44th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, CCT, Diego Garcia, FCO, Parliament, Phillip Hammond, resettlement, USA on October 16th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 44th meeting on 15 October.

As the new Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister for Overseas Territories (OTs), James Duddridge, had felt that he was not yet ready to meet the Group Prof. Charles Sheppard, Chairman of the Chagos Conservation Trust and his colleagues Alistair Gammell and John Turner, who had requested a meeting in July, attended the first part of the meeting.

The Vice Chairman (Henry Smith MP standing in for Jeremy Corbyn MP) welcomed the representatives of the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) and looked forward to hearing about its work. The conservation and environmental aspects of resettlement were discussed. Members were pleased to note that while the CCT mandate was to protect the unique environment of the Chagos Islands, CCT was not opposed to resettlement. Prof. Sheppard and his colleagues thought that Diego Garcia was well suited and ecologically sensible, given the available facilities and infrastructure there, though this was a decision for politicians. Members drew attention to the benefits of resettlement for conservation and the types of employment that Chagossians could undertake, especially on Diego Garcia. They agreed to keep in touch with CCT.

The Group then went on to discuss the Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and Questions since the last meeting on 15 July. Members noted that on 4 September Mr Duddridge had said in reply to a PQ that “he expected officials to begin substantive discussions with US colleagues about post-2016 arrangements later this year, as the conclusions of the feasibility study on resettlement of Chagossians begin to become clear”. It was also noted that in a letter in mid August to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) Mr Duddridge had stated that “The 1966 Exchange of Notes provides for a two-year window (December 2014-December 2016) during which we can decide whether and on what terms to extend the agreement with the US for a further 20 years. We are clear that we will consider all aspects of US presence in any discussions on this, and the Government will of course reinforce our expectations on permitted US use of the territory.” The Group felt that US co-operation and assistance in resettlement was necessary and an obvious condition for extending the agreement. The Group would engage the FAC on the renewal of the 1966 agreement.

As KPMG’s September report was received just prior to the meeting it was not possible to consider it in detail. However the Group was pleased to learn that KPMG would submit a first draft of their study to the FCO in mid November which would be circulated to “stakeholders” the following week. Members reiterated that they expected Parliament to debate the study before Ministers made decisions on it.

Members considered the Chairman’s letters, on behalf of the APPG, to the new Foreign Secretary and to Mark Simmonds, then Minister for OTs. It was decided to renew the invitation to Mr Duddridge (successor to Mr Simmonds) to meet the Group at its next meeting.

Legal developments were considered. It was noted that the decision of the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) that Environmental Information Regulations applied to BIOT by virtue of the extension of English law to BIOT in 1983, had not been appealed by the FCO. The Group saw this as significant progress for freedom of information. This would facilitate the work of researchers making requests for environmental information held by FCO/BIOT. The Group was also informed of the decision to grant legal aid to the Chagos Refugees Group in pursuit of their claim to the Supreme Court that the House of Lords majority verdict in 2008 had resulted from an apparent breach of the duty of candour by officials.

The next meeting will be on 3 December.

Parliamentary Questions on the Chagos Islands

Posted in Parliament, Uncategorized on September 28th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft has continued his interest in the alleged use of Diego Garcia in rendition.

Libyan politician Abdel Hakim Belhadj has claimed that he tortured by US military forces in Thailand and on the way the aeroplane he was aboard stopped in Diego Garcia to refuel. In late 2013 the UK High Court judged that although Mr Belhadj had a “well-founded claim,” owing to national security concerns, a UK court case could not proceed.

The full question and answer can be found below.

Diego Garcia
House of Lords
Written Answers on 26 Sep 2014

Lord Ashcroft (Conservative)

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Warsi on 28 July (WA 249), whether they will now answer the question as tabled.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Conservative)

The United States is our most important bilateral ally and we have regular discussions on a range of sensitive issues. It is our longstanding position not to comment on discussions of that nature. With regard to Mr Belhaj allegedly stopping over in Diego Garcia, I refer the noble Lord to the response given by my noble friend, the former Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Baroness Warsi), on 17 June 2014, Official Report, Column WA36, that, aside from the two cases of rendition through Diego Garcia (British Indian Ocean Territory) in 2002, there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the UK, our Overseas Territories, or the Crown Dependencies, with a detainee on board since 11 September 2001.

Below is the earlier question to which Lord Ashcroft refers:

Diego Garcia
House of Lords
Written Answer
28 Jul 2014

Lord Ashcroft (Conservative)

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the United States sought to use Diego Garcia as a stopover
for the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhadj; and, if so, what was the outcome.

