So explains David Snoxell, co-ordinator of the British All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Chagos, in an interview with L’Express Weekly, Mauritius. The piece covers issues ranging from De L’Estrac’s English translation of his book ‘Next Year in Diego Garcia’ to a recent meeting of the APPG with William Hague, and how people can get more involved in supporting the Chagossians. The article is available here.
Archive for December, 2011
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 26th meeting on 15 December 2011 in Parliament. The meeting was preceded by a 45 minute meeting with the Foreign Secretary in the FCO, attended by 8 members from all parties and both Houses, the Coordinator and two officials from Overseas Territories Department.
Members expressed their views on a wide range of issues including review of the 1966 UK/US agreement, defence and security, pre-election Coalition commitments to the Chagossians, the case at Strasbourg, the UK’s human rights obligations, feasibility of resettlement (sea-levels etc), availability of funding, the need for a new independent study, the legitimacy of the MPA, conservation and future sovereignty. Members urged the Foreign Secretary to discuss any US defence concerns with Hilary Clinton directly and to seize the opportunity of the 2014 review of the 1966 agreement in order to make provision for the return of the Chagossians to the Outer Islands. The Chairman of the APPG suggested that one way of making progress would be to establish in the FCO a cross cutting unit, independent of Overseas Territories Department, which would bring all issues from human rights to conservation together, dedicated to bringing about an overall settlement, and which would call on expertise from outside the FCO. With political will and compromise, solutions could be found. It was pointed out that a speech by the Foreign Secretary entitled ‘The best Diplomatic Service in the world: strengthening the FCO’ noted that “our diplomats excel at finding deft, realistic and workable solutions”.This offered cause for optimism.
Mr Hague acknowledged that participants represented a wide cross section of Parliament and that they possessed in-depth knowledge and considerable experience of the issues. He had listened carefully to their suggestions but whilst he was sympathetic to many of the views expressed he could not take matters forward until the court cases had been concluded when a different situation could prevail. He understood that a decision by Strasbourg might take until the early summer. Members urged him, in the meantime, to take forward discussions with the US and Mauritius. Mr Hague reiterated FCO positions on defence and feasibility, whilst recognising that the practical aspect of resettlement was secondary to the principle of the right to return. He mentioned the strengthening of links between the FCO and Chagossian groups through meetings and visits. Mr Hague agreed to a further meeting with the Group after the ECtHR had given its decision. The Chairman thanked the Foreign Secretary for a cordial meeting and said that the Group would write to him about the issues which members had raised. Mr Hague welcomed this.
The subsequent meeting of the APPG reviewed the meeting with the Foreign Secretary and felt that it had been useful and encouraging. It was agreed that the Chairman would table a request for a 90 minute Commons debate early next year. The APPG took note of the Chairman’s response, on behalf of the Group, to the FCO Consultation on the Overseas Territories. The Coordinator reported on the Linnean Society and CCT MPA conference on 24 November which he had attended on behalf of the Group, and also on his recent visit to Strasbourg.
The next meeting will be on 1 February 2012.
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 25th meeting on 23 November 2011.
The Group reviewed recent developments and the state of play on the current legal and parliamentary actions. The Group discussed further exchanges of correspondence between the Vice Chairman Andrew Rosindell and the FCO Minister Henry Bellingham. As several of the issues remained unanswered the Group felt that Mr Rosindell should persevere with the correspondence. The Group was pleased to note that the postponed meeting with the Foreign Secretary had been fixed for 15 December. Members were keen to discuss a wide range of issues at that meeting. The Group were surprised that the US Ambassador had not yet answered a request for a meeting made in a letter from the Chairman on 10 June and asked for this to be pursued actively with the US Embassy. The Group noted the comments on Question Time on 3 November by Benjamin Zephaniah concerning the undemocratic use of the 2004 Orders in Council banning the Chagossians from returning to their homeland.
The APPG discussed the latest research, shortly to be published on sea level in the Chagos Archipelago by Dunne, Barbosa and Woodworth in Global and Planetary Change. Members noted that measurements showed that there been no detectable change in sea level over the last 20 years and that the islands should continue to be able to support human habitation, as they had done for much of the last 200 years. This contrasted with the advice of the BIOT Conservation Adviser that sea level rise was accelerating and the Foreign Secretary’s comments to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 8 September 2010 in which he raised the spectre of the “pressure of climate change on sea levels” which made resettlement “a very daunting prospect”. The issue was likely to surface at the Chagos MPA conference on 24 November at the Linnean Society at which the Coordinator would represent the Group. Members took note of an on-line article about the findings, by Fred Pearce in the New Scientist, which commented that since 2002 UK Ministers had repeatedly cited rising sea level as a “clear and compelling” reason why resettlement was not feasible.
Finally the Group decided to ask for a debate in the Commons on Chagos in the new year. The next meeting of the APPG will follow the meeting with the Foreign Secretary on 15 December.