ConDem

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.

Is the tide turning in Chagos?

Posted in APPG, Commonwealth, ConDem, conservation, CRG, Diego Garcia, FCO, Labour, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Uncategorized, USA, William Hague on November 2nd, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

David Snoxell, former British High Commissioner to Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, gave a presentation at the Chagos Refugees Group International Conference (Mauritius, 29-31 Oct, 2013). The presentation was entitled Options for resolving the issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and of the Chagos Islands. Is the tide turning in Chagos? He began by congratulating the CRG and its Leader, Olivier Bancoult, on its 30 years of struggle for their noble cause which is to empower Chagossians to return to their homeland.

He then reviewed UK government policy since the 2000 High Court judgment in favour of the Chagossians, which was subsequently overturned by means of an ancient device, known as Privy Council Orders, bypassing Parliament. David Snoxell highlighted the influence of Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials on government policy and how bad policy has been compounded, while pointing to the expertise and continuity available from the Chagos APPG and welcoming the policy review on resettlement of the Chagos Islands:

….it is necessary to understand that it is FCO officials who explain and present the issues and recommend to Ministers the policy to be adopted. Unless it is a major international issue, going to the heart of Britain’s essential interests, Ministers generally accept what officials recommend. No Minister is able to take the time to get to grips with complex issues, such as Chagos, when there are international crises raging overhead as there have so often been in recent times. So in effect it is officials who make the policy but they like Ministers come and go with some frequency. FCO officials usually want “quick wins”, easy solutions and a straight run in office. In 2004 resettlement was seen as a long drawn out and difficult process, too complicated for the two officials (5 today) who were responsible for BIOT. Banning resettlement altogether seemed the easiest option.

Now it is very difficult for officials and their legal advisers to admit that they or their predecessors made the wrong decision. So they are obliged to defend the entrenched positions of the past with the same formulae and arguments they have inherited, without examining whether those arguments were or remain valid. The result is bureaucratic inertia and becoming victims of their own propaganda. Thus the policy stays frozen in time and officials defend it to the hilt against pressure from Parliament or any other source. Ministers are too busy and lack the expertise to challenge these entrenched positions, often bolstered by legal advice – the current Minister responsible for BIOT is the 9th since 2000. This is where an APPG can be of much help to a beleaguered Minister, challenging the accepted mantras of the past.

It is important to consider the four standard arguments deployed since 2004 by FCO against resettlement:

1. The islands are set aside for defence purposes and in any case the US would not agree. But I have never seen a convincing explanation as to why resettlement of UK nationals, on the Outer Islands would pose a threat to military operations or to the security of the base on DG 130 miles away, or indeed to resettlement on DG itself. The Outer Islands are clearly not required for defence since over the last 48 years no defence facilities have ever been built there. It is unlikely that if the British Government informed the US Administration that it planned to go ahead with a resettlement on the Outer Islands the US would disagree. They might, however, take a little more convincing if the settlement was to be on DG, in close proximity to the base, but this too is not impossible.

2. The 2002 Feasibility Study concluded that resettlement was not feasible due to rising sea levels, increased storminess leading to flooding and erosion of the islands, the potential damage to marine life and corals and the lack of sustainable employment. But the FCO now accepts, 11 years later, that following years of critical analysis of the 2002 study by experts, a new feasibility study is required and by implication that the old one was flawed. We await an announcement soon of the draft ToRs of the proposed study and progress on the Policy Review.

3. Then comes the cost argument, often much exaggerated, but the UK is a wealthy nation that has no trouble finding the resources for overseas defence operations and there are other sources – the US, EU, Commonwealth, International Community and NGOs.

4. Human habitation is not compatible with the conservation of the unique bio-diversity and marine environment of the Islands. This argument of course ignores the fact that up to 4000 military personnel live on DG. But it is a powerful argument which appeals to some zealous members of conservation NGOs. The political influence, resources and reach of these groups should, however, not be underestimated. They have had a symbiotic relationship with the FCO which has used the NGOs to bolster their policy against resettlement and in turn has been used by them to maintain uninhabited the Outer Islands; scientists, environmentalists and conservationists of course excepted. The somewhat misleading campaign to create the MPA, waged by Pew and CEN in public and in private in 2009/10, was a manifestation of this relationship.