Baroness Warsi (Conservative)

I refer the noble Lord to the response I gave on 17 June 2014, Official Report, Column WA36, that,
aside from the two cases of rendition through Diego Garcia (British Indian Ocean Territory) in 2002,
there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the UK, our overseas
Territories, or the Crown Dependencies, with a detainee on board since 11 September 2001.

Parliamentary Questions on the Chagos Islands

Posted in Diego Garcia, FCO, Parliament on September 8th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

With Parliament now reconvened, James Duddridge, the new Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for British Overseas Territories, has had his first opportunity to answer questions on the Chagos Islands.

Interestingly the Minister states that negotiations on the future use of Diego Garcia by the US military will start “later this year, as the conclusions from the feasibility study on resettlement of Chagossians begin to become clear.” It should be noted the final conclusions of the KPMG feasibility study on Chagossian return are not expected until next year.

Asked about what payments the UK Government would receive in the event of a continuing US military presence on Diego Garcia, Mr Duddridge confirmed that there is no formal “lease” but rather a bi-lateral agreement. In answer to a further question from Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie, the Minister claimed that US military presence on Diego Garcia remains a “vital part of the Anglo-American defence relationship.”

…………………………………………………………………………………
Diego Garcia
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Written Answers
4 Sep 2014

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West, Conservative)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what payments the Government would accrue from extending the lease for use of Diego Garcia by the United States for a further 20 years.

James Duddridge (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Rochford and Southend East, Conservative)

There is no lease of Diego Garcia to the United States military under which a rent is charged. The use of the British Indian Ocean Territory (including Diego Garcia) is regulated by a series of bilateral agreements between the UK and US covering a period of fifty years. I expect my officials to begin substantive discussions with US colleagues about post-2016 arrangements later this year, as the conclusions from the feasibility study on resettlement of Chagossians begin to become clear.

……………………………………………..

Diego Garcia
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Written Answers
4 Sep 2014

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West, Conservative)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the potential security benefits of the UK’s ability to use Diego Garcia as a military base after the current lease for use of that territory by the US has expired.

James Duddridge (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Rochford and Southend East, Conservative)

The 2012 White Paper, ‘The Overseas Territories-Security, Success & Sustainability’ made clear the strategic importance of our Overseas Territories, which give Britain a global strategic reach in support of our international objectives. The US Base on Diego Garcia represents a vital part of the Anglo-American defence relationship, remains a significant strategic asset for the UK and has previously been used for UK military operations.

House of Commons

British Indian Ocean Territory
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Written Answers
1 Sep 2014

Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if his Department will place in the Library a copy of the commercial tuna-fishing licences sold by the British Indian Ocean Territory Government in 2010.

James Duddridge (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Rochford and Southend East, Conservative)

Copies of the commercial tuna-fishing licenses from 2010 were deposited in the Library of the House on 21 July 2014.

……………………………………………..

43rd Meeting and AGM of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, conservation, FCO, Philippa Gregory, USA on July 24th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 6th Annual General Meeting (AGM) and 43rd meeting on 15 July 2014. The meeting which was to have taken place prior to the AGM with the FCO Minister Mark Simmonds MP, was postponed at the last minute due to the arrival at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the new Foreign Secretary.

The Group re-elected the current office holders (Chairman Jeremy Corbyn; Vice-Chairs Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Andrew Rosindell MP, Henry Smith MP; Secretary Andrew George MP). David Snoxell was re-appointed Coordinator and Richard Gifford Legal Adviser – the Group thanked them for their continuing support and service to the Group.

Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and Questions which had been answered since the Group’s last meeting on 5 June were considered. Members were surprised to learn that the Government received no revenues from the sales of .io domains and noted that this had been contradicted by the International Computer Bureau (ICB) Chief. Lord Avebury had tabled a further Question on the financial arrangements with the ICB.

The Group discussed the KPMG monthly reports for May and June on the progress of the feasibility study. They were concerned that the initial consultations with the Chagossians in Mauritius, Seychelles and Crawley did not appear to have gone well and that this could lead to delay. They urged both the FCO and KPMG to ensure that the grievances and aspirations of Chagossians were considered as well as the technical aspects of the conditions in which some would want to resettle permanently in the Islands. Members did not feel that to proceed by way of questionnaires was the best way forward. The Group took note that in answer to a PQ Mr Simmonds had said that the feasibility study should be complete by early January 2015. Members were of the view that the study, including the extension of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT, should be debated in Parliament before Ministers made final decisions on resettlement.

A request from Prof Charles Sheppard, Chairman of CCT and his colleagues to make a presentation to the Group on the conservation aspects was agreed – their last presentation to the Group had been in December 2010. Also at her request a meeting with Dr Philippa Gregory would be arranged.

The next meeting of the Group will be on 15 October 2014, preceded by the postponed meeting with Mr Simmonds, if available.

