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Chagos: An overall settlement closer than ever

Posted in APPG, FCO, Feasability Study, ITLOS, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, resettlement, UN, USA on March 26th, 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, published today in Weekly, the Mauritian equivalent of Express. David Snoxell, former high Commissioner for Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the All Party Parliamentary Group, gives his reactions to the Tribunal Award in favour of Mauritius. Explaining the basis of the case brought to the Arbitral Tribunal, established under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, by Mauritius as a result of the UK’s unilateral declaration of a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands, he finishes the article with the hope that an overall settlement could soon be reached:

An overall settlement of the issues could be closer than it has ever been, thanks to the KPMG feasibility report published in February, which found that there were no obstacles to resettlement, and to this Tribunal which obliges the UK to negotiate with Mauritius. 2015, the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the 50th anniversary of the creation of BIOT and the renegotiation of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of the Archipelago for defence purposes, could indeed be an auspicious year for Mauritius, the future of the Chagos Islands and its former inhabitants. The log jam seems at last to have broken.

The article was written before Tuesday’s FCO statement announcing a delay on reviewing the policy on resettlement.

Statement on 23 March 2015 issued by the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG on prospects for Chagossian resettlement and the future of the Chagos Islands.

Posted in APPG, Diego Garcia, ITLOS, Mauritius, Parliament, resettlement, USA on March 25th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

portThe Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group was established in December 2008 to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and of the Chagossian people. Considerable progress has been made towards this aim.

The KPMG report on the feasibility of resettlement, published last month, concluded that there were no legal obstacles to resettlement.

The Group held its 48th and final meeting of this Parliament on Monday 23 March 2015. In the absence so far of a statement by the Government on the KPMG report members concluded that:

  1. 1: Notwithstanding the period of purdah, between the dissolution of Parliament and the general election, the Government should consult and agree with the main political parties a statement on the future of the exiled Chagossian people to be made before the election, setting out the intentions of parties likely to form the next government.

  1. 2: The APPG believes that, following the KPMG study, there should be agreement to a pilot resettlement on Diego Garcia, work on which should begin immediately when the next government comes to office, with a view to the first settlers arriving in early 2016.

  1. 3: The APPG urges the political parties to seize this opportunity, during the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the 50th anniversary of the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory, to bring about a fair and just settlement to which Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were committed before the 2010 election, and rectify one of the worst violations of fundamental human rights perpetrated by the United Kingdom in the twentieth century.

  1. 4: The APPG considers that any renewal next year of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT for defence purposes should be conditional on a commitment by both parties to facilitate and support resettlement.

  1. 5: The Group welcomes the Arbitral Tribunal’s conclusion of the international arbitration between the UK and Mauritius and its finding that the undertakings given by the UK in 1965 are legally binding in international law. It calls upon the Government to open discussions with Mauritius concerning fishing rights which until the declaration of the MPA were operated by Chagossian owned and operated vessels.

  1. 6: In consequence of the above finding which gives Mauritius an “interest in significant decisions that bear upon the possible use of the Archipelago” the APPG urges the Government to consult Mauritius over future arrangements both for the MPA and for the US base on Diego Garcia, and also on plans for the resettlement of Chagossians, in view of the facilities available on Diego Garcia. The Government should also draw on expertise and experience available in Mauritius.

  1. 7: The APPG will be re-established after the election and continue to promote its aim of an overall settlement of the issues.

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.

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.

43rd Meeting and AGM of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, conservation, FCO, Philippa Gregory, USA on July 24th, 2014 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 6th Annual General Meeting (AGM) and 43rd meeting on 15 July 2014. The meeting which was to have taken place prior to the AGM with the FCO Minister Mark Simmonds MP, was postponed at the last minute due to the arrival at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the new Foreign Secretary.

The Group re-elected the current office holders (Chairman Jeremy Corbyn; Vice-Chairs Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Andrew Rosindell MP, Henry Smith MP; Secretary Andrew George MP). David Snoxell was re-appointed Coordinator and Richard Gifford Legal Adviser – the Group thanked them for their continuing support and service to the Group.

