Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group Meeting: Coordinator's Summary
Below is the latest meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands, the first since the election. As ever thanks are due to the group's coordinator David Snoxell for providing this summary.
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG held its 64th meeting on 18 October prior to meeting with the new FCO Minister for the OTs, Lord Ahmad and officials.
New members, Baroness Hooper, Lord Northbrook and Baroness Smith were welcomed. Efforts would be made to contact former members Sir Vince Cable, Jo Swinson and Tony Lloyd. Members reviewed Answers to PQs since its last meeting on 5 July and the correspondence between the Chairman and Lord Ahmad. Note was taken of legal developments and Henry Smith's proposed amendment, under the Ten Minute Rule Bill, to the 1981 British Nationality Act to provide for registration of Chagossians by descent as BOT citizens. The Group reaffirmed its intention of submitting its views to the International Court of Justice before the 30 January 2018 deadline.
Lord Ahmad, who is the 8th minister for BIOT whom the Group has dealt with since its formation in 2008, gave a brief account of his experiences of the issues since he became minister in June and the meetings he had had. He was keen to have constructive engagement with all concerned including the APPG but would maintain the polices that he had inherited, whilst being open-minded to the views of the APPG.
Members of the Group were disappointed that despite the new political situation, including the referral of the issues by the UN General Assembly to the ICJ and a forthcoming judicial review of the Government's decision of 16 November 2016 against resettlement, a decision had been taken in the FCO at the beginning of the summer recess not to discuss the issues with the APPG before the policy was reviewed.This fait accompli was a repeat scenario of the meeting 11 months ago with the Minister's predecessor and Ministers from MOD and DFID. In letters to Lord Ahmad, following its last meeting on 5 July, the Chairman had explained why it was an opportune moment to review the policy. Members reiterated their views as set out in the APPG statements of 16 November 16 and 26 April 17 (attached) and contested the way the Government continued to minimise the UNGA resolution, adopted by a large majority of member states, which had referred sovereignty and the human rights aspects to the ICJ for an Advisory Opinion. They asked what precisely was the Government's objection to restoring the right of abode and the reasons why the KPMG recommendations in favour of a pilot resettlement were rejected. The Chairman concluded that despite all the technical arguments that could be deployed ultimately it was a question of political will. The Minister said he was focusing on the financial package which the Government had announced on 16 November. Progress in implementation would be reported in due course.
At the request of Lord Luce, who was unable to attend, the Coordinator said that the 25th CHOGM Summit, hosted by the UK in London in April, provided an opportunity for the Government to put an end to the continuing violation of the human rights of the Chagossian people, especially as the Commonwealth Charter stressed the importance of human rights. Lord Luce felt that HMG undermined its case by the record of our treatment of the Chagossians and and we should rectify this black mark on our human rights record.