Parliament

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.”

…………………………………………………………………………………
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.

……………………………………………..

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?

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.

Is the tide turning in Chagos?

Posted in APPG, Commonwealth, ConDem, conservation, CRG, Diego Garcia, FCO, Labour, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Uncategorized, USA, William Hague on November 2nd, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

David Snoxell, former British High Commissioner to Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, gave a presentation at the Chagos Refugees Group International Conference (Mauritius, 29-31 Oct, 2013). The presentation was entitled Options for resolving the issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and of the Chagos Islands. Is the tide turning in Chagos? He began by congratulating the CRG and its Leader, Olivier Bancoult, on its 30 years of struggle for their noble cause which is to empower Chagossians to return to their homeland.

He then reviewed UK government policy since the 2000 High Court judgment in favour of the Chagossians, which was subsequently overturned by means of an ancient device, known as Privy Council Orders, bypassing Parliament. David Snoxell highlighted the influence of Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials on government policy and how bad policy has been compounded, while pointing to the expertise and continuity available from the Chagos APPG and welcoming the policy review on resettlement of the Chagos Islands:

….it is necessary to understand that it is FCO officials who explain and present the issues and recommend to Ministers the policy to be adopted. Unless it is a major international issue, going to the heart of Britain’s essential interests, Ministers generally accept what officials recommend. No Minister is able to take the time to get to grips with complex issues, such as Chagos, when there are international crises raging overhead as there have so often been in recent times. So in effect it is officials who make the policy but they like Ministers come and go with some frequency. FCO officials usually want “quick wins”, easy solutions and a straight run in office. In 2004 resettlement was seen as a long drawn out and difficult process, too complicated for the two officials (5 today) who were responsible for BIOT. Banning resettlement altogether seemed the easiest option.

Now it is very difficult for officials and their legal advisers to admit that they or their predecessors made the wrong decision. So they are obliged to defend the entrenched positions of the past with the same formulae and arguments they have inherited, without examining whether those arguments were or remain valid. The result is bureaucratic inertia and becoming victims of their own propaganda. Thus the policy stays frozen in time and officials defend it to the hilt against pressure from Parliament or any other source. Ministers are too busy and lack the expertise to challenge these entrenched positions, often bolstered by legal advice – the current Minister responsible for BIOT is the 9th since 2000. This is where an APPG can be of much help to a beleaguered Minister, challenging the accepted mantras of the past.

It is important to consider the four standard arguments deployed since 2004 by FCO against resettlement:

1. The islands are set aside for defence purposes and in any case the US would not agree. But I have never seen a convincing explanation as to why resettlement of UK nationals, on the Outer Islands would pose a threat to military operations or to the security of the base on DG 130 miles away, or indeed to resettlement on DG itself. The Outer Islands are clearly not required for defence since over the last 48 years no defence facilities have ever been built there. It is unlikely that if the British Government informed the US Administration that it planned to go ahead with a resettlement on the Outer Islands the US would disagree. They might, however, take a little more convincing if the settlement was to be on DG, in close proximity to the base, but this too is not impossible.

2. The 2002 Feasibility Study concluded that resettlement was not feasible due to rising sea levels, increased storminess leading to flooding and erosion of the islands, the potential damage to marine life and corals and the lack of sustainable employment. But the FCO now accepts, 11 years later, that following years of critical analysis of the 2002 study by experts, a new feasibility study is required and by implication that the old one was flawed. We await an announcement soon of the draft ToRs of the proposed study and progress on the Policy Review.

3. Then comes the cost argument, often much exaggerated, but the UK is a wealthy nation that has no trouble finding the resources for overseas defence operations and there are other sources – the US, EU, Commonwealth, International Community and NGOs.

4. Human habitation is not compatible with the conservation of the unique bio-diversity and marine environment of the Islands. This argument of course ignores the fact that up to 4000 military personnel live on DG. But it is a powerful argument which appeals to some zealous members of conservation NGOs. The political influence, resources and reach of these groups should, however, not be underestimated. They have had a symbiotic relationship with the FCO which has used the NGOs to bolster their policy against resettlement and in turn has been used by them to maintain uninhabited the Outer Islands; scientists, environmentalists and conservationists of course excepted. The somewhat misleading campaign to create the MPA, waged by Pew and CEN in public and in private in 2009/10, was a manifestation of this relationship.

But I would now like to focus on the future rather than dwell on past mistakes. Clearly, after more than a decade of intransigence, the FCO needs a thorough and objective review of all its policies towards Chagos. And here I pay tribute to today’s FCO for recognising this. The Policy Review announced ten months ago by the Foreign Secretary on 20 December 2012 was a belated but welcome step forward. I believe that it is a genuine attempt to be open, objective and fair. In a debate in the Lords on 17 October the FCO Minister, Baroness Warsi said:

“On 18 December 2012 the Foreign Secretary said that he was going to review policy towards the resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory. This review has been under way since then and we have been in touch with all those with an interest, especially the Chagossian community here in the UK, in Mauritius and in the Seychelles. Ministers have agreed that we should have an independent study that will, with as much transparency as possible, properly explore what might be possible, what is realistic and what it would cost. I am sure that I will report back to the House when that is concluded.”