But I would now like to focus on the future rather than dwell on past mistakes. Clearly, after more than a decade of intransigence, the FCO needs a thorough and objective review of all its policies towards Chagos. And here I pay tribute to today’s FCO for recognising this. The Policy Review announced ten months ago by the Foreign Secretary on 20 December 2012 was a belated but welcome step forward. I believe that it is a genuine attempt to be open, objective and fair. In a debate in the Lords on 17 October the FCO Minister, Baroness Warsi said:

“On 18 December 2012 the Foreign Secretary said that he was going to review policy towards the resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory. This review has been under way since then and we have been in touch with all those with an interest, especially the Chagossian community here in the UK, in Mauritius and in the Seychelles. Ministers have agreed that we should have an independent study that will, with as much transparency as possible, properly explore what might be possible, what is realistic and what it would cost. I am sure that I will report back to the House when that is concluded.”

I do feel that current officials and their Ministers want to bring about a fair resolution of the issues in consultation with Chagossians and Mauritius. I am hopeful that it will be the breaking of the logjam and that it will lead to four principle results:

1. The Feasibility Study concludes that resettlement is feasible, can be done economically and will not endanger the marine environment.

2. The FCO accepts the findings, makes resettlement a condition of the renewal of the 1966 Anglo-American Agreement to include a financial contribution from the US; seeks funding from other sources (if necessary), resolves to start planning at least an experimental resettlement immediately, with a view to the first settlers returning in 2015, the 50th anniversary of the creation of BIOT.

3. Given the UK’s oft repeated commitment that when no longer needed for defence purposes sovereignty will revert to Mauritius, the British Government proposes to Mauritius the start of fresh talks on the future of BIOT, to cover arrangements for Mauritian participation in the management of the Islands and the MPA, leading to a timetable for either joint sovereignty or a gradual ceding of sovereignty which may or may not include DG.

4. All of this to be announced by end 2014, well before the general election in May 2015 and the CHOGM in Mauritius in Oct 2015 to bring the UK into conformity with the Commonwealth Charter, signed by The Queen and Member States in March.

I would also expect conservation organisations in the UK and Mauritius to start to work with Chagossians who wish to return by providing marine skills, training and education in conservation. Proper management of the MPA, especially if a scientific station were established, would result in the creation of jobs such as servicing visiting scientists, maintaining boats and equipment and patrolling the islands.

Having a Policy Review is a sea change in FCO thinking. The results will be seen as a political and moral test of the UK’s fundamental values. As the Foreign Secretary has said “It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience; neither is it in our interests”. If next year the Feasibility Study reports that resettlement is practical, as we know it is, I cannot imagine that the British Government will not make it possible. The vital thing is to ensure that the Feasibility Study, coming 12 years after the last, is this time truly independent, transparent and objective and takes account of the much more detailed scientific data now available. So to answer my question I believe the tide is turning.

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group

29 Oct 2013

 

FCO announces new Chagos feasibility study

Posted in ConDem, conservation, FCO, Parliament, resettlement on July 8th, 2013 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Foreign Office is commissioning a new feasibility study on resettlement of Chagos, it was announced today.

The statement from Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said:

Mark Simmonds“Successive British Governments have consistently opposed resettlement of the islands – on the grounds of both defence and feasibility. The Government must be honest about these challenges and concerns. Long-term settlement risks being both precarious and costly. The outer islands, which have been uninhabited for 40 years, are low-lying and lack all basic facilities and infrastructure. The cost and practicalities of providing the levels of infrastructure and public services appropriate for a twenty-first century British society are likely to be significant and present a heavy ongoing contingent liability for the UK tax-payer. However, the Government recognises the strength of feeling on this issue, and the fact that others believe that the resettlement of BIOT can be done more easily than we have previously assessed. We believe that our policy should be determined by the possibilities of what is practicable.”

Simmonds said the government intends “to make the remit of the study of resettlement as broad as possible”, and that “independent views from all interested parties will be used when considering how we take the study forward”.

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

The UK Chagos Support Association welcomes the opportunity to revisit this important issue – it’s something that we and many MPs have been calling for for years. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the compensation paid to the islanders so far has been inadequate, that Britain’s overseas territories already include a number of remote islands which are home to stable communities, and that resettlement of Chagos is not just about the outer islands, but also the main island Diego Garcia.

It is also vital that the feasibility study is completed before the next election, and doesn’t become another reason to delay justice for the Chagos islanders.

