the whole charade by the British State was revealed in all its salacious details when Wikileaks at the end of 2010 showed that the British had informed the US ambassador not to worry the aim was to keep control of the territory and to stop the Chagossians from returning. We quote: “Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Officer'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”(Guardian 2 Dec 2010, quoting the WikiLeaks cable.)”

 And to put a final nail in, in March 2015, the UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) Tribunal handed down its judgment and found that the entire Marine Protected Area was set up illegally under international law.

 For the purposes of this Symposium, what is the lesson from all this? When Greenpeace chose to support the British in their Marine Park project, they suffered from the inevitable weakness that arises from the “single-issue” nature of NGOs, and their lack of a proper political framework. If you do not see “the whole”, you are bound to be able to be tricked into making mistakes. Your enemies know about your “single issue” blinkers. If you do not see who is the imperialist, that also makes you blind to the conspiracies that they get away with and have got away with for generations. The British High Courts, from the year 2000 onwards, exposed conspiracy after conspiracy on the Chagos issue. It was and still is public knowledge. Greenpeace has a duty, as an international organization, to know it.

 The risk is that the NGO ended up acting against its very own aims. It ended up promoting a nuclear-polluted military base, instead of peace and nuclear disarmament. This is a worst-case scenario for greenwashing an imperialist plot. The nuclear pollution and the threat of war endangers, and continues to endanger, the entire region and even the entire globe, including the fish that Greenpeace called on everyone to supposedly protect by keeping the illegal military occupiers in place.

 LALIT Writes Greenpeace leaders an Open Letter

In February 2010, LALIT wrote an open letter to the Greenpeace leaders to request that they change their position on the Marine Protected Area. We explained how we thought it was a ruse. We explained how it strengthened the illegal military occupation by the UK-US team of imperialists. We explained how it would weaken claims for re-unification of Mauritius and for the right of return for Chagossians. The letter, signed by Ram Seegobin for LALIT, went all around the globe in the networks against military bases and against militarism. (See copy below). We gave them a way out.

 But Greenpeace replied that they knew the British State had expelled the Chagossians, who were seeking the right to return, but they were doing their duty to the fish of the Ocean, and this would be of benefit to the Chagossians one day if ever they won the right to return. So, they justified their stance. This was before the Wikileaks cables were published and before the UNCLOS judgment was handed down. These two events came and made a mockery of Greenpeace’s stand.


So, that is what this paper is about: to show how an NGO can go against its own aims. And this issue of Chagos and Diego Garcia is still on the agenda today, although the MPA has been declared illegal. Has Greenpeace done a mea culpa? We are not aware, if it has. It has not written to us, as we would have expected, had it.

 So by Greenpeace looking just at the Marine Park, and by refusing to look at the military base and its nuclear arms, at the geopolitical realities, they have undermined their own credibility. When one does not have power, one’s credibility is all one has.

 They seem blind to the huge danger that the very presence of the military base represents. It services nuclear submarines. It is a danger to the entire region, and to the world, as well as to the very marine creatures Greenpeace is supposed, by its actions, to be protecting.

 Greenpeace chose to support, and to campaign for, and to thus attempt to legitimize the immoral and illegal position of the British State, which stole the entire territory, and then leased a part, Diego Garcia, to the receiver of stolen goods, the USA, which Greenpeace also attempts to legitimize.

 So we see how Greenpeace, being an NGO and not a proper organization, looks at society and its own demands, not as a whole, but through the lenses of its single issue nature.

 Other organizations like the Chagos Conservation Trust also campaigned in favour of the Marine Protected Area. In their case, it seems that they do this in order to please their funders – even if it goes against their aims. Maybe for Greenpeace there is an element of this in it too. One is bound to wonder, given that they do things that are clearly against their own aims.

 In Mauritius, there are many NGOs that campaign on single issues, and end up being of benefit to interests other than their own. It is a general phenomenon amongst NGOs. It is what will happen when you rush into single issues without analysing the political realities, and the political effects of one’s own actions. These effects can be serious. They can, as Greenpeace’s did, re-enforce the imperialists and capitalists in their military agendas.

 By Rada Kistnasamy

 Addendum after Debate at the Symposium

There is one additional point raised by Ram Seegobin, that adds strength to my arguments, so I would like to include it here:

 He said, “There is another interesting experience that we in LALIT had with Greenpeace that shows how the blinkers they wear prevent them from so much as seeing the bigger picture. I’m referring here to when Greenpeace some years back was sending their ships to protest against the pillaging of “legine” (Southern toothfish) in the Antarctica. There were Korean, Japanese and other ships fishing for these fish in the Antarctica. And Greenpeace was sending protest ships to denounce this “pirating” of fish. They contacted LALIT for some help or other, and we ended up debating the issue with them. We were concerned because the Antarctic being without a human population, one huge bit of ice, is not under any proper democratic control. There is a Treaty that runs the Antarctica, but it reflects the power of the imperialist countries, the result of generations of geo-political power struggles.”

