Archive for July, 2011

AGM and 22nd meeting of Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group; Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, ConDem, FCO, Legal, Parliament, William Hague on July 24th, 2011 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) held its AGM and 22nd meeting on 13 July 2011. The current office holders (Chairman – Jeremy Corbyn MP; Vice Chairmen – Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Andrew Rosindell MP; Secretary – Andrew George MP) were re-elected. Henry Smith MP was also elected Vice-Chaiman. David Snoxell and Richard Gifford were respectively re-appointed Coordinator and Legal Adviser.

The Group took note of the progress that had been made since the general election and the evident desire of current  Ministers to find solutions to the long standing issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and the Chagos Islands. The Vice Chairman, Andrew Rosindell, reported on a meeting that he and the Patrons, Chairman and Vice Chairman of UKChSA had held with the Foreign Secretary on 27 June 2011, and on a subsequent exchange of letters in which the Foreign Secretary had listed  on-going initiatives and had expressed the hope that others would be possible. While the meeting had been positive and encouraging, as were the proposed small projects, Mr Rosindell had appealed to the Foreign Secretary to go beyond the constraints of official briefing and deal with the fundamental issues of the right to return and resettlement.

While in opposition, both Coalition parties had expressed a determination to work for a just and fair settlement. The Government had already had more than a year to find an agreeable solution. Members of the Group asked when the  all-party meeting, to which the Foreign Secretary had agreed in early May 2011, would take place. The Chairman said he would remind Mr Hague.

The Group considered the Chairman’s letter to the US Ambassador of 10 June 2011, proposing a meeting with the Group to discuss any potential defence security issues over resettlement. Since no reply had yet been received the Coordinator was asked to remind the US Embassy.

The Group also considered the Chairman’s letter to the Chairmen of the Public Administration and Foreign Affairs Select Committees concerning the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner with regard to the Overseas Territories. The Group agreed that the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights should also be seized of the issues.

The Group discussed the ECtHR’s (Strasbourg) judgment of 7 July on the Al-Skeini case (that the UK was responsible under the European Convention for the human rights violations of its soldiers against civilians, since the UK had control and jurisdiction in Iraq at that time). The disposal of the Al-Skeini case cleared the way for the Court to consider the Chagos Islanders case and this was expected in the autumn. The Group felt, however, that this judgment had such important implications for the Government’s case in Strasbourg that it would be prudent, and much cheaper for the taxpayer, for the UK to withdraw from the case and settle out of court.

The next meetings of the APPG will be on 7 September and 19 October 2011.

Chagos representatives meet Foreign Secretary

Posted in Ben Fogle, ConDem, FCO, Parliament, Philippa Gregory, William Hague on July 1st, 2011 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

William Hague meeting Chagos representatives

William Hague meets Chagos representatives / Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

In a historic meeting on Monday the British Foreign Secretary met representatives of the Chagos people who were expelled from their islands more than forty years ago.

Foreign Secretary William Hague invited the Chagos representatives to a meeting following May’s Chagos Regagné conference on the possibility of a science station and eco-village on Chagos. Ben Fogle and Philippa Gregory, patrons of the UK Chagos Support Association, accompanied chair Roch Evenor and vice chair Marcus Booth to the Foreign Office where they were welcomed by Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, who expressed his support for their cause.
Philippa Gregory opened the meeting by describing the Chagos Regagné conference. The Chagos people had been interested in the scientific papers on the value and the pristine nature of the reef, she said, and the scientists, conservationists and reef experts had mostly agreed that an eco-village on one of the outer islands could provide a base for Chagos people visiting their homeland and working on conservation projects. She acknowledged that there were strong feelings on both sides but stressed that there was a consensus for conservation and for the Chagos people to return.
Mr Hague reminded the meeting of various projects currently funded by the government which he said demonstrated the government’s goodwill to the Chagos people. He also cited projects in other overseas territories which he said demonstrated the government’s interest in and commitment to overseas territories. But he warned that some aspects of the right to return could not be discussed while the case against the government was before the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr Rosindell asked if there was a possibility of an out-of-court settlement. Mr Hague said the government saw this case, which should be heard this year, as a test case on the court’s ability to rule on the British overseas territories. Philippa Gregory remarked that she saw no obstacle to progress on the idea of an eco-village and science station while the case was going on. The matter will have to be resolved sooner or later, she said, underlining the sense of urgency among the Chagos people, whose campaign will continue whatever the result of the court case.
Ben Fogle spoke strongly about the publicity campaign, which so far has focused on seeking the government’s support – in line with its pre-election promises. If progress was not made on that front, the campaign would continue, he said, as there is increasing public interest, and his commitment to the campaign would go on.
Mr Hague mentioned the Science Advisory Group which has met once and will meet again in September. Miss Gregory asked if there could be Chagos representation on the group, and the Foreign Office officials were concerned about there being proper representation. Roch Evenor explained that he had convened an umbrella organisation which covers all Chagos groups in the UK, and which could nominate proper representatives.
Hague meets Chagos representatives

William Hague with Chagos representatives / Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The officials said that Diego Garcia was mentioned as a possible site for a science station and Miss Gregory said that the Chagos people would welcome that as a site for the Chagos eco-village, which might give Chagos people work opportunities as well as solving issues about fishing, communications, and safety. Mr Rosindell asked Mr Hague to find out whether the Americans had serious views against a return of the Chagos people. Mr Hague remarked that the US was a premier ally with important treaty obligations. Andrew Rosindell pressed this point, saying that when he had visited Washington he had not heard it mentioned that the US wanted to exclude the Chagos people.

As the meeting was ending Mr Hague again stressed the government’s continuing goodwill, citing visits and courses that have been organised. Miss Gregory raised the issue of British Citizenship and explained the problem caused by the loophole in the law acknowledging the rights of Chagos people. She gave Mr Hague a briefing note and told him of the hardship and distress that this problem is causing to large numbers of people. She cited figures of 600 people affected by the problem in Mauritius (according to Olivier Bancoult), and Roch Evenor said there were 68 in the UK. Mr Evenor was able to give Mr Hague a list of UK Chagossians who are experiencing difficulties. Mr Hague said that resolving this issue would probably require a change in the law.
The meeting wound up. Roch Evenor and Philippa Gregory felt that Mr Hague was genuinely sympathetic and that progress is being made. The next step is to get Chagos people on the Science Advisory Group so that they can be included in any discussion of a science station, and any proposed station includes a green village for Chagos people.