36th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, ConDem, FCO, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA, William Hague on June 10th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 36th meeting on 5 June 2013.
Members discussed recent correspondence with Ministers, PQs and interventions in debates since the last meeting on 24 April. They were grateful to Baroness Whitaker for her speech during the Lords’ foreign affairs, defence and development debate on 14 May in which she recalled the commitment by William Hague before the election “to work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute” and his promise on 20 December 2012 to review the policy on resettlement. Baroness Whitaker had asked when Parliament would be consulted about the review, commenting that there was “much work to be done to make the MPA what it ought to be so that everyone can wholeheartedly support it”.
The Group considered  a Question, answered on 5 June, from Lord Ramsbotham as to whether HMG “will commission an independent study to re-evaluate the science and practicality of resettlement, in consultation with the Chagossians, in the light of Prof. Kench’s report which concluded that the 2002 feasibility study used untested models and contradictory evidence”. It was noted that Baroness Warsi’s answer that “we are currently reviewing our policy towards BIOT…do not have a timetable for the conclusion of this review but will update Parliament as soon as we are in a position to do so” avoided the question. It was also at odds with the offer of an independent  resettlement study  made by the FCO Minister in charge of BIOT, Mark Simmonds, at a recent meeting which included the Chairman and Vice chairman of the APPG. Members did not understand whether this study was separate from or subsumed within the wider review. They felt that both were necessary, especially as the scientific review would be independent.
The Group went on to discuss the nature and timetable for the proposed review. They were informed about a proposal put to the Minister by Mr Gifford that the review should include an independent study and take up where the 2002 Feasibility Study had left off, comprising a cost/benefit analysis, evaluation of livelihood strategies, consultation with Chagossians and an objective examination of sources of funding.
Members understood that the FCO had strengthened the team of officials undertaking the review and that it was the intention of Ministers and officials that it should be open, transparent and inclusive, look at every aspect of resettlement and consult all stakeholders. They questioned whether there should be an independent element to the review. The Group also understood that the Foreign Secretary would make a statement to Parliament  before the recess in mid July about the progress, parameters and timetable of the review. Members noted that 7 months will have elapsed to reach only this first stage. They  felt that it should be an oral statement to allow for follow-up questions. They accepted that it was a complex process but that there had to be a deadline so that the recommendations of the review could be agreed and implemented well before the end of the Coalition Government in May 2015. It was up to Ministers to ensure a deadline was set. They suggested that apart from  Chagossian and conservation groups, the US, Mauritius and Parliament, other stakeholders should include DfID, the Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament and the Minority Rights Group. Members decided to ask for a 90 minute Commons debate as soon as possible so that the views of  MPs could inform the Foreign Secretary’s statement. It was felt that a similar debate should be held in the Lords in September.
Members considered the research paper by the House of Commons Library published on 22 May, entitled “Disputes over BIOT: a survey”. They felt that this was a helpful contribution to the debate and commended the author Jon Lunn. They also considered two papers on the controversy concerning the  number of Chagossians deported, one by Wenban-Smith, entitled “Population of the Chagos 1820-1973″ published by Chagos News (CCT) in Jan 2012 which concluded that the number could be as few as 500 and a much more detailed response by Dunne and Gifford published in Population, Space and Place entitled “A Dispossessed People: the Depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago, 1965-1973″ which concluded that “the policy of the British Government drove between 1,328 and 1,522 Ilois into exile and poverty on Mauritius and a further 322 on the Seychelles”.
The next meeting and 5th annual AGM will be held on 16 July.

Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, coverage, CRG, Diego Garcia, ECHR, FCO, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA on May 21st, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment
chagos

Photo: Getty images

An article by Dr Sean Carey, published in the UK Independent blog, is reproduced below:

“Being in Chagos is an incredibly special experience,” says Rachel Jones, deputy team leader of the Aquarium at ZSL London Zoo, in a new YouTube posting extolling the “unique” environment of the warm, pristine waters of the archipelago. “It’s literally like going back in time… It’s what reefs, I imagine, were like 50 or 60 years ago. She adds: “It’s very special being somewhere where you know you’re the only one there. There’s no one else around.”

How nice, you might think, that UK marine scientists can explore the corals and monitor shoals of fish in the British Indian Ocean Territory. But what Jones omits to mention is that 50 or 60 years ago there was a vibrant community of around 1700 islanders living in harmony with the environment. The only reason there isn’t now is that the entire population was exiled.