Parliamentary Questions (PQs) and Questions which had been answered since the Group’s last meeting on 5 June were considered. Members were surprised to learn that the Government received no revenues from the sales of .io domains and noted that this had been contradicted by the International Computer Bureau (ICB) Chief. Lord Avebury had tabled a further Question on the financial arrangements with the ICB.

The Group discussed the KPMG monthly reports for May and June on the progress of the feasibility study. They were concerned that the initial consultations with the Chagossians in Mauritius, Seychelles and Crawley did not appear to have gone well and that this could lead to delay. They urged both the FCO and KPMG to ensure that the grievances and aspirations of Chagossians were considered as well as the technical aspects of the conditions in which some would want to resettle permanently in the Islands. Members did not feel that to proceed by way of questionnaires was the best way forward. The Group took note that in answer to a PQ Mr Simmonds had said that the feasibility study should be complete by early January 2015. Members were of the view that the study, including the extension of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT, should be debated in Parliament before Ministers made final decisions on resettlement.

A request from Prof Charles Sheppard, Chairman of CCT and his colleagues to make a presentation to the Group on the conservation aspects was agreed – their last presentation to the Group had been in December 2010. Also at her request a meeting with Dr Philippa Gregory would be arranged.

The next meeting of the Group will be on 15 October 2014, preceded by the postponed meeting with Mr Simmonds, if available.

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.

40th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, FCO, Mauritius, MPA, USA, William Hague on December 20th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 40th meeting on 17 December 2013

The Group reviewed the progress made since its first meeting 5 years ago, on 16 December 2008. Members recalled the purpose of the Group was “to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and the Chagossian people”. The Group had also decided that “following the end of legal proceedings (Law Lords judgment Oct 08) the responsibility for the Chagos Islanders now rests with Parliament”. At its second meeting on 29 Jan 2010 the Group agreed several objectives one of which was. “A truly independent study of the practicalities and way in which a limited resettlement of Salomon and Peros Bahnos can be achieved….. drawn up in consultation with interested parties, not least the Chagossians”.They were pleased to note that after 5 years the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had now agreed to a new study. They were disappointed that another of its objectives (“Discussions with Mauritius on the future sovereignty of the Outer Islands”) had not so far begun although its objective (“Re-negotiation of the Agreement with the US by 2015, to reflect the right of the Chagossians to live on the Islands and any changes to the sovereignty of those Islands”) appeared to be on course.

Members discussed the proposed Terms of Reference for the new feasibility study. They endorsed the points made by Baroness Whitaker, Lord Avebury and Lord Luce in the Lords debate on 27 November, in particularly that it would be necessary to cut the length of the study from 12 to 6 months in order for decisions to be made and implemented before the general election. Members agreed that they should continue to monitor the process and timetable. closely.

The Group decided that the Chairman should write to the Foreign Secretary about this and other concerns such as the need to engage Mauritius in a diplomatic dialogue concerning the future management of the Islands and of the MPA.. As Lord Luce had said in the debate ” it is essential that they (Mauritius) are regarded as a vital player in any Chagossian solution”. Members agreed with Lord Avebury’s suggestion, made in the Lords debate, that to help break the ice the new BIOT Science Adviser, along with members of the BIOT Science Advisory Group, should have meetings with their Mauritian counterparts to discuss a joint approach to the science of Chagos, sharing data and current research. The Group decided to invite the Mauritian High Commissioner to a meeting.

Members were keen to take up the Foreign Secretary’s offer of a further meeting which he had made at the last meeting with the Group on 15 December 2011.

The Group also discussed legal developments.They took note that permission had been granted by the High Court for an appeal against the judicial review of the MPA to be heard on 31 March on the three grounds of improper motive, fishing rights and EU law. Members were interested to learn that, with respect to the ruling of the Law Lords in Oct 2008, lawyers had recently written to the Treasury Solicitor alleging a miscarriage of justice, on the grounds that the flawed feasibility study and the way it had been influenced, was a key factor on which the majority judgment had been based. The letter invited the Foreign Secretary to set aside that judgment and restore the right of return,

The next meeting of the Group is on 5 February 2014.