Saturday Summary: Chagos in Parliament
On 23rd February 2016, Henry Smith MP, the Vice Chair of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and the Conservative MP for Crawley, raised the right of return of the Chagos islanders as a ‘Topical Question’ in the House of Commons. He queried: ‘With the United States wishing to continue its military presence on Diego Garcia for a further 20 years, what discussions is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office planning to have with Washington about helping to facilitate the right of return of the Chagos islanders to the British Ocean Territory?’ The response of James Duddridge, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, was non-committal, affirming simply that the UK government ‘want the US presence to continue, but [...] have not yet held discussions with the US about continuing that arrangement.’ His response avoided mentioning directly the right of return, despite the fact that in October last year, Duddridge said that he would ‘not seek to justify these actions or excuse the conduct of an earlier generation’, adding ‘what happened was simply wrong.’ It remains to be seen whether or not this widely shared condemnation of the Chagos eviction will translate into any insistence from the UK Government on the right to return being part of the renewal of the UK-US agreement. Duddridge simply added: ‘I will continue to liaise with (Henry Smith MP) when the Government come to a conclusion, following the KPMG report and the consultation.’ One can only hope that Duddridge will use his significant power to step away from the saga of UK complicity in the human rights abuses of the Chagossian people, as was aptly described by Paul Monaghan MP last year when he said: “To the utter shame of every UK government and 17 foreign secretaries, this ethnic cleansing of an entire people has been variously ignored, glossed over or actively misrepresented.”
In a Parliamentary written question, SNP MP Alan Brown pressed Mr Duddridge in a similar manner. Mr Day asked the Minister "when he expects discussions to begin with the US government on extending the lease for the military base on Diego Garcia."
In his reply, the Minister stated that "no decisions have yet been made about whether and when to have discussions with the US about their continued presence on Diego Garcia." The answer is worrying as it raises the possibility the UK will not even discuss Chagossian resettlement with with the US military.
The agreement which allows US military presence on Diego Garcia led to the shameful deporation of the Chagossian people. If it is to be extended it must only be with US support for Chagossian return. We also await the Supreme Court’s decision on the legality of Chagossians continued exile, but the Chagossian people remain determined win justice and return home. It is time for UK politicians to get on the right side of history and back publicly and unequivocally the Chagossians' right to return.