I do feel that current officials and their Ministers want to bring about a fair resolution of the issues in consultation with Chagossians and Mauritius. I am hopeful that it will be the breaking of the logjam and that it will lead to four principle results:

1. The Feasibility Study concludes that resettlement is feasible, can be done economically and will not endanger the marine environment.

2. The FCO accepts the findings, makes resettlement a condition of the renewal of the 1966 Anglo-American Agreement to include a financial contribution from the US; seeks funding from other sources (if necessary), resolves to start planning at least an experimental resettlement immediately, with a view to the first settlers returning in 2015, the 50th anniversary of the creation of BIOT.

3. Given the UK’s oft repeated commitment that when no longer needed for defence purposes sovereignty will revert to Mauritius, the British Government proposes to Mauritius the start of fresh talks on the future of BIOT, to cover arrangements for Mauritian participation in the management of the Islands and the MPA, leading to a timetable for either joint sovereignty or a gradual ceding of sovereignty which may or may not include DG.

4. All of this to be announced by end 2014, well before the general election in May 2015 and the CHOGM in Mauritius in Oct 2015 to bring the UK into conformity with the Commonwealth Charter, signed by The Queen and Member States in March.

I would also expect conservation organisations in the UK and Mauritius to start to work with Chagossians who wish to return by providing marine skills, training and education in conservation. Proper management of the MPA, especially if a scientific station were established, would result in the creation of jobs such as servicing visiting scientists, maintaining boats and equipment and patrolling the islands.

Having a Policy Review is a sea change in FCO thinking. The results will be seen as a political and moral test of the UK’s fundamental values. As the Foreign Secretary has said “It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience; neither is it in our interests”. If next year the Feasibility Study reports that resettlement is practical, as we know it is, I cannot imagine that the British Government will not make it possible. The vital thing is to ensure that the Feasibility Study, coming 12 years after the last, is this time truly independent, transparent and objective and takes account of the much more detailed scientific data now available. So to answer my question I believe the tide is turning.

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group

29 Oct 2013

 

38th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, Commonwealth, Diego Garcia, events, FCO, Mauritius, Parliament, resettlement, USA on October 10th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 38th meeting on 9th October 2013.

The Group felt that the PQs  concerning the BIOT Policy Review, answered in early September, had been helpful. It was clear that the next stage was a statement by the FCO Minister to Parliament on the results of the consultation on the Review and the proposed feasibility study which was expected this month. The Group understood that it would include draft terms of reference and that thereafter experts would be invited to conduct the study. Members felt that the consultants should be  respected experts in their disciplines and of proven objectivity and independence, if the study was to be seen as balanced and transparent. The Group reiterated their wish that Parliament should be able to debate the results of the study before the summer recess in July 2014. This had been stated in the Chairman’s letter to the Foreign Secretary of 16 July on the Group’s views about the review of policy. It was agreed that the Chairman would respond to the forthcoming statement on behalf of the Group. Members asked the Chairman to remind the Foreign Secretary of his offer for a further meeting following their last meeting with him in December 2011.
The Group discussed possible interventions in debates and further PQs in the current session. The debate in the Lords on the Future of the Commonwealth on 17th October 2013 would be an opportunity, given the emphasis on human rights in the Commonwealth Charter, signed by The Queen in March, since the continued exile of the Chagossians remained inconsistent with Commonwealth values and the UK’s promotion of human rights.
Members also discussed the need for HMG to involve the Americans in potential resettlement in view of the  anticipated renewal of the 1966 UK/US Agreement in 2016. This should not wait until after the feasibility study had reported. It could be addressed in the annual round of UK/US Pol-Mil discussions usually in October. US agreement and funding, especially if resettlement were to be on Diego Garcia, should form part of the renewal of the 1966 Agreement and be discussed in 2014 when the Agreement comes up for re-negotiation.
The submission of 1st October by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) to the Ministry of Justice, concerning the UK’s failure to report on BIOT in its periodic reports to the UN Human Rights Council was considered. Members were surprised to learn that the UK had on each occasion declined to report on BIOT on the grounds that it was uninhabited, an argument repeatedly rejected by the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They felt that the UK should be honest about its own failings with regard to human rights. They hoped that the Justice Secretary would  ensure that this omission was rectified in the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review Mid-Term report.
The Group took note of articles in the Commonwealth Law Bulletin in August (Prerogative legislation as the paradigm of bad law-making: the Chagos Islands by Ronan Cormacain) and in Ocean Challenge Summer 2013 (Sharks on the lawn at Diego Garcia – but is rising sea-level to blame? by Richard Dunne).  They also took note of the ILPA briefing, so far as it concerned the Chagos Islanders, for the debate on ‘Requirements for those who apply for UK citizenship or nationality’ in the Lords on 8 Oct, and also noted the current state of appeals to the First Tier Information Tribunal concerning the application of FOI to BIOT.
Members were pleased to learn that an international conference on the Chagos Islands had been organised by the Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius from 29-31 October to mark their 30th anniversary and that the Coordinator would be speaking at it. They hoped that the UK, Mauritius and the US would participate.
The next meeting of the Group will be held on 20th November 2013.

