Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group: Coordinator's Summary
Below is a summary of the latest meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands, provided as usual by the group's voluntary coordiantor David Snoxell. Our thanks to him and the group members for their continued work holding the government to account on their responsibilities to the Chagossian people.
Coordinator's Summary of 12 October meeting of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 57th meeting on 12 October.
The Group considered the PQs and Questions answered since the last meeting. It was noted that more recent PQs had not yet been answered. Members noted that in an answer on 18 July Baroness Anelay, FCO Minister for the OTs, had said "Officials are now carrying out remaining work on the options available before the PM takes a final decision on the policy". Nearly 3 months on they wondered what further work there could be left to consider, given that the KPMG report, commissioned following Mr Hague's announcement in December 2012 that the policy would be reviewed, was published in February 2015. Further PQs were agreed.
The APPG was pleased to learn that Baroness Anelay had agreed to attend its next meeting on 16 November for a discussion of the issues. They noted that Olivier Bancoult, on his way to the UNGA in New York, and other Chagossians had met the Minister on 15 September in the FCO and understood that the Minister had indicated that a decision on resettlement would be taken before the end of the year.They were surprised that the Chairman, who was to accompany the group, was excluded from this meeting.
Members discussed the Chairman's letter of 27 July to the PM and her reply of 8 September. They noted that the reply did not address many of the issues raised by the Chairman on behalf of the Group.
Members considered the elements which made a decision on resettlement before the Christmas recess essential:
- The extension for a further 20 years of the 1966 UK/US agreement on 30 December. Members reiterated their view that this extension should be conditional on both parties agreeing to support and facilitate resettlement.
- The Supreme Court strictures that in the light of the KPMG feasibility study, which found no obstacle to resettlement, maintaining the ban on Chagossian return may no longer be lawful and that if the Government failed to restore the right of abode, it would be open to Chagossians to mount a new challenge by way of judicial review on the grounds of irrationality, unreasonableness and/or disproportionality. Members felt that after 17 years of litigation the Government must resolve the situation and not incur further litigation costs. It was understood that the lawyers had written to the Foreign Secretary to draw attention to the views of the Supreme Court.
- The UK remained in breach of international human rights law, the most recent example being the report issued in August by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which inter alia urged the UK "to hold full and meaningful consultations with the Chagossians to facilitate their return to their islands and to provide them with an effective remedy, including compensation".
The Group considered the recent CRG/UKChSA submission to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry into MPAs in the OTs. The submission listed the key flaws and failings of the 2010 BIOT MPA, including that the FCO had ignored Chagossian fishing rights and created the MPA in order to help prevent the return of the Chagossians to their homeland. It was noted that the Supreme Court had given leave to appeal this case. It would take place next year.
Members were pleased to note that Mauritius had agreed to postpone to the 2017 UN General Assembly session, the draft resolution referring the issue of sovereignty to the ICJ, pending talks proposed by the UK. It was also noted that resettlement was likely to be on the agenda as the Mauritian PM had stated in a press release on 13 September that "the issues of sovereignty and resettlement were indissoluble".
The next meeting of the APPG will be on 16 November.