Notice of an Extraordinary General Meeting

Posted in Uncategorized on July 6th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The UK Chagos Support Association will hold an extraordinary general meeting on Sunday 10 August at Pizza Express, 48 Moreton Street, Pimlico, London SW1V 2PB, at 2pm, for the election of officers, and annual business.

Opponents of Chagos Islands resettlement again honoured in Queen’s Birthday Honours list

Posted in APPG, CCT, conservation, FCO, Legal, MPA, resettlement, Uncategorized on June 30th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

The new Chairman of the Chagos Islands Conservation Trust (CCT), Professor Charles Sheppard, has been awarded an OBE in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours list. In the Mandrake column published by The Daily Telegraph journalist Tim Walker suggested that this would be unwelcome news to most Chagossians and their supporters, as the CCT and Charles Sheppard have been opponents of resettlement (although it now takes a “neutral” position with regard to resettlement).
Prof Sheppard is not the first opponent of Chagossian resettlement to receive a national honour from the Queen in the recent past. Last year fellow Chagos Island Conservation Trust member Simon Hughes received an MBE whilst a Foreign Office Legal Adviser, Dereck Walton, received an OBE.
Commenting in the Daily Telegraph article, Chagos Islands APPG Coordinator David Snoxell stated that

“Three honours lists in a row have honoured individuals – nominees of the FCO – who, in their different capacities, opposed resettlement. At a time when progress is being made on a resettlement feasibility study commissioned by the FCO, this sends the wrong signal. Acknowledging conservation is important, but not when it trumps the human rights of an exiled people.”

WikiLeaked diplomatic cable , judged as admissible evidence

Posted in Legal, MPA, Wikileaks on June 11th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

A leaked diplomatic cable published by a third party on the internet did not violate the archive and documents of the diplomatic mission which had sent the cable because it had already been disclosed to the world and, consequently, it was admissible as evidence in court. The Court of Appeal so held, inter alia. in dismissing the appeal of the claimant, Louis Oliver Bancoult, against the refusal of the Divisional Court of the Queen’s Bench Division (Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Mitting) ([2013] EWHC 1502 (Admin)) to grant judicial review of the decision on April 1, 2010, of the defendant, the Foreign Secretary, to create a no-take marine protected area for the environmental protection of the British Indian Ocean Territory. A summary of the judgement was published in the Times on 10 June 2014.

The Chagossian maelstrom – is there an end in sight?

Posted in APPG, Diego Garcia, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, USA on June 11th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

ile sudestDavid Snoxell, Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and former High Commissioner to Mauritius, marked the 10th anniversary of the Privy Council Orders depriving the Chagossian people of their right to return to their homeland with an article in conservativehome. He explains how, as High Commissioner to Mauritius at the time, he advised the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that such an undemocratic device would compound the human rights violations and deceptions of the seventies and land the UK in costly legal actions and international opprobrium.

Millions have since been spent on litigation arising from these Orders. Then, on 1 April, 2010 Foreign Secretary Miliband had a Marine Protected Area surrounding the Islands proclaimed. This too triggered litigation contesting the legality of the MPA, brought both by the Chagossians and separately by Mauritius. Both executive actions, done without Parliamentary consultation, have led to a highly charged and complex political and legal maelstrom which the Coalition is, after four years in office, now trying to resolve. They have not got long in which to do so.

He goes on to explain the work of the APPG to press for an overall settlement of this Cold War legacy and for an independent resettlement feasibility study. While ackowledging that the FCO has, so far, kept to its undertaking that the process will be open and transparent, involving both the Chagossians and Parliamentarians at every stage, he stresses the APPG view that Parliament must debate the study findings before Minsters make their decisions, to be carried forward by the next government. The article ends by summarising what could be achieved by the current government if the political will is there.

Whilst in opposition Coalition politicians supported the goal of a fair and just settlement. The legacy of the last Government was a contested MPA. This Government can do better by restoring the right to return, thus removing a blot on the UK’s human rights record. This would reflect Britain’s values as a nation that ought to put human rights into practice in its own backyard. To resolve what are essentially political issues requires a sustained input of diplomacy, negotiation and compromise. But isn’t that what the FCO is for?

42nd Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, CCT, conservation, Crawley, CRG, FCO, resettlement, Uncategorized, William Hague on June 5th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its postponed 42nd meeting on 4 June. The Group sent their best wishes to Lord Avebury for a speedy recovery.

The Group considered the Parliamentary Questions and Answers, tabled since the last meeting, by Lord Avebury and Andrew Rosindell concerning the latest scientific evidence on sea levels (“Contemporary sea level in the Chagos Archipelago, Central Indian Ocean” published in Global and Planetary Change, 2012, volumes 82-83, pages 25-37), on the applicability of FOI and EIRs to BIOT and on the Feasibility Study. They also took note of the Chairman’s intervention on BIOT in the Overseas Territories (Sustainability) debate on 8 May and his follow-up letter to the Minister concerned.