The shameful history of what happened was neatly summarised by Baroness Whitaker in the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords recently. She said: “In 1965 our Government detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in order to form a separate British Indian Ocean Territory, in defiance of four UN resolutions. They reclassified the inhabitants as contract workers, made the largest, most southerly island Diego Garcia, available to the United States for use as a military base, and gradually removed the Chagossians from all the islands, eventually depositing them in Mauritius and the Seychelles during 1971 to 1973.”

Since then the islanders, the descendants of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers, have been fighting a marathon legal campaign to restore the right of return. After a series of spectacular victories in the lower courts, the Chagossians, led by Port Louis-based electrician Olivier Bancoult, were narrowly defeated by 3-2 majority in the House of Lords in 2008. There was a further setback last December when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the case was inadmissible, because many of the islanders exiled in Mauritius (though not those in the Seychelles) had accepted compensation from the UK in 1982.

Back in the Upper House, Lord Astor, the Coalition Government’s spokesman replied with customary courtesy. “The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked why the Chagos islanders could not return. We regret what happened in the late 1960s and 1970s. The responsibility for decisions taken then has been acknowledged by successive Governments. However, the reasons for not allowing resettlement, namely feasibility and defence security, are clear and compelling.”

Lord Astor was clearly reading from an old brief because the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is now being forced to come to terms with overwhelming evidence that neither reason given is clear and compelling. Why? Well, first the base is around 140 miles from the outer islands in the Archipelago, such as Peros Banhos and Salomon, which could be resettled. It’s simply not credible to believe that a few hundred Chagossians would jeopardise US operations. Secondly, if Diego Garcia remains viable for some 3,500 military personnel and ancillary workers then logic dictates that the other islands can also be made suitable.

Furthermore, pressure continues to mount both in the UK and internationally. Earlier this year in an article for The Mirror, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott made his feelings clear. “I’m ashamed the UK governments allowed this to happen. It was wrong and we must make amends,” he wrote. (Since then Lord Prescott has joined the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group; so too has former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Ashcroft.)

A few days ago, in an article for Libération, JMG Le Clezio also denounced the brutal removal of the islanders from their homeland as an “organised denial of human rights”. He claimed that the failure of the court in Strasbourg to take action was a “denial of justice” and a clear example of “moral cowardice”. The 2008 Nobel Prize winner for literature, who holds dual French and Mauritian nationality, calculates that it is part of the “indifference of the powerful” to those who are obliged to live on the margins.

It’s difficult to disagree – unless, of course, you work for the ZSL and other conservation groups which are apparently content to ignore the misfortune and misery of those who were in Chagos long before they were.

Cross-party support for return of Chagosians to their homeland

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, Diego Garcia, FCO, ITLOS, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA on May 16th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

Yesterday’s debate on the Queen’s Speech included the following speech by Baroness Whitaker, supported by Lords Ramsbotham and Avebury. They mention the pre-election commitment of the government to deliver justice to the exiled Chagossians. In the limited time the Minister has to reply to a long debate covering foreign affairs, defence and development he simply reads off the lines from a general brief provided by officials. Clearly the bit on Chagos had not been updated for some time but no attempt is made to answer the points raised by speakers.

Lord Ramsbotham (Crossbench)

My Lords, in noting the antics in the other place following the non-inclusion in the gracious Speech of a possible referendum on Europe, I am confident that they will not be repeated in this House if my contribution is devoted to the surprising absence of another issue. Before I come to that, as a vice-chairman of the Chagos Islands all-party group I agree with everything that will be said by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on the Chagossian return.

Baroness Whitaker (Labour)

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his trailer for my remarks, and for his support.

The gracious Speech promises to “ensure the security, good governance and development of the Overseas Territories”.—[ Official Report , 8/4/13; col. 3.]

This is sorely needed for the Chagos Islands, the inhabitants of which were exiled from their homeland by the British Government in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I am indebted to our former high commissioner to Mauritius, Mr David Snoxell, for his advice.

It is not as if anyone now thinks this exile was an example of good governance. On 23 April 2009 the then shadow Foreign Minister, Keith Simpson, said: “There is no doubt that there is a moral imperative”, and that, “I suspect … the all-party view is that the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognised, and that there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 23/4/09; col. 176WH.]

In a letter to a member of the public on 23 March 2010 the shortly to be Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I can assure you that if elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.

