APPG

The 2015 Election: What impact for Chagossians?

Posted in APPG, Conservative, Election 2015, Labour, Parliament, SDLP, SNP on May 17th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

electionWhat does the election mean for the Chagossian fight for justice?

In the many hours of media reaction to the recent UK election, this is probably not a question you have heard answered, or even asked.

The fight for Chagossian justice is of course beyond narrow party politics. It is a simple question of right and wrong which any Parliamentarian from UKIP to Green, DUP to Plaid Cymru, should be able to see requires immediate resolution. Remember to write to your newly elected or re-elected MP asking them to do so.

UK Chagos Support Association does not have any party political allegiance. We will work with anyone to finally see justice done and a stain on the nation’s character removed.

With a decision on return due in the near future, however, it is important who is Parliament to fight for justice, and indeed who will be making the decisions. So let’s see how things are shaping up.

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Foreign Office Ministers

There haven’t been many changes in the Foreign Office, which will make a final decision on whether to support Chagossian return. Even prior to the election, the Foreign Office was entirely populated by Conservative Party Ministers.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond remains in his post, as does the Junior Minister with responsibility for Overseas Territories (including the Chagos Islands) James Duddridge MP. Hugo Swire MP, who has also dealt with Chagos related issues in Parliament, also retains his role in the Foreign Office.

With no changes in personnel, there can be no excuse for any delay on delivering a positive decision on return in the very near future.

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

Shadow Foreign Office Ministers

With the Labour Party about to conduct a leadership election, their Shadow Cabinet is subject to change in the immediate future.

Previous Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander lost his seat at the election. Under Acting Party Leader Harriet Harman, Mr Alexander has been replaced by Hiliary Benn. Mr Benn has made no public comment on the Chagossian situation that we are aware of, although as a former Department for International Development Minister he has extensive experience supporting projects in Overseas Territories.

It is also worth remembering Ms Harman, in a letter to one of our supporters shortly prior to the election, struck a positive note about the potential to resolve the decades of injustice suffered by Chagossians. We hope she can use her time as head of Her Majesty’s Opposition to ensure the UK finally lives up to its legal and moral obligations to the Chagossian people. Labour Party supporters might even consider asking the various candidates what they would do to deliver justice.

SNP Annual ConferenceOther Parties and the Chagossian Cause

One of the big stories of the election was the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), with the party gaining almost 50 seats and becoming the third largest party in Parliament. At their last conference, the SNP pledged to act to support Chagossian return, so we are look forward to working with them to make this a reality.

The new SNP spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, high-profile former leader Alex Salmond, has spoken eloquently in Parliament previously about the injustices suffered across decades by Chagossians. We certainly hope in this new role he can finally give the Chagossian cause the national attention it deserves.

The other parties which have formally offered support to the Chagossian cause-the Green Party and the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) have retained their MPs (one and three respectively).

portThe All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands

Thankfully the Chagossian cause has supporters across all political parties in Westminster. Since 2008 some of the most strident advocates for justice have worked in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands.

Most members of the Group retained their seats in the election. Liberal Democrat Andrew George, the group’s Treasurer and Secretary, was not however returned to Parliament. Nor was former Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz who was a member of the group. We thank both for their years of support for the Chagossian cause.

The APPG is likely to formally meet for the first time in early June. If any MPs are interested in joining they can contact voluntary Group Coordinator David Snoxell at drsnoxell@gmail.com.

On any other issues MPs are welcome to contact ourselves for further information on how they can help make history in the next Parliament by delivering Chagossian justice.

House of Commons Library Briefing on the Chagos Islands

Posted in APPG, Feasability Study, House of Commons Library, Letusreturn, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 14th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

hoclThe House of Commons Library, an independent research body based in Parliament which aims to provide unbaised information to MPs and peers, has published an updated briefing on policy issues affecting the Chagos Islands. The briefing covers the period since the publication of the previous Houses of Commons Library Report on the Chagos Islands in mid-2013.

Following the delay of the decision on supporting return, promised by the Government prior to the election, the current Parliament will now take the decision on whether to support Chagossian return to their homeland. Ensuring MPs have accurate information about the situation is then vital and Parliamentarians are likely to consult this document. We will of course also be briefing MPs about how they can deliver Chagossian justice.

The document covers a range of issues including the feasibility report and decision on return, the international legal action on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area and the sovereignty dispute with Mauritius. It is well worth a read but you can find some of the key quotes from it below.