 In fact, following the logic of what Ram Seegobin said in the debate, the Antarctica should belong to all of us in the world, or to none of us, but it is controlled by and fished by big powers like France (relying on Kerguelen Islands that it colonizes being near, with 6 companies from Reunion, another colony, doing “legal” fishing); a British Company working from the Falklands doing legal fishing; US and Australian companies also “licensed”; Norwegian companies taking huge catches. Greenpeace was going in to protest about the pirating of fish, and the fish did need protection, but its political position was not clear enough. All the fishing there is a kind of “pirating”. At the same time as their protests, there was licensed fishing. Again, it is a question of the bigger picture. Should they not fight for Madagascar, say, as a large country nearby to get fishing rights?

 Open Letter From Lalit To Leaders Of Greenpeace, plus their reply

 Dear Leaders of Greenpeace,

 We understand that your organization has taken a position in favour of the British Government’s outrageous plan to create a “Marine Park” on territory which is not its own, thus tricking ill-informed people into supporting the British State on rather vague grounds of “the environment”, while they are in fact banishing the people who lived there and flaunting the Charter of the UN.

 We write in order to request you to re-think your position on what would in fact be the British Government’s perfidious imposition of a planned Marine Protected Area on part of Mauritius in order to mask the fact that it colonizes the land illegally. Britain colonizes the Chagos under the name of “British Indian Ocean Territory”. This colony is, as far as we know, recognized by no government in the world, except the USA, which has a huge military base on it. The Seychelles Government took the British to task, and took those of its islands in BIOT back, so blatant was the theft. The Mauritian Government has so far unfortunately been much more servile to its ex-colonizer.

 The British government’s plan for a Marine Protected Area is a very weak, grotesquely transparent ruse designed to perpetuate the banning of the people of Mauritius and Chagos from part of their own country. And the UK has the cheek to do this, while at one and the same time, perpetuating a polluting nuclear base on Diego Garcia, part of this same stolen territory. The timing of their plan is also very humiliating for all those who have fallen into the trap: there is a European Human Rights Court which may soon hand down a judgment in favour of the right to return for Chagossians. Clearly the British Government is preparing a fall-back plan; if they lose the case, then there will be another “reason” for denying the banished people their right of return; another reason for keeping Mauritius from staking its claim under international law.

 Surely the point is for environmentalists to get this nuclear base on Diego Garcia, at the very heart of the Chagos, closed down? Not to ignore its existence. Surely the point is for all concerned people to help complete the decolonization of Mauritius and the Chagos? Not to help in a British cover-up its crimes? After decolonization, the people whose land and sea it is can decide on how to protect and nurture it best, how to affect a clean-up of the base once it was closed down, and how to re-generate it into the beautiful atoll it once was. And we would hope for ideas and support from Greenpeace, amongst other environmentalists, as to how best to do this.

 The British State and the USA not only collaborated in the forcible removal of all the people of the entire Chagos, tricking them first, denying them passage back after medical visits to Mauritius main island, gassing their dogs as a warning, then finally starving them off the islands; the British State and the USA not only illegally plotted so as to dismember a country and hide this from the United Nations Decolonization Committee, as has been amply made public in the Judgments in the Court Case brought by the Chagossians, but have also set up a huge immensely polluting military base, one of the biggest in the world, a nuclearized base, right there in the same place that the UK now pretends to want to turn into a Marine Protected Area. The USA has even carried out illegal renditions for torture on and around Diego Garcia; after denying this for years, the Mr. Jack Straw finally admitted it in the British Parliament. So, Greenpeace should perhaps bear in mind that these illegal acts do, in time, get exposed and condemned by people.

 Greenpeace should dissociate itself from this entire international plot. It is an old plot whose first shady days have gradually been exposed to the public by years and years of active struggle on the part of Mauritian political parties, associations, trade unions and the people displaced from Chagos, with their women at the helm of the demonstrations. Our women members were amongst those arrested by the Police in 1981 at peaceful demonstration in Port Louis. And though the illegal colonization and the nuclear base have both continued, the conspiracy to remove all the people, and for the UK to steal the islands, and for the US to become receiver of stolen goods, have been exposed in public in the British Courts and in international meetings against US military bases. So, being part of the tail-end of this long-term conspiracy will bring shame on organizations like Greenpeace. That individuals fall into this trap is understandable. But for organizations, we are afraid it will be very damaging to your reputation.