I will briefly remind noble Lords of how this tragic fate overtook the Chagossians. In 1965 our Government detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in order to form a separate British Indian Ocean Territory, in defiance of four UN resolutions. They reclassified the inhabitants as contract workers, made the largest, most southerly, island, Diego Garcia, available to the United States for use as a military base, and gradually removed the Chagossians from all the islands, eventually depositing them in Mauritius and the Seychelles during 1971 to 1973. Some came to Britain from 2001.

Now, fewer than 700 of the original islanders remain. The United States base on Diego Garcia is 140 miles away from the outer islands, to which some would like to return. When the Government of the United States were asked by our Foreign Office publicly to affirm, as was reported in a WikiLeaks cable from the United States embassy in London, that they required the whole of the British Indian Ocean Territory for defence purposes, they did not do so. The State Department has indicated informally to a member of the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) All-Party Parliamentary Group, of which I also am a member, that if asked it will review the security implications of a limited return. Our Law Lords described official letters that claimed that there was a defence risk as “fanciful” and “highly imaginative”.

In 2014 the agreement with the United States will come up for renewal. I suggest that this gives an excellent opportunity for exploring whether a small number of Chagossian people could return to the outer islands. It would seem to have no security or defence implications for the base on Diego Garcia. I am assured that many will not want to return, but all want their right to do so restored, and some will want only to visit their homeland and come away.

Would this be a burden to the British taxpayer? The Foreign Office set up a feasibility study in 2001, which claimed that resettlement was not feasible and anyway was very expensive. The infeasibility argument has been discredited by one of its own consultants and by others, most recently in a report by Professor Paul Kench of Auckland University. As for the cost, it would be idle to pretend that justice would not carry some. However, the United Kingdom would not have to bear the whole burden of restoring the tiny infrastructure. The European Union high representative has confirmed to Charles Tannock MEP that funds are available. The UNDP may have capacity and it would surely be right for the United States, Mauritius and the Commonwealth to do their bit.

What of the marine protected area, with its full no-take ban on fishing—except, as it happens, around the waters of Diego Garcia, where recreational fishing can be practised—which was hastily declared by David Miliband, as Foreign Secretary, just before the last election? It is unlike most other MPAs, for instance around the Galapagos Islands, where the people who live there help to maintain it.

There is worldwide support for a marine protected area that takes account of the interests of the Chagossians and Mauritius. However, it should have been properly conceived, with a defined role for inhabitants. As it stands, there is only one vessel to patrol the ban over 640,000 square kilometres, and I have seen photographs of very recent substantial illegal fishing operating within the MPA.

The MPA was proclaimed without taking account of the views of the Chagossians, who applied for judicial review in the high court, or of Mauritius, which has brought a case under the Permanent Court of Arbitration for breach of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. There is much work to be done to make the MPA what it ought to be so that everyone can wholeheartedly support it.

In the time available I have simply tried to pinpoint the chief aspects of a manifest and agreed injustice of a fundamental kind. This hardly matches the human rights standards of the Commonwealth charter, which we signed only last March. However, it is very good news that the Foreign Secretary has shown indications of a positive attitude to righting these wrongs in his statement following the end of the human rights case in Strasbourg, and that he is reviewing the policy on resettlement. I hope that the Minister can say how the Government will now proceed and when Parliament will be consulted about the review of that policy.

Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I warmly echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on the right of the Chagossians to return to their homeland, from which they were ejected many years ago in one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history. I also join her in welcoming the review by the Government of their Chagos policy, which I hope will lead to the removal of this blot on our reputation.

Lord Rosser (Labour)

At this point, I refer to the speech made by my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the issue of the Chagos islanders—a matter also referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Avebury. The issue is whether they should be able to return to the outer islands. My noble friend referred to the statement made in 2010 by the now Foreign Secretary that he would,

“work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.

My noble friend asked what the Government were doing or intending to do in the light of that undertaking. I do not know what that statement by the Foreign Secretary was meant to mean. I hope that the Minister will provide a direct answer to my noble friend’s question when he responds.

Lord Astor of Hever (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Defence; Conservative)

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked why the Chagos islanders could not return. We regret what happened in the late 1960s and 1970s. The responsibility for decisions taken then has been acknowledged by successive Governments. However, the reasons for not allowing resettlement, namely feasibility and defence security, are clear and compelling. The Government will continue to look at the issues involved and engage with all those with an interest.

33rd Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, ECHR, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Uncategorized, USA, William Hague on January 11th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 33rd meeting on 10 January 2013 to consider the situation following the Strasbourg ruling that the case of the Chagos Islanders was inadmissible and the political options available for making progress.