 

On Return and the recent KPMG feasibility study:

The report notes it is “significant” that Diego Garcia was included in the study as it had previously been “believed that the US would not want the island, where it has a military base, included.” It is worth noting the US has not expressed this desire and has always maintained the issue was a matter for the UK, which retains sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. In any case with the conditions of the UK-US agreement on the use of Diego Garcia being re-negotiated, it is incumbent upon the UK to insist that support for Chagossian return is a fundamental condition of any renewed agreement to allow continued US military presence.

“Because of its position on sovereignty, the Mauritian Government declined to engage with the new feasibility study on resettlement, although it supports the Chagossians on the issue.”

The Government claim that “was not a clear indication of likely demand for resettlement, and costs and liabilities to the UK taxpayer” are referenced, as our Chair’s critique of this decision. 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands’ proposal of a small-scale “pilot return” which could be begin in 2016 is also noted.

“But it is possible that the incoming UK Government will ultimately reject all the resettlement options put forward in the KPMG study.” This could, but need not, mean denying support for return. The KPMG study focused on three fairly arbitrary resettlement models. Return could also be feasible following a range of other models.

On the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Verdict on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area

“an Arbitral Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea unanimously ruled that the Marine Protected Area (MPA) declared by the UK [around the Chagos Islands in 2010] is not compatible with obligations under the Convention to give proper regard to the rights of Mauritius and is therefore not lawful. The unanimous ruling was issued on 18 March. It is final and binding.”

 

“There is evidence that, when it was established, FCO officials saw the MPA as a means of preventing Chagossian resettlement. To date, there has been no official British response to the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling.” Perhaps it does not qualify as an ‘offical response’ but a Foreign Office Spokesperson did respond to the judgement speaking to a Guardian journalist. In fact the spokesperson, rather baselessly, claimed the judgement proved there was ‘no improper motive’ for establishing the MPA so it is good to have independent acknowledgement this was not what the judgement stated.

On Sovereignty

“It has been argued in the past that, even if sovereignty over the entire BIOT is unlikely to be on the agenda in the near to medium-term, there may be more room for flexibility on the outer islands, which are not required for defence purposes. But the previous UK Government gave no indication that it might be thinking along those lines.”

 

On the future of US military facilities on Diego Garcia

“Under the 1966 Exchange of Notes between the UK and the US, a decision on whether to extend the arrangement for a further 20 years must be made by 31 December 2016.”

“The All Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands considers that any renewal next year of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT for defence purposes should be conditional on a commitment by both parties to facilitate and support [Chagossian] resettlement.”

 

On upcoming legal action

“Chagossians living in both Mauritius and the UK have also been seeking to challenge the establishment of the MPA. The original ground was that the public consultation process was flawed because it failed to acknowledge that resettlement was feasible. An additional ground was that the consultation failed to mention Mauritian or Chagossian fishing rights.”

“Finally, an application to the Supreme Court to set aside the 2008 House of Lords verdict – which ruled 3:2 that the use of Orders in Council in 2004 to prevent the Chagossians from returning was lawful ….was made in January 2015. The grounds for the application are that the 2008 judgment was partly based on the 2002 feasibility study, which has now been shown to be flawed, and that documents which demonstrated this were not disclosed…. The Supreme Court is expected to consider both applications by the end of June 2015.” Now scheduled for 22nd June

Chagos: An overall settlement closer than ever

Posted in APPG, FCO, Feasability Study, ITLOS, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, resettlement, UN, USA on March 26th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment
An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

In an article, published today in Weekly, the Mauritian equivalent of Express. David Snoxell, former high Commissioner for Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the All Party Parliamentary Group, gives his reactions to the Tribunal Award in favour of Mauritius. Explaining the basis of the case brought to the Arbitral Tribunal, established under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, by Mauritius as a result of the UK’s unilateral declaration of a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands, he finishes the article with the hope that an overall settlement could soon be reached:

An overall settlement of the issues could be closer than it has ever been, thanks to the KPMG feasibility report published in February, which found that there were no obstacles to resettlement, and to this Tribunal which obliges the UK to negotiate with Mauritius. 2015, the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the 50th anniversary of the creation of BIOT and the renegotiation of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of the Archipelago for defence purposes, could indeed be an auspicious year for Mauritius, the future of the Chagos Islands and its former inhabitants. The log jam seems at last to have broken.

The article was written before Tuesday’s FCO statement announcing a delay on reviewing the policy on resettlement.

