FCO

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.”

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

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West, Conservative)

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

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

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

……………………………………………..

Diego Garcia
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Written Answers
4 Sep 2014

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West, Conservative)

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

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

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

House of Commons

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

Andrew Rosindell (Romford, Conservative)

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

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

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

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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.

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.

41st Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, Diego Garcia, FCO, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA, William Hague on March 3rd, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) held its 41st meeting on 26 February 2014. A new member, Chris Kelly MP, was welcomed.

The Group considered the final Terms of Reference (ToRs) for the new feasibility study, issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 30 January. Members felt that the ToRs adequately covered the requirements. They were disappointed that Chagossians would not be included in the visit of the consultants to the Islands, which would have given an opportunity for the consultants to interact with Chagossians in their homeland. They looked forward to hearing which Consultants had been selected. Given that their first task would be to produce an ‘inception report’ within 4 weeks, the Group assumed that this period was included within the envisaged 12 months for completion of the study. APPG members remained concerned that the study might not be ready in time for decisions to be taken before the next election. They recalled the enactment, without any consultation with Parliament, of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) on 1 April 2010, five weeks before the last election. They felt that this time there should be sufficient time for parliamentary debate before decisions were taken. They called on the Foreign Secretary to ensure that the study was completed by 31 December 2014. Members felt that political oversight was as important as the scientific and environmental research, much of which was already available in previous reports. They looked forward to an ongoing dialogue with Mark Simmonds, the FCO Minster responsible for the Overseas Territoriess.
Members were pleased to note that the US was being kept closely informed and that they had not objected to Diego Garcia being considered for resettlement. They urged that Mauritius should also be closely involved. They took the view that discussions with Mauritius about the future of the Islands should continue in parallel so that when the study was completed there would be an understanding between both countries on the way forward, while acknowledging that the Mauritian case against the MPA, which is due to be heard by an Arbitral Tribunal in Istanbul on 22 April, would need to be determined first. The Group expressed the hope that all issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and of the Islands should be resolved before next year’s election. They noted that 2015 would be the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT).
The Group considered legal developments concerning the Judicial Review of the the MPA which would be heard by the Court of Appeal, 31 March-1 April, and also the case before the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) on the applicability of Environmental Impact Reports and Freedom of Information to BIOT, on 1 May. They noted that the MPA would be four years old on 1 April and that until the litigation was concluded it remained in legal limbo. The Group believed that the MPA could only be effective with the cooperation of the Chagossians and Mauritius, particularly over the development of a Conservation Plan for the MPA, but was pleased to note that the ToRs of the Feasibility Study made provision for amendment of the Ordinances governing the nature of the MPA.
The Group was informed that the Foreign Secretary had declined to set aside the judgment of the House of Lords of October 2008 and that an application would therefore be made to the Supreme Court to re-open the case on the grounds of an alleged miscarriage of justice, arising from the 2002 flawed feasibility study.
The next meeting of the Group is on 30 April 2014.

40th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, FCO, Mauritius, MPA, USA, William Hague on December 20th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 40th meeting on 17 December 2013

The Group reviewed the progress made since its first meeting 5 years ago, on 16 December 2008. Members recalled the purpose of the Group was “to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and the Chagossian people”. The Group had also decided that “following the end of legal proceedings (Law Lords judgment Oct 08) the responsibility for the Chagos Islanders now rests with Parliament”. At its second meeting on 29 Jan 2010 the Group agreed several objectives one of which was. “A truly independent study of the practicalities and way in which a limited resettlement of Salomon and Peros Bahnos can be achieved….. drawn up in consultation with interested parties, not least the Chagossians”.They were pleased to note that after 5 years the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had now agreed to a new study. They were disappointed that another of its objectives (“Discussions with Mauritius on the future sovereignty of the Outer Islands”) had not so far begun although its objective (“Re-negotiation of the Agreement with the US by 2015, to reflect the right of the Chagossians to live on the Islands and any changes to the sovereignty of those Islands”) appeared to be on course.

Members discussed the proposed Terms of Reference for the new feasibility study. They endorsed the points made by Baroness Whitaker, Lord Avebury and Lord Luce in the Lords debate on 27 November, in particularly that it would be necessary to cut the length of the study from 12 to 6 months in order for decisions to be made and implemented before the general election. Members agreed that they should continue to monitor the process and timetable. closely.