While noting that Strasbourg had not ruled on whether the treatment of the Chagossians had been a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights the Group understood that Court procedure did not allow for appeals to the Grand Chamber against a majority decision of inadmissibility by the seven judge Chamber. Leaving aside other legal options the Group considered how best to respond to the Foreign Secretary’s statement, following the Court’s decision, that “the Government will take stock of our policy towards the resettlement of BIOT” and that “we will be as positive as possible in our engagement with Chagossian groups and all interested parties”. The Group felt that this was an encouraging response and that it offered an opportunity to begin the process of bringing about an overall political settlement of all the issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and BIOT. These issues were the right to return and resettlement, defence and security, feasibility, and cost, the need for an independent scientific study, conservation and the Marine Protected Area and future management and sovereignty of the Archipelago.

The Group considered a range of ideas for helping the Foreign Secretary to move forward on these issues and to establish the common ground between all the parties. It was agreed that the Chairman should write to Mr Hague to set out the Group’s ideas and to ask for a meeting to discuss them. Members also decided to table a number of PQs and to ask for urgent debates in both Houses of Parliament. The Group felt that substantial progress should be made this year before 2014 when the 1966 UK/US agreement comes up for renewal and potential renegotiation. 2015 would be the year of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of BIOT, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Mauritius and the end of the Coalition’s five year mandate. For the Government to meet its pre-election promises of a just and fair settlement in time it was important to begin discussions as soon as possible.

32nd Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, FCO, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, USA on December 6th, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – 2 Comments

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 32nd meeting on 5 December 2012. The Chairman welcomed a new member, Henry Bellingham MP who is the fifth former FCO Minister with responsibility for BIOT or the Indian Ocean to have joined the Group.

Members considered legal developments since the last meeting on 17 October. They noted that the Judicial Review of the MPA had been postponed to March to allow the FCO more time to prepare their case, in view of additional pleadings agreed by judges on 13 November, concerning traditional fishing rights and the requirement under the EU Treaty for social and economic development of the OTs. The Group also discussed the Mauritius case at ITLOS which would be heard by a Tribunal next July. Until these cases were resolved it was difficult to see how the MPA ,declared on 1 April 2010, could progress. The Group discussed ways in which these issues might be resolved through diplomacy and compromise, such as providing Mauritius with a role in the MPA and the Chagosians with a designated fishing zone, as is provided for the Pitcairn fishermen in the forthcoming Pitcairn marine reserve.

The Group also considered the implications of the Information Commissioner’s Decision that the BIOT Administration was subject to FOIA and EIRs. There seemed to be no good reason why the FCO should want the BIOT Administration, which is part of the FCO, to be immune from freedom of information and disclosure of environmental information. It was possible that the FCO would appeal to the First Tier Tribunal. The Chairman said he would table a further PQ on the subject.

The FAC meeting (postponed to 11 December) concerning the Overseas Territories White Paper, at which the new FCO Minister Mark Simmonds would be questioned, was discussed. Andrew Rosindell, the Vice Chairman of the Group, would be raising various issues regarding the section in the WP concerning BIOT.

The Group discussed the 1966 UK/US Exchange of Letters, due for renewal in 2014. It was felt that this provided a golden opportunity to discuss with the US an overall settlement of the issues and that the sooner these discussion began the better.

Lord Avebury’s intervention in the Lords debate on piracy in the Indian Ocean on 24 October was discussed. He had proposed that following up the meeting between the two prime ministers of 8 June, and once the court cases were out of the way, discussions between the UK and Mauritius on the future of the Chagos Islands should take place. Since Lord Avebury had received an unsatisfactory reply to his proposal during the debate it was suggested that he should write to the Minister concerned.

The next meeting of the APPG will be on 13 February 2013. As Philippa Gregory and the Comite Chagos were unable to meet the Group on this occasion it was agreed that they should do so before the next meeting.

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group: Co-ordinator’s Summary of 29th Meeting

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, ECHR, FCO, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA on May 18th, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 29th meeting on 16 May.

The Group discussed the position on the various legal cases.They noted that there was no news on when the ECHR in Strasbourg would deliver its judgment though July looked possible. The Information Appeal had been listed for hearing by the Information Tribunal in early July.

