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Foregin Office Questions

Posted in Uncategorized on November 1st, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Thursday 28th October’s session of Foreign Office Questions featured a short series of inquires and responses on the Chagos Islands. We’ve pasted in the full text below preceded by a short summary and analysis of proceedings. Let us know what you think.

Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Vice-Chair, and Conservative MP for Crawley, Henry Smith questioned what progress had been made with the ongoing resettlement feasibility study, and subsequently if the decision regarding the future military base on Diego Garcia would be take into account the interests of Chagossians.

 
In his responses the Minister admits the way Chagossians were treated in the 60s and 70s was “clearly wrong” but does not directly answer the question of whether negotiations over the future of US military facilities on Diego Garcia will take Chagossians’ interests into account.

The UK Government could, and should, make US support for Chagossian resettlement a condition of allowing the US military to continue using facilities in the Chagos Islands.

 

Labour MP for Wythenshawe Mike Kane’s highlighted the hardships suffered by Chagosssians in his constituency, both of the elderly and the young.  He also noted Chagossians’ concerns about the UK ceding soverignity of the Chagos Islands in the future.

 

Responding, the Minister stated that there was “no question” of the UK ceding sovereignty. The body of Mr Kane’s question was largely ignored as the Minister suggested that further submissions could be made after the draft feasibility study was published on the 17th November.

 
Finally Conservative Sir Peter Tapsell, who was already as an MP when Chagosians were expelled from their homeland in the early 70s, brought a historical perspective to proceedings. He noted that “promises” had been made to treat Chagossians fairly which had yet to be fulfilled.

 
It is worth noting the Minister’s claim Chagossians received “substantial compensation” is quite misleading.

Initial compensation was delayed by many years, which hugely decreased its value owing to rampant inflation at the time in Mauritius. The delay also meant that many Chagossians had already fallen into debt and extreme poverty, meaning the limited compensation they received was often used mereley to pay down debts to unscruplous loan sharks. There were also considerable questions over how this money was distributed, with private go-betweens used rather than any direct distribution system.

Later compensation in the 80s was also hugelFlag Chagosy controversial as it was available only on the condition Chagossians renounced their right to return on their homeland. The agreement was printed in legalistic English and many Chagossians, who had little or no knowledge of the English language, have reported this condition was never explained.

 
Not only was compensation not “substantial” then, it was grossly unfair and terribly administered.

Let’s be very clear; this compensation is in no way a substitute for justice.

Read the full Hansard text of the House of Commons questions below. 

 

Chagossian Resettlement
Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office
11:30 am
Commons debates
28 Oct 2014

Henry Smith (Crawley, Conservative)

What progress his Department has made with the British Indian Ocean Territory Chagossian resettlement feasibility study; and if he will make a statement.

Hugo Swire (The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; East Devon, Conservative)

The independent feasibility study on resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory is on track to report by January 2015. Ongoing consultations with interested parties, including Chagossians, are taking place so that all relevant facts are considered in the analysis of the practical costs and risks of resettlement.

Henry Smith (Crawley, Conservative)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Given upcoming negotiations on extending the military base on Diego Garcia with the United States, may I have assurances from the Department that the interests of the Chagos islands people will be very much part of those discussions with Washington?

Hugo Swire (The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; East Devon, Conservative)

That is precisely why we have commissioned the KPMG report. The way that the Chagossians were treated following their removal in the ’60s and ’70s was

clearly wrong, and substantial compensation was rightly paid. We welcome the US presence in Diego Garcia. It is an increasingly important asset for both our Governments, but there have been no formal discussions with the US about the possibility of extending the exchange of notes to date.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East, Labour)

I met 60 members of the Chagos community in my constituency on Friday—a faithful people but without the right to return they once again feel that will not adequately mourn their dead as they approach All Hallows next week. Their elders are passing away without having recorded their stories of displacement, and their young are finding it increasingly difficult to find salaried employment or to visit their friends in Crawley and other places across the country. They also worry about us ceding sovereignty. Does the Minister agree that we should be doing more for those people, rather than less?

Hugo Swire (The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; East Devon, Conservative)

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there are no issues of any sort about ceding sovereignty—we should deal with that point straight away. The draft KPMG report, which we were not obliged to undertake, will be out on 17 November, and thereafter there will be time for all those who have been consulted to make such points before the final report early next year. That is why we have included the Chagossians in the testimony.

Peter Tapsell (Father of the House of Commons; Louth and Horncastle, Conservative)

A previous Father of the House and great friend of mine, Sir Bernard Braine, was a passionate advocate of the rights of the inhabitants of Diego Garcia when the whole idea of turning it into a base was launched. In his memory, may I say that I very much hope that the guarantees that he received from the British Government of the time about looking after those people will be fulfilled?

Hugo Swire (The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; East Devon, Conservative)

My right hon. Friend is right to remind the House of our responsibilities towards the Chagossians, and as I said earlier, the actions of the ’60s and ’70s were clearly wrong and substantial compensation was rightly paid. It is worth pointing out that the British High Court in 2008, and the European Court in 2012, ruled that the compensation was a full and final settlement of the Chagossians’ claims.