Members discussed the progress of the feasibility study as described in KPMG’s April Report and the preparations for the consultation with the Chagossians this month. They were concerned that Chagossians should be properly assisted in these consultations and were pleased to note the help already provided by Richard Dunne. They paid tribute to Mr Dunne for all the legal and scientific work he had done over the last 4 years on behalf of the Chagossians and conservation. While noting that the study seemed to be moving ahead with momentum in an open and transparent way the Group reiterated their wish to have the report by January in order for it to be considered and debated by Parliament before Ministers made decisions. They looked forward to discussions with Mark Simmonds, the FCO Minster responsible, at their next meeting on 15 July. The last such discussions were with the Foreign Secretary in December 2011.

The Group was updated on the Court of Appeal judgment (23 May) which had upheld the judgment of the High Court except in regard to the admissibility of the wikileak evidence which the Court did not find was in conflict with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. An appeal to the Supreme Court was under consideration. Members were also informed that the Mauritian case at an international Arbitral Tribunal in Istanbul (22 April-6 May) would not announce its findings until later this year. They took note that the judgment of the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) of a case concerning the applicability of FOI/EIRs to BIOT would not be available for several weeks.The Group asked what the cost to the tax payer of this continuing litigation was. There was also the possibility that the Law Lords 2008 judgment could be referred to the Supreme Court because of an alleged miscarriage of justice.

The Group considered a letter which Olivier Bancoult had received from the Chief Executive of the Passport Office concerning eligibility for British citizenship. They were pleased to note that the Passport Office accepted that there had been an error over Jean Hilare’s passport which should have been granted for ten not five years, and that this would be rectified.

A letter from Prof Charles Sheppard, Chairman of CCT, to members was discussed. They were pleased to note that the official position of CCT was now “strictly neutral” on the issue of resettlement. They hoped that CCT’s excellent conservation work would no longer be seen as in conflict with the aspiration of all Chagossians to return to the Islands for residence or visits.

It was noted that the tenth anniversary of the Orders in Council, banning the Chagossians from returning to their homeland, was on 10 June. The Group hoped that the result of the Feasibility Study would be the withdrawal of those Orders which had led to so much distress, litigation and cost.

The next meeting and sixth AGM will be on 15 July 2014.

Disappointment at Appeal Court verdict on Chagos marine reserve

Posted in ConDem, conservation, FCO, Labour, MPA, resettlement, Wikileaks on May 26th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court’s ruling that the Chagos marine reserve imposed by Gordon Brown’s government in 2010 was lawful.
Judges considered cables revealed by Wikileaks, which suggested the Foreign Office hoped the Chagos marine reserve would prevent the islanders from returning home.
The Chagos Refugees Group has made the following statement:

Chagossians welcome the important decision of the Court of Appeal that the Wikileaks cable, in which the Commissioner for British Indian Ocean Territory revealed the true purpose of David Miliband’s Marine Protected Area around the Chagos islands to be to prevent resettlement by us of our islands should have been admitted in evidence. It clearly showed that the UK was presenting the MPA to the USA as a means of preventing us from resettling our ancestral homeland. We condemn the last British government for the underhand way in which our dignity as an uprooted people has been further insulted. What we do not understand is that, having wrongly excluded this important evidence from the Court, it has now been decided that this exclusion “makes no difference” to the issue of this improper purpose. It seems that the whole world now knows what was said between officials in secret, but the Courts are alone in disregarding the clear message of deception which it reveals.
It should be recalled that the history of our exile is marked by serious acts of deception practised in order to disguise what is a clear breach of our rights of self determination. This history includes:

1. The deception of the UN in 1965, when the Colonial Office misrepresented our people as a transient population, despite their duty to help us towards self- determination, in order to evade fundamental rights and secretly deport our people into exile.

2. The secret documents that required us to surrender our right of return, which were not explained or translated to us, when small amounts of compensation were paid in 1982.

3. The now revealed interference by officials with the feasibility Study in 2000-2002 which Robin Cook promised as a means of providing for our return.

4. The secret abolition of our Right of Return, by Jack Straw, in 2004, when the false conclusions of the feasibility study were used to justify this attack on our identity as an island people. Chagossians will never give up our fundamental right to return to our homeland. We welcome the decision of the coalition government to make a second study of the Return of the population, provided that this is a sincere effort to achieve real resettlement. We deplore the last Government’s tricks to cheat us of our return, after the High Court declared our exile to be illegal in 2000.