 In the past, Greenpeace has known about Diego Garcia. We would very much like to remind you that in October, 1998, LALIT sent one of our members to have a formal meeting with your organization at your headquarters in Amsterdam. The Rann nu Diego Committee, a common front of some 10 organizations in Mauritius including one of the two main Chagossian groups, the Chagos Refugees Group, endorsed LALIT’s request for a Greenpeace action on Diego Garcia to oppose the nuclear base there. One of our members, Ms. Lindsey Collen, thus had a formal meeting at your headquarters with Ms. Stephanie Mills, who she found to be a very capable, dedicated Australian campaign worker for your organization. Following this meeting, and following the dossier which we submitted formally at the same time, Greenpeace informed us by e-mail that you had organized for one of your vessels (in a window of opportunity) to take a group of people for an action on Diego Garcia in or around March, 1999, in protest against the military base, its nuclearization, the forcible removals, and the continued colonization of part of Mauritius. We were already discussing how many people, preparing for a campaign to get support from peace and environment organizations world-wide, and thinking up the kind of media plan necessary. LALIT immediately set in motion a very broad campaign for “background support”, which we got from a series of organizations literally all over the world in order to back up the planned action as soon as it would be able to become public. Response from all over the world was very good. The issue was coming up at the right moment. The only thing that prevented the vessel from actually doing this visit, which would have been truly historic, and which would have been one of Greenpeace’s greatest sources of pride as you looked back on your history, was thwarted, we were informed, when the vessel to be used got “iced in” during a trip to the Antarctica in early 1999, and would, by the time it got out of the ice, be too late, as it was already booked for another action afterwards.

 Later, in January, 2004, in the outskirts of the WSF meeting in Mumbai, there was a second attempt, this time to ask Greenpeace if you could lead a planned Flotilla to Chagos and Diego Garcia, given that the Chagossians had won a Court Case for the right to return (since overturned - in part by Decree in the UK, and in part by a Privy Council appeal judgment last year). This time it was a joint request from the Chagos Refugees Group and LALIT. Greenpeace were unable to do this, but your leaders at the time were aware of the issues involved.

 We mention your past links with the Diego Garcia issue because we believe that your position on the Marine Protected Area which the UK is planning is erroneous. The UK is clearly trying to use the “environment issue” as a desperate attempt to continue its continued colonization of part of

Mauritius. Greenpeace should not allow itself to be used this way.At present our organization is spearheading a campaign to call on the Mauritian Government to do two things:

-          Request the UN General Assembly to pass a motion for the ICJ at the Hague to give an opinion as to whose territory the Chagos is (the UK accepted compulsory arbitration except from cases put in by Commonwealth Countries, and when the Mauritian Government some 7 years ago threatened to leave the Commonwealth in order to put a binding case, Tony Blair just sent new instructions to his UN ambassador to change the exception to include ex-Commonwealth members. This shows the kind of lengths the UK State will go to.

-          Request the UN International Atomic Energy Agency to do inspections of Diego Garcia for nuclear materials, given the coming into operation in 2009 of the Pelindaba Treaty for a Nuclear Weapons Free Africa.

We would very much appreciate it if Greenpeace could consider supporting these two demands. Both would certainly help the environment of the Chagos, as they both involve exposing then closing the nuclear military base. Just as the UK Government is now being exposed for entering illegally into the Iraq War, and Bush and Blair risk charges as war criminals, so in the future, the UK and USA may be publicly exposed as illegal occupiers, as war mongers on Chagos, and as polluters of the Indian Ocean with truly filthy military base. Because that is what they are.

Yours sincerely,

Ram Seegobin, for LALIT, Mauritius, 8 February, 2010.

Greenpeace replies to LALIT "Open Letter to Greenpeace not to fall into UK Trap" LALIT wrote an open letter to the leaders of Greenpeace to request them to re-think its position in favour of the British Government's outrageous plan to create a "Marine Park" on Chagos . Greenpeace has written back to LALIT. We are publishing the reply from Greenpeace below. And LALIT open letter to Greenpeace can be read at Sent: Monday, February 08, 2010 4:46 PM To: lalit Subject: RE: Nuclear Base and continued illegal colonization of Chagos and Greenpeace`s position Hello Ram, Thanks for your e-mail, it`s great to hear from you and I'll pass your comments on to our oceans campaign.

Those who have been following the issue will know that the British Government expelled the Chagossians from the islands some decades ago. The Chagossians continue to campaign for justice.

 At present, the waters of the Chagos are being fished by various deep water fishing nations. Taking the Chagossian perspective, this amounts to theft and destruction of Chagos' natural resources.

 However if a marine reserve is created without prejudice to the determination of the Chagossian dispute then the fishing would be stopped, but if and when the Chagossians win a right of return the whole question of what happens with the waters would be reopened. In other words, creating a marine reserve would be to actually preserve these coral seas in trust for the Chagossian people.

Whilst we`ve kept our e-mail short, there is more information (and links) on our web site so please follow the links below to find out more: I hope that helps, Lisa Weatherley