Parliament

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’ ambitions, the history of the islands and his personal feelings about the cause.

We have another short video with Henry due to be published later this week, in which we talk about why resettlement can be a real success. Until then, remember to check out how you can support cause.

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.

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 Parliament, Uncategorized on September 28th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft has continued his interest in the alleged use of Diego Garcia in rendition.

Libyan politician Abdel Hakim Belhadj has claimed that he tortured by US military forces in Thailand and on the way the aeroplane he was aboard stopped in Diego Garcia to refuel. In late 2013 the UK High Court judged that although Mr Belhadj had a “well-founded claim,” owing to national security concerns, a UK court case could not proceed.

The full question and answer can be found below.

Diego Garcia
House of Lords
Written Answers on 26 Sep 2014

Lord Ashcroft (Conservative)

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Warsi on 28 July (WA 249), whether they will now answer the question as tabled.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Conservative)

The United States is our most important bilateral ally and we have regular discussions on a range of sensitive issues. It is our longstanding position not to comment on discussions of that nature. With regard to Mr Belhaj allegedly stopping over in Diego Garcia, I refer the noble Lord to the response given by my noble friend, the former Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Baroness Warsi), on 17 June 2014, Official Report, Column WA36, that, aside from the two cases of rendition through Diego Garcia (British Indian Ocean Territory) in 2002, there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the UK, our Overseas Territories, or the Crown Dependencies, with a detainee on board since 11 September 2001.

Below is the earlier question to which Lord Ashcroft refers:

Diego Garcia
House of Lords
Written Answer
28 Jul 2014

Lord Ashcroft (Conservative)

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the United States sought to use Diego Garcia as a stopover
for the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhadj; and, if so, what was the outcome.

Baroness Warsi (Conservative)

I refer the noble Lord to the response I gave on 17 June 2014, Official Report, Column WA36, that,
aside from the two cases of rendition through Diego Garcia (British Indian Ocean Territory) in 2002,
there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the UK, our overseas
Territories, or the Crown Dependencies, with a detainee on board since 11 September 2001.

Parliamentary Questions on the Chagos Islands

Posted in Diego Garcia, FCO, Parliament on September 8th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

With Parliament now reconvened, James Duddridge, the new Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for British Overseas Territories, has had his first opportunity to answer questions on the Chagos Islands.

Interestingly the Minister states that negotiations on the future use of Diego Garcia by the US military will start “later this year, as the conclusions from the feasibility study on resettlement of Chagossians begin to become clear.” It should be noted the final conclusions of the KPMG feasibility study on Chagossian return are not expected until next year.

Asked about what payments the UK Government would receive in the event of a continuing US military presence on Diego Garcia, Mr Duddridge confirmed that there is no formal “lease” but rather a bi-lateral agreement. In answer to a further question from Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie, the Minister claimed that US military presence on Diego Garcia remains a “vital part of the Anglo-American defence relationship.”

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Diego Garcia
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Written Answers
4 Sep 2014

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West, Conservative)

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

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

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

……………………………………………..

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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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?