Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Miss Opportunity to Deliver Justice: Chagos Decison Delayed

Posted in Campaign, Feasability Study, Parliament, resettlement on March 24th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – 4 Comments

protestEarlier today the Government confirmed that it would not live up to its promises to resolve the issue of Chagossians’ enforced exile before the election. In a written statement to Parliament, Minister with responsibility for British Overseas Territories James Duddridge announced a “delay” in the policy review.

We are sorely disappointed the Government has missed this perfect opportunity to deliver justice for the Chagossian people and remove a grave, deep scar on the UK’s human rights record. Since the UK ordered their forced deportation so a US military base could be built in the early seventies, a series of broken promises on compensation, housing and employment has meant Chagossians have suffered terribly in exile.

“This is another serious betrayal of the Chagossian community,” said Author and UK Chagos Support Association Secretary Philippa Gregory “Chagossians have suffered in exile for years, and it is disgraceful the Government has failed to deliver a small measure of justice by supporting return. The next Government, whoever they are, need to act urgently to rectify this failure.”

Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group Chair Jeremy Corbyn has criticised the announcement as “kicking the issue into the long grass” and argued it is essentially the Government avoiding the responsibility to take a decision.

The reasons given by the Government for the delay-concerns about cost and demand for return- are frankly spurious. Although the consultation process with Chagossians as part of the KPMG feasibility was seriously flawed, it remains clear there is very significant demand for return. Chagossian community leaders have made this point directly and publicly on many occasions.

Certainly there would be more than enough demand across the UK, Mauritius and The Seychelles to fulfill a pilot resettlement programme of between 50-150 people; the favoured model in the KPMG feasibility report into return and of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group. Only once a resettled Chagossian society is established can greater numbers of Chagossians make an informed decision on whether they wish to return.

UK's Foreign Office made the announcement today.

UK’s Foreign Office made the announcement today.

It is also quite disingenuous to claim there would be “significant” costs to the UK taxpayer. The KPMG cost estimates are widely considered overly high, but even these start at a mere £60 million over three years. Much of this would likely to be covered by US payments for the use of Diego Garcia (the current deal expires in 2016 and is being renegotiated), European Development Fund resources and private sector investment.

Any UK Government contributions would likely come from the Department of International Development budget, which is protected from cuts by law. Even the full £60 million would amount to less than 0.002% of this department’s annual budget.

For the Government deny the human rights of its citizens on the grounds of cost is in any case utterly shocking. For such small costs, it is appallingly miserly. This comes on the day the UK pledged to spend £280 million on the Falkland Islands. The UK has a responsibility to all its Overseas Territories citizens.

 

What Now?

electionAs it now appears this Government will fail to deliver justice, we ask all political parties and individual candidates in the upcoming election to commit anew to delivering long delayed justice for the Chagossian people. We know it can be done, and we know there is the demand.

The next Government must press ahead immediately with a properly supported return programme. Certainly improved engagement with the Chagossian community is a must, as we have argued throughout this process, but there is now a valuable, viable and unique opportunity for return which must be seized by whoever forms the UK’s next Government.

This administration has declined that opportunity to deliver justice, but the fight will continue. We encourage all to support the campaign by signing the petition and making this a real issue before election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Corbyn demands Chagossian return decison in Parliament

Posted in Jeremy Corbyn, Labour, Parliament, resettlement, William Hague on March 5th, 2015 by Robert Bain – 1 Comment

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn has pushed Leader of the House, and former Foreign Secretary, William Hague to ensure a decision on Chagossian return to their homeland is made before the election. You can read the exchange in full below.corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn:The Leader of the House is well aware that a number of colleagues have raised the issue of the Chagos Islands many times during business questions. When he was Foreign Secretary, he commissioned the KPMG report on the feasibility of right of return. We are waiting for a statement to be made to the House so that Ministers can be questioned and the issue debated. It was promised that the issue would be resolved before the end of this Parliament, but we have only a short time to go.

William Hague: This is an important report on an important issue and the hon. Gentleman and I have often discussed it. Indeed, as Foreign Secretary I set up the new feasibility study. A very extensive and detailed report has now been produced, and my ministerial colleagues in the Foreign Office are considering it in detail. It will also need to be considered across the whole of Government. I am sure it is better to look at it in great detail than to rush to decisions about it, so I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a timetable for any announcement, but I will tell my colleagues that he is asking about it and that there is interest in it in Parliament. We will consider it within Government as rapidly as possible.

Parliament will close down prior to the election at the end of March. In effect then there are only three weeks in which to have a debate and for the Government to make a decision. Mr Hague does claim the decision will be made “rapidly” but states he can not provide a “timetable.”

Failure to make a decision prior to the election, or a failure to have a debate in Parliament on the decision, would be yet another broken promise to the Chagossian people from the UK Government.

Henry Smith Speaks Out In Interview on Chagossian Return Campaign

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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.

46th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, CRG, Diego Garcia, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, USA, William Hague on January 15th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 46th meeting on 14 January.  Members considered the parliamentary questions and Answers since the last meeting on 2 December. They noted that the Leader of the House, William Hague, had been encouraging about the prospect of a debate following the publication of the final  KPMG feasibility study, which was expected on 30 January. It was agreed that the Chairman would write to Mr Hague to ask for a date for the debate in the first half of February.

