Legal

Supreme Court hears Chagossian calls to back their right to return

Posted in coverage, Legal, Supreme Court on June 23rd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Supreme-Court-of-UK-001The Supreme Court will hear evidence on Monday in a major new case related to the UK-ordered deportation of the Chagossian people in the early 1970s. Chagossians were forced from their Chagos Islands homeland so a US military base could be built on Diego Garcia, as part of a deal which saw the UK receive a discount on the Polaris nuclear weapons system.

This new case appeals the 2008 Law Lords decision which supported the legitimacy of the Government’s use of Royal Prerogative in 2004 to ban Chagossians from returning to their homeland. This effectively nullified a High Court verdict several years previously which condemned the deportation as illegal and restored Chagossians right to return. You can watch the case live via the Supreme Court website.

In the case before the Supreme Court on Monday, however, Chagossians, led by Chagos Refugee Group President Oliver Bancoult, will argue the 2008 verdict must be declared invalid.

Two major factors undermine the legitimacy of the 2008 verdict, Chagossian representatives will argue. Firstly Chagossians’ lawyers have claimed that it has since emerged that appropriate documents were not disclosed to them in the 2008 House of Lords Appellate Committee case.

The use of a 2002 feasibility study into Chagossian return in the 2008 case has also called the verdict into question, as this study has since been widely discredited as highly flawed.

A significant number of UK-based Chagossians are expected to accompany Oliver Bancoult to the Supreme Court on Monday. A verdict in favour of the Chagossians’ appeal would be a huge
milestone in their decades-long struggle to win the right to return home.

Similarly, a defeat for the Government could have a major impact on Government policy. A Government-commissioned feasibility study into Chagossian return reported last year. Despite reporting their were no fundamental obstacles to return, the Government failed to respond fully to the report before the election as Ministers had indicated they would.

Commenting on the historic case, our Patron Benjamin Zephaniah stated that “”I’m optimistic the court will see sense and recognise previous Government attempts to prevent Chagossian return have been totally illegitimate and undemocratic.”

“Regardless of the verdict though, the Government has a great opportunity to deliver a measure of justice by supporting Chagossians right to return home. Not only is it the obviously right thing to do, a Government-commissioned feasibility study has just this year confirmed it is possible.”

Chagos: An overall settlement closer than ever

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

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

WikiLeaked diplomatic cable , judged as admissible evidence

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

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

The Chagossian maelstrom – is there an end in sight?

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

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

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

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

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

Chagos marine reserve challenged at tribunal

Posted in Legal, Mauritius, MPA on April 22nd, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Guardian reports today on the challenge by Mauritius to the legality of the Chagos marine protected area.

The marine reserve is a major obstacle to the people of the Chagos islands returning home. Mauritius argues that Britain breached a UN resolution when it separated Chagos from the rest of the colony of Mauritius in the 1960s, before the country became independent, and that Britain therefore doesn’t have the right to declare the area a marine reserve.

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.

David Miliband ignored official advice on MPA timing

Posted in APPG, Diego Garcia, ECHR, FCO, ITLOS, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, USA, Wikileaks on June 21st, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

In an article for the Mauritius Times (No. 3124), David Snoxell, coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, reviews the outcome of the judicial review of the Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA) and the way in which the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, rushed through the declaration of a no-take MPA against official advice:

The documents released for the judicial review provide fascinating insights into the advice being submitted to the Foreign Secretary, leading up to the announcement of the MPA on 1 April 2010. Officials cautioned that the results of the public consultation should be announced but not rushed, pending careful “management” of the Chagossians and Mauritius. “There was further work to do with stakeholders before establishing an MPA.” Officials warned that “Our best defence against the legal challenges which are likely to be forthcoming is to demonstrate a conscientious and careful decision making process. A rapid decision now would undermine that… We would expect to recommend a phased introduction of a no-take MPA which would give time to put a sustainable funding package in place.”