FCO announces new Chagos feasibility study

Posted in ConDem, conservation, FCO, Parliament, resettlement on July 8th, 2013 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Foreign Office is commissioning a new feasibility study on resettlement of Chagos, it was announced today.

The statement from Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said:

Mark Simmonds“Successive British Governments have consistently opposed resettlement of the islands – on the grounds of both defence and feasibility. The Government must be honest about these challenges and concerns. Long-term settlement risks being both precarious and costly. The outer islands, which have been uninhabited for 40 years, are low-lying and lack all basic facilities and infrastructure. The cost and practicalities of providing the levels of infrastructure and public services appropriate for a twenty-first century British society are likely to be significant and present a heavy ongoing contingent liability for the UK tax-payer. However, the Government recognises the strength of feeling on this issue, and the fact that others believe that the resettlement of BIOT can be done more easily than we have previously assessed. We believe that our policy should be determined by the possibilities of what is practicable.”

Simmonds said the government intends “to make the remit of the study of resettlement as broad as possible”, and that “independent views from all interested parties will be used when considering how we take the study forward”.

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

The UK Chagos Support Association welcomes the opportunity to revisit this important issue – it’s something that we and many MPs have been calling for for years. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the compensation paid to the islanders so far has been inadequate, that Britain’s overseas territories already include a number of remote islands which are home to stable communities, and that resettlement of Chagos is not just about the outer islands, but also the main island Diego Garcia.

It is also vital that the feasibility study is completed before the next election, and doesn’t become another reason to delay justice for the Chagos islanders.

“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

36th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, ConDem, FCO, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA, William Hague on June 10th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 36th meeting on 5 June 2013.
Members discussed recent correspondence with Ministers, PQs and interventions in debates since the last meeting on 24 April. They were grateful to Baroness Whitaker for her speech during the Lords’ foreign affairs, defence and development debate on 14 May in which she recalled the commitment by William Hague before the election “to work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute” and his promise on 20 December 2012 to review the policy on resettlement. Baroness Whitaker had asked when Parliament would be consulted about the review, commenting that there was “much work to be done to make the MPA what it ought to be so that everyone can wholeheartedly support it”.
The Group considered  a Question, answered on 5 June, from Lord Ramsbotham as to whether HMG “will commission an independent study to re-evaluate the science and practicality of resettlement, in consultation with the Chagossians, in the light of Prof. Kench’s report which concluded that the 2002 feasibility study used untested models and contradictory evidence”. It was noted that Baroness Warsi’s answer that “we are currently reviewing our policy towards BIOT…do not have a timetable for the conclusion of this review but will update Parliament as soon as we are in a position to do so” avoided the question. It was also at odds with the offer of an independent  resettlement study  made by the FCO Minister in charge of BIOT, Mark Simmonds, at a recent meeting which included the Chairman and Vice chairman of the APPG. Members did not understand whether this study was separate from or subsumed within the wider review. They felt that both were necessary, especially as the scientific review would be independent.
The Group went on to discuss the nature and timetable for the proposed review. They were informed about a proposal put to the Minister by Mr Gifford that the review should include an independent study and take up where the 2002 Feasibility Study had left off, comprising a cost/benefit analysis, evaluation of livelihood strategies, consultation with Chagossians and an objective examination of sources of funding.
Members understood that the FCO had strengthened the team of officials undertaking the review and that it was the intention of Ministers and officials that it should be open, transparent and inclusive, look at every aspect of resettlement and consult all stakeholders. They questioned whether there should be an independent element to the review. The Group also understood that the Foreign Secretary would make a statement to Parliament  before the recess in mid July about the progress, parameters and timetable of the review. Members noted that 7 months will have elapsed to reach only this first stage. They  felt that it should be an oral statement to allow for follow-up questions. They accepted that it was a complex process but that there had to be a deadline so that the recommendations of the review could be agreed and implemented well before the end of the Coalition Government in May 2015. It was up to Ministers to ensure a deadline was set. They suggested that apart from  Chagossian and conservation groups, the US, Mauritius and Parliament, other stakeholders should include DfID, the Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament and the Minority Rights Group. Members decided to ask for a 90 minute Commons debate as soon as possible so that the views of  MPs could inform the Foreign Secretary’s statement. It was felt that a similar debate should be held in the Lords in September.
Members considered the research paper by the House of Commons Library published on 22 May, entitled “Disputes over BIOT: a survey”. They felt that this was a helpful contribution to the debate and commended the author Jon Lunn. They also considered two papers on the controversy concerning the  number of Chagossians deported, one by Wenban-Smith, entitled “Population of the Chagos 1820-1973″ published by Chagos News (CCT) in Jan 2012 which concluded that the number could be as few as 500 and a much more detailed response by Dunne and Gifford published in Population, Space and Place entitled “A Dispossessed People: the Depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago, 1965-1973″ which concluded that “the policy of the British Government drove between 1,328 and 1,522 Ilois into exile and poverty on Mauritius and a further 322 on the Seychelles”.
The next meeting and 5th annual AGM will be held on 16 July.