The Group decided that the Chairman should write to the Foreign Secretary about this and other concerns such as the need to engage Mauritius in a diplomatic dialogue concerning the future management of the Islands and of the MPA.. As Lord Luce had said in the debate ” it is essential that they (Mauritius) are regarded as a vital player in any Chagossian solution”. Members agreed with Lord Avebury’s suggestion, made in the Lords debate, that to help break the ice the new BIOT Science Adviser, along with members of the BIOT Science Advisory Group, should have meetings with their Mauritian counterparts to discuss a joint approach to the science of Chagos, sharing data and current research. The Group decided to invite the Mauritian High Commissioner to a meeting.

Members were keen to take up the Foreign Secretary’s offer of a further meeting which he had made at the last meeting with the Group on 15 December 2011.

The Group also discussed legal developments.They took note that permission had been granted by the High Court for an appeal against the judicial review of the MPA to be heard on 31 March on the three grounds of improper motive, fishing rights and EU law. Members were interested to learn that, with respect to the ruling of the Law Lords in Oct 2008, lawyers had recently written to the Treasury Solicitor alleging a miscarriage of justice, on the grounds that the flawed feasibility study and the way it had been influenced, was a key factor on which the majority judgment had been based. The letter invited the Foreign Secretary to set aside that judgment and restore the right of return,

The next meeting of the Group is on 5 February 2014.

39th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, conservation, CRG, Diego Garcia, FCO, ITLOS, Mauritius, MPA, USA, William Hague on November 29th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 39th meeting on 20 November 2013

The Group considered the ministerial statement of 19 November to Parliament concerning the new feasibility study and the draft terms of reference (ToRs). Members congratulated the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on the thorough, far-reaching and objective nature of the draft ToRs. They were pleased to note the emphasis placed on possible resettlement in Diego Garcia and assumed that this indicated prior consultation with the US. They felt that  having different options  for resettlement was a sensible approach. While recognising that this would entail a more elaborate study they agreed that there ought to be some simplification of procedures and a shortening of the timescale in order to meet the deadline imposed by the  May 2015 general election and to reduce costs. Given that the Foreign Secretary had announced a stock taking of  policy towards resettlement on 20 December 2012 they had expected the study to be completed by the summer recess (July 2014), so that decisions could be taken well before the election. On the timetable proposed it looked as if it might not conclude until shortly before the election, since the ToRs would not be finalised until next year, followed by a period for selecting consultants. This would hardly allow enough time for  the BIOT Policy Review into which  the conclusions of the feasibility study will feed. It is understood that this review will consider all aspects of BIOT policy, including re-negotiation of the UK/US Agreement, sovereignty and future management of the MPA and the Chagos Islands.

The Group urged that there be no more procrastination and that the proposed feasibility study timetable be shortened to meet the overriding deadline of a general election.  A future government might well decide to carry out its own policy review. The Group was also concerned that no progress appeared to have been made in identifying the wide ranging experts who would carry out the study, and their availability. It was not clear whether there would be a tendering process for consultants or if the FCO itself would invite experts to participate, and how their suitability for this complex task would be determined.

Members took note of the PQs and Questions answered since the last meeting on 9 October, the interventions made by Lords Luce and Ramsbotham in the debate on the Commonwealth on 17 October and also Early Day Motion 649 tabled by the Chairman which reads:

“That this House congratulates the Chagos Refugees Group on their conference in Mauritius to mark 30 years since their foundation following their displacement from the Chagos Islands; and recognises that this historical wrong can best be corrected by allowing and facilitating their return to the Islands.” The Coordinator gave a report on the conference and on his meetings in Mauritius.

The Group was also informed of the Chagos Conservation Trust conference on 18 November which marked its 20th anniversary. Members were pleased to hear about developments in the Outreach programme for Chagossians living in the UK. They noted that Chagossians living in Mauritius and Seychelles were more likely to want to live in the Chagos Islands and that conservation and marine skills education was more appropriate for their needs. Members were pleased to learn that Dr Mark Spalding of The Nature Conservancy, respected by Chagossians and the Chagos science community, had been appointed the new BIOT Science Adviser. They congratulated the FCO and Dr Spalding on his appointment.

The Group was informed that the Judicial Review of the MPA was set for appeal at the end of March and that the Mauritian case at ITLOS remained active. It was noted that the draft ToRs of the feasibility study referred to the possibility of amending the MPA. Members wondered why the MPA had not already been amended to take account of Chagossian and Mauritian interests, thus obviating the need for litigation.

The next meeting of the Group will be held on 17 December.This will be the 40th meeting of the Group since it was established in December 2008. Since that meeting the Group has continued to press for a new feasibility study.

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