The Chagos Islanders’ Judicial Review on the MPA was also expected to begin in July. Members thought that if the judge found the MPA unlawful it was a simple matter for the FCO to take account of Chagossian interests by designating a coastal area for local fishing. This had been proposed  before the MPA was proclaimed by many contributors to the FCO Consultation, including the APPG in its submission of 10 February 2010. Whether the MPA was lawful in international law would be decided by the Arbitral Tribunal established under UNCLOS to hear the case brought by Mauritius, though this could take another year or so. In the meantime it was clear that the MPA remained a largely paper exercise although a full no-take fishing area had been imposed. The Group noted the FCO press release on the 2nd anniversary (1 April) of the MPA and that the FCO was optimistic that in future they could “involve more of our neighbours in developing what is an asset for the whole world”. The Group thought this referred to Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles. They also  noted that the management plan was now into its third year of drafting but assumed it could not be finalised until the legal cases had been resolved.  Members were pleased to see in the press release that the FCO would shortly be launching an environmental education programme for Chagossians and hoped that this would include those living in Mauritius since it was they who were the most likely to want to return.

The Group considered Lord Howell’s answer of 27 March to Baroness Whitaker’s question on whether, in view of the recently announced MPA for South Georgia and Sandwich Islands, which contained a sustainable fishery zone, the FCO would amend the  BIOT MPA to recognise the fishing rights of Mauritius and the Chagossians, in accordance with UNCLOS. The Group felt that Lord Howell’s answer that the FCO had no plans to do so and that the MPA was “fully compatible with UNCLOS” might not be the view of the neighbouring states, or of ITLOS.

The Group considered the various answers to PQs about the costs to the tax payer of 12 years of Chagos litigation. They were keen to know the total cost, including diplomatic and legal staff costs. From the information so far gleaned they thought it could well be in the order of £3.5m or higher, but costs were still being incurred.

Recalling its own proposal for UNESCO world heritage status the Group was pleased to note that a draft resolution for consideration by the 5th session of the World Conservation Conference of IUCN in September called on the UK and Mauritius to jointly nominate the Chagos Archipelago for World Heritage Listing and to develop a management plan with the active participation of the Chagos Islanders.

The Group took note of the petition to President Obama, which had collected 28,700 signatures, calling upon the President to redress the wrongs against the Chagossians by providing relief in the form of resettlement on the Outer Islands, employment and compensation.They looked forward to his reply. Members noted that 2014 was the deadline for the UK to renegotiate the 1966 Agreement with the US. They expected the FCO to begin discussions with the US this year.

The  recently released 2011 FCO annual report on Human Rights and Democracy was considered. The  Group noted the statement  in the section entitled ‘Promoting Human Rights in the Overseas Territories’  that “The UK Government’s long-standing objective is for the Overseas Territories to abide by the same basic human rights standards that British people expect of the UK Government”, but that there was no mention of  the human rights of the exiled people of the Chagos Islands.

The Group agreed to the request from the makers of the documentary “The Queen and Us”, which will consider the use of the Royal Prerogative in respect of Chagos, to interview the Chairman and film the start of the next APPG meeting.

The next meeting (also the fourth AGM) will be on 11 July.

“Ministers recognise the injustice done to the Chagossians. But it’s time for action, not words.”

Posted in APPG, ConDem, FCO, MPA, Parliament, William Hague on January 20th, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

David Snoxell, Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, likens the attitude of the current government to that of unwilling backseat passengers in an article for Conservative Home, saying:

“There is not much evidence that Ministers are succeeding in challenging the status quo on Chagos and applying political will and compromise to finding workable solutions – though, unlike the previous government, it is pretty clear that they would like to do so. They give the impression of being unwilling passengers bound and gagged in the backseat of a car driven doggedly by their officials.”

Mr Snoxell notes that the UK remains in violation of several UN human rights instruments and decisions and that its international reputation continues to be badly damaged by accusations of double standards. He finishes the article by encouraging the government to resolve the Chagossian injustice in 2012, a year in which the eyes of the world will be focussed on the UK:

“What better year than 2012, when the eyes of the world are on London for the Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee, to restore the human rights and the dignity of the Chagossian people? What better way to mark the Queen’s long reign, which has seen the transition of the British Empire to a Commonwealth of Nations, by bringing to an end this tragedy and relic of Empire in the Indian Ocean? Jeremy Corbyn, the Chairman of the APPG, has asked for a debate early in the session. This will be the opportunity for the Foreign Secretary to tell Parliament about the progress that he is making towards a settlement of the issues.”

You can read the full article here.