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.