Parliament

Ben Fogle Hands in Petition for Chagossian Return

Posted in Ben Fogle, Letusreturn, Parliament, Petition, Protest, Return, Return 2015 on May 22nd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

BEN & SABRINALong-time Chagossian supporter and TV personality today handed in a petition (still available to sign) calling on the UK Government to finally support Chagossian return to their homeland. Chagossians have fought for their right to return for decades since their forced deportation, conducted under UK orders so a US military base could be built.

An independent report last year confirmed return was possible. The Government committed to making a decision on return before the election but failed to so.

Today Chagossians called on David Cameron to live up to finally deliver justice. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Fogle branded the UK’s treatment of Chagossians a “terrible injustice” and called for immediate resolution, before adding optimistically he believed the “future would be bright” for Chagossians.

Watch Ben Fogle speak about his belief Chagossians will finally win the right to return

IMG_0028Sabrina Jean (pictured above), Chairperson of Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch, handed in the protest with Ben and thanked him for his consistent support over many years. Mrs Jean herself deserves much credit for organising the event and ensuring it was well attended by Chagossians.

Speaking to the BBC, Ben added “For me, being a Brit, it was probably one of the things I’m most ashamed about, that I’m part of a country that forcibly evicted these people and is now refusing their right to return.”

Today must represent the beginning of making a return a reality. The Prime Minister can now be under no illusions Chagossians want the right to return and the UK public back them.

The 2015 Election: What impact for Chagossians?

Posted in APPG, Conservative, Election 2015, Labour, Parliament, SDLP, SNP on May 17th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

electionWhat does the election mean for the Chagossian fight for justice?

In the many hours of media reaction to the recent UK election, this is probably not a question you have heard answered, or even asked.

The fight for Chagossian justice is of course beyond narrow party politics. It is a simple question of right and wrong which any Parliamentarian from UKIP to Green, DUP to Plaid Cymru, should be able to see requires immediate resolution. Remember to write to your newly elected or re-elected MP asking them to do so.

UK Chagos Support Association does not have any party political allegiance. We will work with anyone to finally see justice done and a stain on the nation’s character removed.

With a decision on return due in the near future, however, it is important who is Parliament to fight for justice, and indeed who will be making the decisions. So let’s see how things are shaping up.

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Foreign Office Ministers

There haven’t been many changes in the Foreign Office, which will make a final decision on whether to support Chagossian return. Even prior to the election, the Foreign Office was entirely populated by Conservative Party Ministers.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond remains in his post, as does the Junior Minister with responsibility for Overseas Territories (including the Chagos Islands) James Duddridge MP. Hugo Swire MP, who has also dealt with Chagos related issues in Parliament, also retains his role in the Foreign Office.

With no changes in personnel, there can be no excuse for any delay on delivering a positive decision on return in the very near future.

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

Shadow Foreign Office Ministers

With the Labour Party about to conduct a leadership election, their Shadow Cabinet is subject to change in the immediate future.

Previous Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander lost his seat at the election. Under Acting Party Leader Harriet Harman, Mr Alexander has been replaced by Hiliary Benn. Mr Benn has made no public comment on the Chagossian situation that we are aware of, although as a former Department for International Development Minister he has extensive experience supporting projects in Overseas Territories.

It is also worth remembering Ms Harman, in a letter to one of our supporters shortly prior to the election, struck a positive note about the potential to resolve the decades of injustice suffered by Chagossians. We hope she can use her time as head of Her Majesty’s Opposition to ensure the UK finally lives up to its legal and moral obligations to the Chagossian people. Labour Party supporters might even consider asking the various candidates what they would do to deliver justice.

SNP Annual ConferenceOther Parties and the Chagossian Cause

One of the big stories of the election was the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), with the party gaining almost 50 seats and becoming the third largest party in Parliament. At their last conference, the SNP pledged to act to support Chagossian return, so we are look forward to working with them to make this a reality.

