The UK Chagos Support Association has submitted its comments to the Foreign Office’s consultation on the Overseas Territories.
The government says it wants to build better relations between the UK and its various territories and improve governance. Well, governance doesn’t get much worse than what the people of Chagos (officially the British Indian Ocean Territory) have had to endure over the past forty years, and continue to endure.
So our message is simple: the government should cease its opposition to the return of the Chagossian people to their homeland.
The full text of our submission is below.
Submission from the UK Chagos Support Association to the Overseas Territories Consultation
What are the main challenges facing your Territory/the Territories?
The repatriation and resettlement of the islanders who were illegally expelled between 1968-73 is the paramount aim of the Chagossian community and their supporters.
We in the UKChSA believe (a belief that is evidentially supported) that a viable resettlement is possible but will require limited government support and funding. We in the UKChSA, believe that an initial ecologically sustainable community could be established as a ‘bridgehead’ on the outer islands. BIOT’s people ask only for parity of support with the people of other UK overseas territories (Pitcairn, Tristan da Cunha are remoter than BIOT, for example and have tiny populations yet receive substantial governmental support).
We would remind the UK government that the right to return to the outer islands was restored by Robin Cook in November 2000 but withdrawn by the FCO in June 2004 by use of the Royal Prerogative.
2. Cooperation with the UK
What are the most important areas of cooperation between your Territory/the Territories and the UK?
Cooperation between the UK and the returning population of BIOT will be key initially and UK governmental budgetary support, would (alongside international donors) be required as the returning Chagossians re-establish their communities but such support, we contest is within modest and manageable levels.
In what areas would you like to see greater engagement and interaction between the UK and your Territory/the Territories?
We believe that HMG should cease its opposition to the return of the Chagossian people to their homeland, a homeland from which they were illegally expelled. This would include the UK government withdrawing its defence against the case which is currently before the ECHR.
How can the UK and your Territory/the Territories strengthen cooperation and build more effective partnerships?
Whilst we believe that the people of the Chagos islands would seek to build strong relations with the UK following resettlement, it is too early to speak about building cooperation whilst the UK government continues to uphold the exile of BIOT’s indigenous people and prevents them from returning to their homeland.
3. Governance, financial management and economic planning
How do you assess the quality of good governance, public financial management and economic planning in your Territory/the Territories?
Regrettably the indigenous people of BIOT have been in exile at least since the early 1970s and have not been able to experience any of the above benefits in BIOT.
What are the priorities for improvement?
Repopulation of BIOT and the restoration of environmentally sustainable communities in the Outer Islands.
How can the UK best work with your Territory/the Territories to strengthen these areas?
Please see above.
4. External support
What do you think of the quality and range of external support (i.e. support other than from the UK) available to your Territory/the Territories, including from regional bodies, the Commonwealth, and the European Union?
Regrettably the indigenous people of BIOT have been in exile since the early 1970s and have not been able to experience any of the above in BIOT.
What can the UK best do to help Territories access external support?
Assist the returning Chagossian community (financially and logistically) with the establishment of an administration or the administrative capability to represent them in dealings with such bodies.
5. Cooperation between Territories
What potential do you see for increased cooperation and partnership between Territories?
Before Chagossians can speak of co-operation and partnership with people of other Overseas Territories, they should be able to enjoy the same rights of abode as the citizens of such territories.
In which areas does your Territory/the Territories provide support to other Territories? How might this be expanded?
The Chagossian community is currently exiled from its homeland and spread substantially across three countries – it is not in a position to provide support to other Territories or play their full part in the family of territories or otherwise.
6. Global profile of the Territories
How does your Territory/the Territories promote its successes?
The eviction of the indigenous population of BIOT in order that Diego Garcia could be made available to the US is a clear failure of UK policy towards the people of one of its overseas territories.
What more could be done to raise Territories’ profile internationally?
We believe that by restoring the right of abode of BIOT’s indigenous population, the British government would send a strong and positive human rights message globally that we no longer operate double standards, despite decades of the violation of the fundamental human rights of the Chagossian people.
How can the UK best support this?
By restoring and supporting the return of the Chagossian people to their homeland.