The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 24th meeting on 19 October 2011.
The Group reviewed the answers to recent Parliamentary Questions and letters from Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Ministers. Most had simply re-stated standard FCO arguments on feasibility and defence which were neither clear nor compelling. These replies remained unconvincing. The Group was pleased to note that the Foreign Secretary would meet members on 9 November 2011 to discuss the issues.
The meeting discussed the need for talks to be opened with the USA on the future of BIOT well in advance of 2014. The US had never said publicly that it required the Outer Islands for defence purposes, though this was frequently asserted by the FCO. It was felt that the Ministry of Defence should also be invited to express a view – they had never done so. The Group would continue to press for a meeting with the US Ambassador to discuss the threat, if any, that resettlement on one of the Outer Islands might pose to the security of the US base or to military operations on Diego Garcia, 140 miles away. The Group felt that the Foreign Secretary should discuss the matter directly with his counterpart, Hilary Clinton, and if necessary persuade her that resettlement posed no threat to the US base. It was thought that since Robin Cook was Foreign Secretary his successors had not discussed the matter with their US counterparts.
The Group took note of the decision by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) to consider its request that the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration be extended to cover the two uninhabited Overseas Territories, British Antarctic Territory and BIOT, since these territories were directly administered by the FCO. In its 7th report of the 2007-8 session the FAC had stated “We conclude that there is a strong moral case for the UK permitting and supporting a return to BIOT for Chagossians…The FCO has argued that such a return would be unsustainable, but we find these arguments less than convincing”.
The Group considered a complaint to Treasury Solicitors by the lawyers, acting on behalf of the Chagossians, that the FCO had failed in its Duty of Candour to the Courts in the litigation. This had seriously damaged the Chagossian Islanders case and may have led to a miscarriage of justice. The Group were puzzled to learn that the FCO had declined to confirm that the Duty of Candour also applied to submissions to the European Court of Huamn Rights.
The Group took note of a recent report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urging the UK to include information on the implementation of the Convention on Racial Discrimination, and its recommendation that all discriminatory restrictions on Chagossians entering BIOT should be withdrawn. The Group also noted the address on 24 September 2011 of the Prime Minister of Mauritius to the UN General Assembly, concerning Chagos.
A letter from the High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission, Baroness Ashton, in which she looked forward to a fair resolution of the issue of resettlement was noted. The letter concluded that “should the UK Government decide in favour of a return of the Chagos Islanders to their islands, the EU will closely examine all possibilities of support, if such a request for support is made by the UK Government”.
The Group asked the Coordinator to represent it at the joint meeting on the Chagos MPA of the Linnean Society and the Chagos Conservation Trust on 24 November 2011.
The 25th meeting of the APPG will be on 23 November 2011.