FCO

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 – Be the first to 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.

Now is the Government’s chance to keep its Chagossian promise

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, Diego Garcia, FCO, Feasability Study, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, UN, USA, William Hague on January 7th, 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 for conservativehome David Snoxell, Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, reviews progress on the pre-election commitment given by William Hague in a letter to a member of the public in March 2010

“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”.

A feasibility study on resettlement of the Chagos Islands is due to be published at the end of January 2015 and Snoxell acknowledges this important step forward, highlighting how FCO arguments against resettlement have been demolished by the report. However, he expresses concern about the high resettlement costings presented and questions the validity of values and calculations used. He also indicates the willingness of a number of other bodies, including the EU, to consider contributing to the costs of resettlement. He finishes by emphasising the necessity for a parliamentary debate before any ministerial decision is taken and notes that 2015 would be a symbolic year to end the forced exile of the Chagossian people.

Obviously, to be of any use, a debate should precede ministerial decisions on the report. So the timetable is pointing towards a debate in the first half of February, followed by a decision on resettlement in March, just in time for the election. The APPG proposal is a compromise, the lowest common denominator, which all “stakeholders” – the Chagossian groups and their worldwide support network, FCO officials, conservationists, scientists, human rights advocates and the US – should be able to accept.

Sadly, the number of Chagossians who were expelled between 1968-73 continues to diminish. 2015 will be the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of BIOT and the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta which provides that no “free man” shall be exiled. There could be no better way of celebrating the freedoms and the Rule of Law enshrined in Magna Carta than by allowing the Chagossians, who are also British, to return home.

This would be welcomed by the UN, African Union, Commonwealth and international community, and would strengthen the credibility of the UK’s promotion of international human rights.

Feasability Study on Chagossian Resettlement Published

Posted in Campaign, Diego Garcia, FCO, Feasability Study on November 28th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The draft feasibility study into Chagossian resettlement, commissioned by the British Government’s Foreign Office and conducted by professional services firm KPMG, has been published. The 82 page document is publicly available and can be read here.

We will post reaction and comment on the report in the near future, but we want to take the time to fully analyse and digest the text. Chagossians had serious concerns about the manner in which KPMG went about their work, many believing they were seriously under prepared, especially in the early sessions, but did engage with the study and hope to find their perspectives reflected in the final work.

We look forward to the meetings scheduled for December and January in which the study team will meet Chagossian groups again to discuss the report’s findings. A final version of the feasibility study is expected to be published in January, with the Government expected to reach a decision on resettlement shortly after.

Let us know what you think of the report and what our next steps should be.

 

 

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 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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.”

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.