Within hours David Miliband brushed aside official advice and decided on an immediate designation of a full ‘no-take’ MPA. On 31 March senior officials made last ditch attempts to head the Foreign Secretary off. One noted, “I think this approach risks deciding (and being seen to decide) policy on the hoof for political timetabling reasons rather than on the basis of expert advice and public consultation. That’s a very different approach to the one we recommended yesterday… to be developed over time with the involvement of many stakeholders and to be based on science as well as politics.” That evening officials were instructed to prepare a statement announcing the MPA the following day just as Parliament went into the Easter recess. It sparked emergency debates in both Houses five days later.

The judgment observes that “it was the personal decision of the Foreign Secretary to declare an MPA on 1 April 2010, against the advice of officials.” So his green legacy was secured but at much cost in terms of worldwide perceptions of the MPA, the UK’s reputation, the deepening mistrust, felt by the Chagossians and Mauritius, and the litigation which three years later is still with us.

Further discussions, as officials recommended, could have resulted in an MPA that accommodated Chagossian and Mauritian interests. The Coalition Government would probably have insisted on it anyway.

“Ultimately victory will be ours”

Posted in CRG, FCO, Legal, MPA, Parliament, USA on June 12th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

chagosStatement by the Chagos Refugees Group on the Decision dated 11 June 2013 of the High Court in London concerning the Marine Protected Area (“MPA”) around the Chagos Islands.

Today the High Court in London has decided that the MPA which was imposed by the last Government without the approval of the UK Parliament is not legally invalid. This is disappointing to Chagossians some of whom will no longer be able to sustain themselves by continuing our traditional fishing rights which is the only link we are allowed with our homeland since the UK unlawfully expelled us from our islands.

We are examining with our lawyers the detail of this judgment, and if advised, will seek to challenge this decision on appeal.

But there have been some very important developments which the bringing of this case has achieved in this latest legal case in our long struggle to return home.

There are three very significant matters all of which the Court considered inadmissible or irrelevant to its deliberations, but which the Coalition Government will no doubt wish to take very seriously.

First, the Court decided on purely technical grounds that the US cable, in which officials informed the USA that the MPA was the most effective long term way to exclude the Chagossian people from returning, was inadmissible. Whilst the rest of the world therefore sees what went on behind closed doors, the judges refused to consider this evidence. Chagossians believe the world is not so blinkered and even Ministers will wish to reject this discriminatory policy.

Second, the FCO surprised us all by producing its long-lost file on the so-called feasibility study which was used by the last Government as a pretext for abolishing our right of return. Ignoring the obvious feasibility of Chagossians returning home (and the superb living conditions on Diego Garcia enjoyed by 1,500 servicemen and 2,000 civilian workers) this study claimed that our return would be costly and precarious. But after years of denial of its existence we have now seen the file on this report which our advisers have examined. This examination shows that the feasibility study was not based on sound science and were exaggerated and alarmist.

Third, our advisers have now commissioned an independent review of this feasibility study by an expert on small islands, Professor Kench, who has shown how resilient these islands are and how the challenge of global warming need not prevent our return home.

Chagossians are the natural guardians of our beautiful islands. Many were in far better condition when we were forced to leave, than they are now. The military base has caused huge amounts of coral blasting, has resulted in the destruction of vegetation and the concreting over of large areas of Diego Garcia. Oils spills have seeped into the freshwater reservoirs and the coral base of the islands.

A deepwater harbour for a vast military arsenal has been created where once we used to catch fish for our sustenance.

We are in favour, as the judges recognised, of a high level of conservation in our natural paradise. Our return will not endanger the beautiful corals or remaining fish stocks in any way.

But our right to return is fundamental and will never be surrendered. It is high time that the UK made this resolution of our plight a high priority.

The outcome of this appeal does not affect our endeavours insofar as other avenues are concerned. We shall accordingly continue our legal battle and we are strongly convinced that ultimately victory will be ours!

Olivier Bancoult, OSK

Chairman CRG