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.

Notice of an Extraordinary General Meeting

Posted in Uncategorized on July 6th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The UK Chagos Support Association will hold an extraordinary general meeting on Sunday 10 August at Pizza Express, 48 Moreton Street, Pimlico, London SW1V 2PB, at 2pm, for the election of officers, and annual business.

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

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

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

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

42nd Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, CCT, conservation, Crawley, CRG, FCO, resettlement, Uncategorized, William Hague on June 5th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its postponed 42nd meeting on 4 June. The Group sent their best wishes to Lord Avebury for a speedy recovery.

The Group considered the Parliamentary Questions and Answers, tabled since the last meeting, by Lord Avebury and Andrew Rosindell concerning the latest scientific evidence on sea levels (“Contemporary sea level in the Chagos Archipelago, Central Indian Ocean” published in Global and Planetary Change, 2012, volumes 82-83, pages 25-37), on the applicability of FOI and EIRs to BIOT and on the Feasibility Study. They also took note of the Chairman’s intervention on BIOT in the Overseas Territories (Sustainability) debate on 8 May and his follow-up letter to the Minister concerned.

Members discussed the progress of the feasibility study as described in KPMG’s April Report and the preparations for the consultation with the Chagossians this month. They were concerned that Chagossians should be properly assisted in these consultations and were pleased to note the help already provided by Richard Dunne. They paid tribute to Mr Dunne for all the legal and scientific work he had done over the last 4 years on behalf of the Chagossians and conservation. While noting that the study seemed to be moving ahead with momentum in an open and transparent way the Group reiterated their wish to have the report by January in order for it to be considered and debated by Parliament before Ministers made decisions. They looked forward to discussions with Mark Simmonds, the FCO Minster responsible, at their next meeting on 15 July. The last such discussions were with the Foreign Secretary in December 2011.

The Group was updated on the Court of Appeal judgment (23 May) which had upheld the judgment of the High Court except in regard to the admissibility of the wikileak evidence which the Court did not find was in conflict with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. An appeal to the Supreme Court was under consideration. Members were also informed that the Mauritian case at an international Arbitral Tribunal in Istanbul (22 April-6 May) would not announce its findings until later this year. They took note that the judgment of the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) of a case concerning the applicability of FOI/EIRs to BIOT would not be available for several weeks.The Group asked what the cost to the tax payer of this continuing litigation was. There was also the possibility that the Law Lords 2008 judgment could be referred to the Supreme Court because of an alleged miscarriage of justice.

The Group considered a letter which Olivier Bancoult had received from the Chief Executive of the Passport Office concerning eligibility for British citizenship. They were pleased to note that the Passport Office accepted that there had been an error over Jean Hilare’s passport which should have been granted for ten not five years, and that this would be rectified.

A letter from Prof Charles Sheppard, Chairman of CCT, to members was discussed. They were pleased to note that the official position of CCT was now “strictly neutral” on the issue of resettlement. They hoped that CCT’s excellent conservation work would no longer be seen as in conflict with the aspiration of all Chagossians to return to the Islands for residence or visits.

It was noted that the tenth anniversary of the Orders in Council, banning the Chagossians from returning to their homeland, was on 10 June. The Group hoped that the result of the Feasibility Study would be the withdrawal of those Orders which had led to so much distress, litigation and cost.

The next meeting and sixth AGM will be on 15 July 2014.

The BBC’s Robert Peston on the Chagos case

Posted in Uncategorized on May 12th, 2014 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston has written this piece on his blog about the current case between the UK and Mauritius over the Chagos marine reserve.

Peston asks whether David Miliband went against the then prime minister Gordon Brown when he implemented the marine reserve back in 2010.

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

 

Slow progress

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7th, 2013 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Impatience continues in parliament as the government drags its feet on the Chagos question. Baroness Warsi said in response to a question about evaluating resettlement of the islands: “We are currently reviewing our policy towards BIOT [British Indian Ocean Territory – officialspeak for Chagos]” but that “we do not have a timetable for the conclusion of this review”.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos was, by all accounts, a little disappointed that the government wasn’t even willing to say how long it might take them to conduct a review. It doesn’t suggest the matter is being addressed with much urgency.

Short film about the Chagos islanders

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10th, 2013 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

Here’s a great 10-minute film on Chagos by Anja Popp of QMTV (the online TV channel of Queen Mary, University of London).

“White House Recognizes, But Fails to Accept Responsibility for Chagossian Hardships”

Posted in Diego Garcia, ECHR, Uncategorized, USA on January 30th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

JURIST Guest Columnist Elena Landriscina, New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Fellow, revisits her article on the displacement of the Chagos Islanders by the US and UK. Here, she examines what she argues is the lackluster response of the US to a petition of the plight of the Chagossians and calls for the US to right its wrongs