Equal rights with Warty Sea Slugs!: Reprieve asks the British Government to ensure that any protections granted to marine life in Diego Garcia also apply to human beings

March 30, 2010

The British Government is this week expected to announce that 210,000 sq km around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean will become the world’s largest marine reserve. 

Sadly, the proposed legislation fails to protect members of the controversial species homo sapiens.

Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands, has been used for illegal rendition and detention of Reprieve clients Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni and Mustafa Setmarian Naser. The strange omission of the homo sapiens species in the new legislation raises serious questions as to why they should not be afforded the same legal protections as marine life.

On the 1st March Clive Stafford Smith raised Reprieve’s concerns with the Foreign Secretary in a letter (full version may be downloaded below): 

More than 30 years ago, the entire population of the Chagos Islands was removed to Mauritius against their will, to make way for an American military base. It seems unlikely that conservation law would have allowed for the wholesale destruction of the natural habitat of, say, Dendrodoris tuberculosa (the warty sea slug), in order to build such a base – but this was perhaps the first example of the warty sea slug having greater rights than the lowly homo sapiens in the region. 

The current legal position in BIOT is bizarre. Almost uniquely amongst states, the territorial waters of the BIOT only extend out to 3 nautical miles, rather than the 12 miles allowed by international law. Inside the 3 mile limit, in theory, the species Homo sapiens has reasonable legal protection. BIOT’s laws roughly mirror those of England and Wales. There should be no detention without trial, no kidnapping and no rendition. Torture is a crime. The Geneva Conventions have the force of law. A court system exists to enforce the basic rights of members of this life form..

However, beyond 3 miles, these legal protections for Homo sapiens have no application. The BIOT courts and BIOT police have no jurisdiction to prevent the capture, torture or even the killing of members of the species if, for example, they are dragged onto a prison ship against their will by some people in American uniforms.

Indeed, we are currently representing a member of our species, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, in his claim against the FCO. As you know, Mr Madni was subjected to ‘extraordinary’ rendition (i.e. kidnapping for torture) via Diego Garcia. 

Tthe effect of your proposals would be peculiar. All other animal and fish life will enjoy protection up to 200 miles out from Diego Garcia. In addition to the worthy warty sea slug, every polyp of Gardineroseris planulata (honeycomb coral), and every Chaetodon trifascialis (chevron butterflyfish) will enjoy strict protection from being captured, killed or mistreated many miles from land. It seems that the only exception will be for our own taxonomic group, who will not be included in this wide-ranging and sensible proposal.

Reprieve Director, Clive Stafford Smith said : 

“On Diego Garcia you may be arrested for violating the rights of a Warty Sea Slug, but no-one will object if you land a plane with a kidnapped, shackled, hooded man trapped in a coffin-shaped box. This happened to our client, Mr Madni, and it cannot be right. We fully support the Government’s plan to protect sea slugs on the island – but only if Homo Sapiens are to be given the same protection.”

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674. 

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA. 

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

ReprievePO Box 52742London EC4P 4WSTel: 020 7353 4640Fax: 020 7353 4641Email: info@reprieve.org.ukWebsite: www.reprieve.org.uk

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