The new SNP spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, high-profile former leader Alex Salmond, has spoken eloquently in Parliament previously about the injustices suffered across decades by Chagossians. We certainly hope in this new role he can finally give the Chagossian cause the national attention it deserves.

The other parties which have formally offered support to the Chagossian cause-the Green Party and the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) have retained their MPs (one and three respectively).

portThe All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands

Thankfully the Chagossian cause has supporters across all political parties in Westminster. Since 2008 some of the most strident advocates for justice have worked in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands.

Most members of the Group retained their seats in the election. Liberal Democrat Andrew George, the group’s Treasurer and Secretary, was not however returned to Parliament. Nor was former Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz who was a member of the group. We thank both for their years of support for the Chagossian cause.

The APPG is likely to formally meet for the first time in early June. If any MPs are interested in joining they can contact voluntary Group Coordinator David Snoxell at drsnoxell@gmail.com.

On any other issues MPs are welcome to contact ourselves for further information on how they can help make history in the next Parliament by delivering Chagossian justice.

House of Commons Library Briefing on the Chagos Islands

Posted in APPG, Feasability Study, House of Commons Library, Letusreturn, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 14th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

hoclThe House of Commons Library, an independent research body based in Parliament which aims to provide unbaised information to MPs and peers, has published an updated briefing on policy issues affecting the Chagos Islands. The briefing covers the period since the publication of the previous Houses of Commons Library Report on the Chagos Islands in mid-2013.

Following the delay of the decision on supporting return, promised by the Government prior to the election, the current Parliament will now take the decision on whether to support Chagossian return to their homeland. Ensuring MPs have accurate information about the situation is then vital and Parliamentarians are likely to consult this document. We will of course also be briefing MPs about how they can deliver Chagossian justice.

The document covers a range of issues including the feasibility report and decision on return, the international legal action on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area and the sovereignty dispute with Mauritius. It is well worth a read but you can find some of the key quotes from it below.

 

On Return and the recent KPMG feasibility study:

The report notes it is “significant” that Diego Garcia was included in the study as it had previously been “believed that the US would not want the island, where it has a military base, included.” It is worth noting the US has not expressed this desire and has always maintained the issue was a matter for the UK, which retains sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. In any case with the conditions of the UK-US agreement on the use of Diego Garcia being re-negotiated, it is incumbent upon the UK to insist that support for Chagossian return is a fundamental condition of any renewed agreement to allow continued US military presence.

“Because of its position on sovereignty, the Mauritian Government declined to engage with the new feasibility study on resettlement, although it supports the Chagossians on the issue.”

The Government claim that “was not a clear indication of likely demand for resettlement, and costs and liabilities to the UK taxpayer” are referenced, as our Chair’s critique of this decision. 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands’ proposal of a small-scale “pilot return” which could be begin in 2016 is also noted.

“But it is possible that the incoming UK Government will ultimately reject all the resettlement options put forward in the KPMG study.” This could, but need not, mean denying support for return. The KPMG study focused on three fairly arbitrary resettlement models. Return could also be feasible following a range of other models.

On the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Verdict on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area

“an Arbitral Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea unanimously ruled that the Marine Protected Area (MPA) declared by the UK [around the Chagos Islands in 2010] is not compatible with obligations under the Convention to give proper regard to the rights of Mauritius and is therefore not lawful. The unanimous ruling was issued on 18 March. It is final and binding.”

 

“There is evidence that, when it was established, FCO officials saw the MPA as a means of preventing Chagossian resettlement. To date, there has been no official British response to the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling.” Perhaps it does not qualify as an ‘offical response’ but a Foreign Office Spokesperson did respond to the judgement speaking to a Guardian journalist. In fact the spokesperson, rather baselessly, claimed the judgement proved there was ‘no improper motive’ for establishing the MPA so it is good to have independent acknowledgement this was not what the judgement stated.