Statement on 23 March 2015 issued by the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG on prospects for Chagossian resettlement and the future of the Chagos Islands.

Posted in APPG, Diego Garcia, ITLOS, Mauritius, Parliament, resettlement, USA on March 25th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

portThe Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group was established in December 2008 to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and of the Chagossian people. Considerable progress has been made towards this aim.

The KPMG report on the feasibility of resettlement, published last month, concluded that there were no legal obstacles to resettlement.

The Group held its 48th and final meeting of this Parliament on Monday 23 March 2015. In the absence so far of a statement by the Government on the KPMG report members concluded that:

  1. 1: Notwithstanding the period of purdah, between the dissolution of Parliament and the general election, the Government should consult and agree with the main political parties a statement on the future of the exiled Chagossian people to be made before the election, setting out the intentions of parties likely to form the next government.

  1. 2: The APPG believes that, following the KPMG study, there should be agreement to a pilot resettlement on Diego Garcia, work on which should begin immediately when the next government comes to office, with a view to the first settlers arriving in early 2016.

  1. 3: The APPG urges the political parties to seize this opportunity, during the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the 50th anniversary of the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory, to bring about a fair and just settlement to which Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were committed before the 2010 election, and rectify one of the worst violations of fundamental human rights perpetrated by the United Kingdom in the twentieth century.

  1. 4: The APPG considers that any renewal next year of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT for defence purposes should be conditional on a commitment by both parties to facilitate and support resettlement.

  1. 5: The Group welcomes the Arbitral Tribunal’s conclusion of the international arbitration between the UK and Mauritius and its finding that the undertakings given by the UK in 1965 are legally binding in international law. It calls upon the Government to open discussions with Mauritius concerning fishing rights which until the declaration of the MPA were operated by Chagossian owned and operated vessels.

  1. 6: In consequence of the above finding which gives Mauritius an “interest in significant decisions that bear upon the possible use of the Archipelago” the APPG urges the Government to consult Mauritius over future arrangements both for the MPA and for the US base on Diego Garcia, and also on plans for the resettlement of Chagossians, in view of the facilities available on Diego Garcia. The Government should also draw on expertise and experience available in Mauritius.

  1. 7: The APPG will be re-established after the election and continue to promote its aim of an overall settlement of the issues.

Government delays Chagos return decison

Posted in APPG, resettlement on March 24th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

duddWe have just heard the highly disappointing news the this Government has joined its predecessors in breaking its promise to the Chagossian people.

Following a Government-commissioned feasibility report which indicated that successful return was possible, a decision on supporting Chagossian resettlement of their homeland was promised before the end of this Parliament. Just days prior to Parliament’s dissolution, however, Chagossian hopes have been dismissed by the below three sentence statement (see the source here). The statement is credited to James Duddridge, the Minister responsible for Overseas Territories.

 

My Right Honourable Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Hugo Swire) informed the House on 10 February 2015 of the next steps in the Government’s review of its resettlement policy in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), following completion, on schedule, of an independent feasibility study. The study found there was not a clear indication of likely demand for resettlement, and costs and liabilities to the UK taxpayer were uncertain and potentially significant. Ministers have now agreed that further work should proceed to address these fundamental uncertainties to a point that a decision on the way ahead is possible.  James Duddridge

 

Yesterday the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group issued a statement which described a highly reasonable and practical route to achieving Chagossian return to their homeland. It is extremely saddening the Government have chosen not to take this perfect opportunity to deliver justice.

We will issue a full response shortly but suffice to say this is a terrible failure on the part of the UK Government. That the Government has avoided debating this in Parliament is especially shaming. There is certainly “demand for resettlement” and it is difficult to see how the cost estimates for resettlement could in any real way be described as significant.

 

Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Meeting: Coordinators Summary & Offical Statement

Posted in APPG, MPA, Parliament, resettlement on March 23rd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – 1 Comment

Big BenThe Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group have  agreed a statement on the prospects of Chagossian resettlement of their homeland. Please find the statement below a brief summary of this evening’s meeting. Thanks as ever to voluntary co-ordinator of the APPG David Snoxell for providing both the summary and the statement.

Coordinator’s Summary of the 48th Meeting of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

The Chagos Islands APPG held its 48th and final meeting of this Parliament on 23 March. The Group discussed the PQs tabled (not yet answered) and exchanges in the Commons with the Leader of the House and the Prime Minster since the last meeting on 23 February. 

