The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 29th meeting on 16 May.
The Group discussed the position on the various legal cases.They noted that there was no news on when the ECHR in Strasbourg would deliver its judgment though July looked possible. The Information Appeal had been listed for hearing by the Information Tribunal in early July.
The Chagos Islanders’ Judicial Review on the MPA was also expected to begin in July. Members thought that if the judge found the MPA unlawful it was a simple matter for the FCO to take account of Chagossian interests by designating a coastal area for local fishing. This had been proposed before the MPA was proclaimed by many contributors to the FCO Consultation, including the APPG in its submission of 10 February 2010. Whether the MPA was lawful in international law would be decided by the Arbitral Tribunal established under UNCLOS to hear the case brought by Mauritius, though this could take another year or so. In the meantime it was clear that the MPA remained a largely paper exercise although a full no-take fishing area had been imposed. The Group noted the FCO press release on the 2nd anniversary (1 April) of the MPA and that the FCO was optimistic that in future they could “involve more of our neighbours in developing what is an asset for the whole world”. The Group thought this referred to Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles. They also noted that the management plan was now into its third year of drafting but assumed it could not be finalised until the legal cases had been resolved. Members were pleased to see in the press release that the FCO would shortly be launching an environmental education programme for Chagossians and hoped that this would include those living in Mauritius since it was they who were the most likely to want to return.
The Group considered Lord Howell’s answer of 27 March to Baroness Whitaker’s question on whether, in view of the recently announced MPA for South Georgia and Sandwich Islands, which contained a sustainable fishery zone, the FCO would amend the BIOT MPA to recognise the fishing rights of Mauritius and the Chagossians, in accordance with UNCLOS. The Group felt that Lord Howell’s answer that the FCO had no plans to do so and that the MPA was “fully compatible with UNCLOS” might not be the view of the neighbouring states, or of ITLOS.
The Group considered the various answers to PQs about the costs to the tax payer of 12 years of Chagos litigation. They were keen to know the total cost, including diplomatic and legal staff costs. From the information so far gleaned they thought it could well be in the order of £3.5m or higher, but costs were still being incurred.
Recalling its own proposal for UNESCO world heritage status the Group was pleased to note that a draft resolution for consideration by the 5th session of the World Conservation Conference of IUCN in September called on the UK and Mauritius to jointly nominate the Chagos Archipelago for World Heritage Listing and to develop a management plan with the active participation of the Chagos Islanders.
The Group took note of the petition to President Obama, which had collected 28,700 signatures, calling upon the President to redress the wrongs against the Chagossians by providing relief in the form of resettlement on the Outer Islands, employment and compensation.They looked forward to his reply. Members noted that 2014 was the deadline for the UK to renegotiate the 1966 Agreement with the US. They expected the FCO to begin discussions with the US this year.
The recently released 2011 FCO annual report on Human Rights and Democracy was considered. The Group noted the statement in the section entitled ‘Promoting Human Rights in the Overseas Territories’ that “The UK Government’s long-standing objective is for the Overseas Territories to abide by the same basic human rights standards that British people expect of the UK Government”, but that there was no mention of the human rights of the exiled people of the Chagos Islands.
The Group agreed to the request from the makers of the documentary “The Queen and Us”, which will consider the use of the Royal Prerogative in respect of Chagos, to interview the Chairman and film the start of the next APPG meeting.
The next meeting (also the fourth AGM) will be on 11 July.