• David Snoxell

Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Meeting: Coordinator's Summary

The Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group has held its 59th meeting, and the first since its previous meeting with Ministers on the day the Government decided not to proceed with a Chagossian return programme. Thanks as ever are due to the Group's Voluntary Coordinator David Snoxell for the below summary.

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 59th meeting on 5 December. The Group reviewed the PQs, intervention and urgent debates in both Houses since the last meeting on 16 November. They also reviewed press and international reactions and those of the Chagossian groups, to HMG's decision not to proceed with resettlement. They noted that sadness and anger had characterised these reactions. The Group was resolved to continue the struggle until a pilot resettlement was achieved and Chagossians could exercise their right to determine their own future. In the meantime, unless the Government could explain their objections, there appeared to be no reason why the right of abode should not be restored a second time (first time in 2000 following the High Court ruling).

Members discussed the options for moving forward. They acknowledged that continuing litigation in the English courts was a potential way forward and that international pressure through the UN General Assembly and the International Court of Justice was another. They noted that the Government of Mauritius and the Committee of Parliamentarians on the Chagos Archipelago in the Mauritian Parliament had denounced the decision not to allow resettlement. The Mauritian Prime Minister had described it as "a manifest breach of international law (which) outrageously flouts their (the Chagossians) human rights"; that "no amount of money and no public apology by the UK Government can make lawful what is unlawful" and that Mauritius "fully supports their relentless struggle to remove all obstacles to the full enjoyment of their human rights".

The Group also considered the skeletal arguments which the Government deployed to defend their decision. Ministers had said that resettlement was not in the public interest. Members thought it was. The ministerial statement and debates in both Houses had not provided any reasoned argument as to why resettlement should not take place. Members were convinced that defence and security was not a genuine obstacle as neither the US nor MOD had said it was; that the cost was much less than the Government estimated and could be funded from a range of sources; that resettlement was feasible and realistic; that the Government had substantially misrepresented the number of Chagossians who had replied to the FCO consultation and who wished to live in their homeland; that their dependants had been discounted from the statistics; and that the age profile of the population was not "ageing" as had been suggested by Ministers. The decision was inconsistent with the APPG report, other studies and the FCO consultation with the Chagossians and therefore looked perverse.

Members also discussed conditions that could be attached to the continuation of the 1966 UK/US exchange of letters regarding future arrangements for Chagossians such as work on the US base, accommodation for families and organised visits, MPA management and conservation monitoring. The Group noted that the Government could at any time change their policy and allow a pilot resettlement in which case it would be important to amend the agreement accordingly.

The next meeting will be on 25 January.

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