The Group discussed progress on KPMG’s consultations with the Chagossians which had been concluded on 12 January. They looked forward to seeing the final report which was expected to take account of the Group’s meeting with KPMG on 15 December, the various submissions from stakeholders, commenting on the draft report, and the consultations with Chagossians in Mauritius, Seychelles, Manchester and Crawley.

Members discussed the UK/US discussions on the extension of the 1966 Agreement which had begun in December and stressed the importance of including resettlement in any new agreement. As discussed at their October meeting members felt that US cooperation and assistance was necessary and an obvious condition for extending the US presence on Diego Garcia. The Group agreed that the Chairman should write again to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee to request the FAC urgently to consider the KPMG report and conditions and modalities for extending the agreement, before the dissolution of Parliament on 30 March.

The Group considered legal developments. They noted that an application to the Supreme Court to review the 2008 House of Lords majority verdict had been made on 9 January, on behalf of CRG. They also noted that a request to appeal to the Supreme Court on the MPA case was imminent.  The Mauritian case against the MPA to an international Arbitral Tribunal was expected to be concluded by the end of February.

The next meeting will be on 25 February.

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.

Ben Fogle Interview: “Those Islands can be Resettled.”

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Diego Garcia, Feasability Study, Parliament on December 27th, 2014 by Robert Bain – 4 Comments

During an impassioned interview with George Galloway MP  and Gayatri Pertiwi, Adventurer and long-time Chagossian advocate Ben Fogle has told the nation that “those Islands can be Resettled” Watch the full interview below and then sign the petition

Ben’s been a prominent activist for Chagossians for many years; visit his website here and follow him on Twitter.

Remarking on the current resettlement campaign, he called on MPs, including the programme host and Respect Party MP George Galloway, to ensure Chagossians succeeded in their campaign to return home. Agreeing that a recent investigative study into the feasibility of return was “relatively positive,” he does though note that the cost estimates in the KPMG report (read it and our initial response here) seemed overly high. He suggested that the scale of infrastructure included in cost estimates may be excessive for the actual needs of a small initial Chagossian population, a point made by ourselves and other Chagossian groups.

Again recalling his visit to the Chagos Islands, Ben argues that civilians and military personnel did though already live in good conditions on Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia would then, he suggests,  be the “natural place to begin reinhabitation of the islands.”

As a “self-confessed environmentalist,” Ben also speaks of his regret in supporting the Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos Islands created in 2010. As has elsewhere been confirmed by Wikileaks releases, Ben notes that the MPA was created in large part to prevent Chagossian return. Ben was written about the issue elsewhere previously.

In a resettled Chagossian society, however, Ben makes the extremely valid point that Chagossians could play a vital role employed as environmental wardens protecting the unique environment of their homeland.

Elsewhere in the interview, Ben gives an overview of the history of the islands. He speaks about the “secretive” conditions of the British Indian Ocean Territory’s (the official UK Government name for The Chagos Islands) creation. He also addresses the frustrating lack of publicity that has been afforded the Chagossian struggle in the decades since. The revelations that pet dogs had been killed, he notes, attracted more attention than the forcible deportation of their owners.

Contrasting the popular outrage in defence of the Falkland Islanders in the 1980s and the general ignorance of the Chagossian people’s plight, Ben suggests that the reason for the difference in these British citizens treatment is mainly “skin colour.”

Of course coming in the week after the publication of a Senate report into CIA torture, Ben was also asked about persistent rumours around the role of the Diego Garcia in supporting ‘rendition’ flights. Although he admits, like everyone else, he does not know exactly what role Diego Garcia played in the now admitted US programme of rendition and torture, he argues that whatever happens on the Islands, the UK is “complicit” owing to the agreement allowing the US to use Diego  Garcia, which remains sovereign territory of the UK.

The UK Government continue to deny Diego Garcia supported any rendition flights beyond two confirmed instances in 2002. Although as Mr Galloway notes, even these instances were previously denied until 2008.

Concluding the interview, Ben confirms that Chagossians would be happy to share the base with the American military and would support the extension of the agreement on the US use of the islands, provided the US in turn support Chagossian resettlement.

Do watch the full interview if you can; Ben speaks with great passion and authority.

Parliamentary debate on feasability study urged

Posted in Feasability Study, Parliament, resettlement, William Hague on December 5th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

The Leader of the House of Commons, William Hague MP, gave a positive reaction to a request from Henry Smith MP for a parliamentary debate on the forthcoming report of a feasibility study into resettlement of the Chagos Islands to take place in January, stating:

I am sure that the House will want to discuss that in some way. Until we have seen the feasibility study and the timing of its publication, we cannot make any decisions on it. However, I take my hon. Friend’s request as an early bid. I set up the feasibility study when I was Foreign Secretary and, like him, am looking forward to seeing its results. We are committed to ensuring that the review of any potential for resettlement is as transparent and inclusive as possible. I hope that will be welcomed by the many people of Chagossian heritage and origin who live in his constituency.