On Sovereignty

“It has been argued in the past that, even if sovereignty over the entire BIOT is unlikely to be on the agenda in the near to medium-term, there may be more room for flexibility on the outer islands, which are not required for defence purposes. But the previous UK Government gave no indication that it might be thinking along those lines.”

 

On the future of US military facilities on Diego Garcia

“Under the 1966 Exchange of Notes between the UK and the US, a decision on whether to extend the arrangement for a further 20 years must be made by 31 December 2016.”

“The All Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands 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 [Chagossian] resettlement.”

 

On upcoming legal action

“Chagossians living in both Mauritius and the UK have also been seeking to challenge the establishment of the MPA. The original ground was that the public consultation process was flawed because it failed to acknowledge that resettlement was feasible. An additional ground was that the consultation failed to mention Mauritian or Chagossian fishing rights.”

“Finally, an application to the Supreme Court to set aside the 2008 House of Lords verdict – which ruled 3:2 that the use of Orders in Council in 2004 to prevent the Chagossians from returning was lawful ….was made in January 2015. The grounds for the application are that the 2008 judgment was partly based on the 2002 feasibility study, which has now been shown to be flawed, and that documents which demonstrated this were not disclosed…. The Supreme Court is expected to consider both applications by the end of June 2015.” Now scheduled for 22nd June

NPR on Chagossian fight for return

Posted in coverage, Exile, Feasability Study, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, USA on April 17th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – 1 Comment

grave pictureNPR, a major radio broadcaster in the USA, has released a major feature on the exile of the Chagossian people and their fight to return home. Broadcast today (Friday 17th April), the piece, put together by London-based Ari Shapiro, was split across two separate programmes.

The first section was broadcast on Morning Edition, and can be heard here. (see below if audio link has stopped working) It is an excellent, short summary of both the history and recent struggles of the Chagossian people. With the radio interview comes a full and similarly excellent text article written by Mr Shapiro.

The second part of the feature was broadcast later on All Things Considered, and can be heard here. This section focuses more on Chagossians’ hopes for the future.

Both are worth listening to and reading, featuring interviews with native-born Chagossians Bernard Nourrice and Louis Clifford Volfrin. Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch Chairperson Sabrina Jean also speaks eloquently about her brief time on Diego Garcia, whilst All-Party Parliamentary Group Chairperson Jeremy Corbyn and former High Commissioner to Mauritius David Snoxell analyse the strange, often dark political realities of Chagossians’ exile and their fight for return.

Just in case NPR cease to host the audio files after a few days/weeks/years, we’ve saved them here.

Listen to Part 1 here

And Part 2 Here!

Economist Article analyses Government failures on Chagos issue

Posted in coverage, Letusreturn, Parliament, Return, Return 2015 on April 4th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

COMMASSThis week an article in The Economist provided a concise summary of the UK Government’s failures to deliver justice for the Chagossian people, both this year and the last several decades.  The piece begins by noting the Government had “quietly avoided” dealing with the issue. Click on the link above to read: a short piece, it is a good one to share to explain Chagossians’ fight for justice.

 

“[Diego Garcia] is home to more than 3,000 troops and support staff who, according to a navy website, enjoy “a unique assortment of quality of life opportunities”. The majority of Chagossians remained in Mauritius and the Seychelles, often living in abject poverty”

Featuring comments from Chagossian leader Allen Vincatassin and Chagos Islands All-Party Group Coordinator, the article provides plenty of evidence a returned and renewed Chagossian society could be successful. Chagossians arrival in the UK in the early part of the last decade is also recounted, as it is recalled how Chagossians, British citizens, were mistaken for asylum seekers as they were forced to sleep at Gatwick Airport.

 

“Mr Vincatassin sees the moral cost of inaction as outweighing the financial ones. “In the next 40 to 50 years there won’t be any Chagossians left,” he says. “The government will make them extinct.””

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.