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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group
29 Oct 2013
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.
Here’s a great 10-minute film on Chagos by Anja Popp of QMTV (the online TV channel of Queen Mary, University of London).
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…
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 33rd meeting on 10 January 2013 to consider the situation following the Strasbourg ruling that the case of the Chagos Islanders was inadmissible and the political options available for making progress.
While noting that Strasbourg had not ruled on whether the treatment of the Chagossians had been a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights the Group understood that Court procedure did not allow for appeals to the Grand Chamber against a majority decision of inadmissibility by the seven judge Chamber. Leaving aside other legal options the Group considered how best to respond to the Foreign Secretary’s statement, following the Court’s decision, that “the Government will take stock of our policy towards the resettlement of BIOT” and that “we will be as positive as possible in our engagement with Chagossian groups and all interested parties”. The Group felt that this was an encouraging response and that it offered an opportunity to begin the process of bringing about an overall political settlement of all the issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and BIOT. These issues were the right to return and resettlement, defence and security, feasibility, and cost, the need for an independent scientific study, conservation and the Marine Protected Area and future management and sovereignty of the Archipelago.
The Group considered a range of ideas for helping the Foreign Secretary to move forward on these issues and to establish the common ground between all the parties. It was agreed that the Chairman should write to Mr Hague to set out the Group’s ideas and to ask for a meeting to discuss them. Members also decided to table a number of PQs and to ask for urgent debates in both Houses of Parliament. The Group felt that substantial progress should be made this year before 2014 when the 1966 UK/US agreement comes up for renewal and potential renegotiation. 2015 would be the year of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of BIOT, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Mauritius and the end of the Coalition’s five year mandate. For the Government to meet its pre-election promises of a just and fair settlement in time it was important to begin discussions as soon as possible.
We’ve learned through the Philippines Overseas Employment Association of dozens of jobs on Diego Garcia being advertised in the Philippines, including posts for electricians, cashiers, mechanics, stock clerks, janitors, welders, firefighters, engineers and massage therapists.
As far as we’re aware, these jobs are not being advertised in Mauritius, the Seychelles or the UK, where most of the Chagossian community live. We can’t help but wonder why. In the past, very few Chagossians have been able to get jobs in their homeland since being evicted, despite many trying.
More in our full September update.