Members noted that  their letter of 24 February to the Prime Minister had not yet been answered and nor had the Government’s anticipated statement to Parliament on the KPMG report been made.

The Group noted the progress that had been achieved since 2008 and agreed a statement on prospects for Chagossian resettlement and the future of the Chagos Islands (below) for release to the media and interested parties. It was decided that the Group would be re-established in the next Parliament and meet in early June.

Statement on 23 March 2015 issued by the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG on prospects for Chagossian resettlement and the future of the Chagos Islands.

portThe Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group was established in December 2008 to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and of the Chagossian people. Considerable progress has been made towards this aim.

The KPMG report on the feasibility of resettlement, published last month, concluded that there were no legal obstacles to resettlement.

The Group held its 48th and final meeting of this Parliament on Monday 23 March 2015. In the absence so far of a statement by the Government on the KPMG report members concluded that:

  1. 1: Notwithstanding the period of purdah, between the dissolution of Parliament and the general election, the Government should consult and agree with the main political parties a statement on the future of the exiled Chagossian people to be made before the election, setting out the intentions of parties likely to form the next government.

  1. 2: The APPG believes that, following the KPMG study, there should be agreement to a pilot resettlement on Diego Garcia, work on which should begin immediately when the next government comes to office, with a view to the first settlers arriving in early 2016.

  1. 3: The APPG urges the political parties to seize this opportunity, during the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the 50th anniversary of the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory, to bring about a fair and just settlement to which Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were committed before the 2010 election, and rectify one of the worst violations of fundamental human rights perpetrated by the United Kingdom in the twentieth century.

  1. 4: The APPG considers that any renewal next year of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT for defence purposes should be conditional on a commitment by both parties to facilitate and support resettlement.

  1. 5: The Group welcomes the Arbitral Tribunal’s conclusion of the international arbitration between the UK and Mauritius and its finding that the undertakings given by the UK in 1965 are legally binding in international law. It calls upon the Government to open discussions with Mauritius concerning fishing rights which until the declaration of the MPA were operated by Chagossian owned and operated vessels.

  1. 6: In consequence of the above finding which gives Mauritius an “interest in significant decisions that bear upon the possible use of the Archipelago” the APPG urges the Government to consult Mauritius over future arrangements both for the MPA and for the US base on Diego Garcia, and also on plans for the resettlement of Chagossians, in view of the facilities available on Diego Garcia. The Government should also draw on expertise and experience available in Mauritius.

  1. 7: The APPG will be re-established after the election and continue to promote its aim of an overall settlement of the issues.

Henry Smith Speaks Out In Interview on Chagossian Return Campaign

Posted in APPG, Campaign, Crawley, Parliament, resettlement on March 4th, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

“I’m not from the Chagos Islands, but if I was told I wasn’t allowed to return to the place in which I was born, I’d think that a grave human rights abuse. And it is no different for the Chagos Islanders. Henry Smith MP

Watch below our recent conversation with Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, as he comments on his Chagossian constituents’ hopes for justice, the history of the islands and his personal feelings about the long, hard fight for return.

Below, meanwhile, watch him forensically refute the arguments against giving Chagossians’ their natural right to return home.

 

Why Chagossian return can be a success: Henry Smith MP’s Analysis

 

Find out how you, like Henry Smith, can support the Chagossian fight for justice.

Coordinator’s Summary: Meeting of the Chagos Islands APPG , 23 February 2015

Posted in APPG, FCO, Feasability Study on February 23rd, 2015 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Please find the below a summary of the recent All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands, kindly provided by voluntary Group Coordinator David Snoxell

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 47th meeting on 23 February. It was followed by a meeting in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with Hugo Swire, Minister of State.

Big Ben

Photo: Gail Johnson, via Flickr

Members considered Parliamentary Questions and Answers since the last meeting on 14 January. They noted the positive tone of the Government towards the review of policy which follows the KPMG study. The Group also considered the letter from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee indicating that an oral session with the Foreign Secretary was scheduled for March which might provide an opportunity for the FAC to explore the potential for resettlement.
The Group was informed of developments in the two Chagos cases before the Supreme Court. Members took the view that litigation should be regarded as quite separate and independent of the political and practical considerations concerning resettlement and should not be a delaying factor.
The Group discussed KPMG’s final report and conclusions. They agreed that in principle there were no longer any impediments to resettlement and that even cost could be overcome. It was clear from correspondence that the Government wanted  to consider all options carefully, regarding the future of BIOT and also the aspirations of the Chagossians, and that this would involve the PM and Ministers across Government.
Members discussed sources of funding – the aid budget, US, EU, international organisations, and private sector. They were informed of an oral answer from the European Commission, given just prior to the APPG meeting, to a Question from Linda Mc Avan, chair of the Development Committee of the European Parliament. The answer reiterated earlier statements by the Commission that there was no obstacle to EU funding (either through the European Development Fund or indeed the European Investment Bank) should an application be made by HMG.
Members decided to press for a debate in both the Commons and the Lords which would probably be in the second half of March. It was agreed that should there be a need for a further meeting before the dissolution of Parliament (30 March) it would take place on 23 March.
An encouraging and positive meeting with Hugo Swire and officials followed at the FCO. Many aspects of BIOT were discussed including the KPMG study, costs, sources of funding, accommodation in the MPA of Chagossian artisanal fishing, current US recreational fishing (48 tons pa), renegotiation of the UK/US Agreement, Chagossian employment on the base and in the management of the MPA, future funding of the BIOT patrol vessel, future constitutional arrangements for BIOT providing for parliamentary oversight, sovereignty and a parliamentary visit after the election. The Group decided to put their views to the Prime Minister in a letter from the Chairman.

“Chagossians have waited more than forty years for justice, there should be no delay now.” Our response to Government Statement on Chagossian Return

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, Benjamin Zephaniah, Campaign, coverage, Diego Garcia, FCO, Feasability Study, Philippa Gregory, resettlement on February 10th, 2015 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Earlier today (10th February) the Government made a statement announcing the publication of the Foreign Office-commissioned KPMG report into the feasibility of Chagossian resettlement of their homeland. Our initial reaction is broadly positive and can be read below. The

Foreign Office Statement is cautious; but clear return is possible

Foreign Office Statement is cautious; but clear return is possible

Government’s statement, which announces the beginning of a “policy review,” can be read in full here.

The UK Chagos Support Association very much welcomes KPMG’s report into the feasability of Chagossian return to their homeland and its conclusion that there are no practical, security or environmental obstacles to resettlement. The Government’s confirmation that it will now engage in a serious and thorough policy review is also welcome.

The indication that the unique history of the Chagossian people will be a primary factor in this policy review is especially pleasing. The forced deportation of Chagossians and their neglect in exile by successive administrations places an unavoidable moral obligation on the UK Government to deliver justice to a much abused community.

The report rightly recongises any resettlement programme is complex, but it also demonstrates that there are no challenges to return which can not be overcome with appropriate planning and management.

Buildings like this beautiful church could soon see life again

Buildings like this beautiful church could soon see life again

We understand the Government’s concern that disproportionate costs should not fall on UK taxpayers. We are confident, however, that by efficiently managing processes, utilising a wide variety of funding sources and exploring income generating opportunities, Chagossian return can be delivered with extremely minimal cost to UK citizens.

Upon receiving the report, UK Chagos Support Association Patron and Novelist Philippa Gregory also reacted positivity, commenting;

“I am so pleased that KPMG has consulted the Chagossians as to their future and suggested ways that they could return to their rightful homeland at last. The Chagossians have waited more than forty years for justice, there should be no delay now.”

“While there is work to do on the detail of return, the Government can agree to the principle at once and make a commitment to these people who have been cruelly exiled for too long. The older people want to see their homeland before they die and the younger people are eager to make a start on their new lives. I urge the Foreign Office to make a commitment to return now.”

We accordingly look forward to working with the Chagossian community, Government officials and other stakeholders to develop and deliver a practical resettlement project in the near . Recognition of wider concerns of the Chagossian people beyond resettlement is also highly welcome and it is only right these are addressed simultaneously with central aim of return.

If you have any further queries about this issue do not hesitate to get in touch. Contact details can be found in the ‘contact us’ tab in the top left.

Chagos Islands: The ‘point of return’ beckons for Chagosians

Posted in APPG, Ben Fogle, Benjamin Zephaniah, CCT, CRG, Diego Garcia, EU, FCO, Feasability Study, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, Phillip Hammond, resettlement, UN, USA, William Hague on February 9th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

chagos

 

Over four decades ago, citizens of the picturesque Indian Ocean archipelago of Chagos were tricked or forcibly removed from their land by the UK to make way for a US military base following a secret deal between the two countries. The suffering of the forcibly exiled Chagossians, and their fight to return home is well documented. Now a new report brings hope their ordeal could soon be over. Dr Sean Carey finds out how.