Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting: Public Summary
Thanks as ever to All-Party Group Co-ordinator David Snoxell for providing the below public summary of the latest meeting of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group.
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-party Parliamentary Group held its 82nd meeting on 24 March via zoom. Andrew Mitchell MP, former Development Secretary, was welcomed as a new member, bringing the membership to 57. Matters arising from the last meeting on 27 January were noted: Lord Ahmad, FCDO Minister for Overseas Territories who last met the Group in October 2017, had been invited but was unavailable. Another meeting would be fixed; The Chairman of the British-American Parliamentary Group had declined a joint meeting, proposed by the APPG, as the BAPG was an interparliamentary body funded by grant; the US embassy had confirmed that the Chairman's letter of 15 December to President Biden had been delivered to the Transition Team and that a reply would be forthcoming. PQs and Questions since the last meeting were considered. They concerned:
a) ITLOS judgment of 28 January which determined, in line with the ICJ Advisory Opinion, that Mauritius, not the UK,had sovereignty and was therefore the coastal state for the purpose of maritime delimitation with Maldives. The Group took note of a letter of 9 February from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy to Dominc Raab which did not appear to have been answered. The letter arose from the MOD's answer to a PQ from Patrick Grady, MP (SNP). Jeremy Corbyn tweeted on 10 February "This government is still pretending the UK has sovereignty over Chagos despite ongoing international rulings to the contrary. Britain must abide by international law and drop its illegal colonialist stance". There had been a stream of international concern and media comment. b) UK membership of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. PQs had clarified that the UK holds two concurrent 'memberships' of the IOTC, one dating from 1995 as a 'coastal state' on behalf of BIOT, and the second from December 2020 to permit UK flagged vessels (only two) to fish for tuna in the IOTC area. Clearly the UK did not need two memberships. The next (25th) annual IOTC meeting in June would consider a request from Mauritius, challenging the 1995 UK (BIOT) membership. c) Cost of domestic and international litigation. The answer given was £5,841,662. But this does not include the costs since 2000 of FCO staff and legal advisers in the FCO, BHCs Mauritius and Seychelles research costs, the earlier 1975-82 litigation and on-going costs arising from the Supreme Court, all of which could double this figure. The Chairman reported on the delay to the announcement of the terms of reference of the proposed FAC inquiry into the management of Chagos affairs since 2000 which will take place later this year. The Group took note of a letter to the FCDO, dated 12 March, listing eight complaints of maladministration relating to the delay, management and failure to spend the 2016 Chagossian Support Package, from Jonathan Levy, Attorney, representing the UK Chagos Refugees Group. Members discussed how an overall settlement of Chagos reflected the thrust of the Integrated Review on Foreign Policy, Defence, Security and International Development, published on 16 March and the Defence Command Paper on 22 March. Members recalled their discussion over a year ago and the subsequent ChaIrman's letter to the FCO Minister, James Cleverly of 23 March 2020 asking for Chagos/BIOT to be included in the Review. The APPG was surprised that the Review made only one mention of UK's presence (40 RN staff) on Diego Garcia: "The armed forces will continue to maintain a permanent presence in Falklands, Ascension Islands and BIOT". There were however helpful statements throughout the Review that applied to the Chagos situation such as "a spirit of greater international cooperation, dialogue and compromise; the UK defending universal human rights as a force for good in the world; championing international humanitarian law; promoting the right of self-determination for the people of the OTs; confirming an absolute commitment to upholding UNCLOS in all its dimensions". The Defence Command Paper also referred to BIOT. The UK was described as championing "international laws, rules and behaviours from international humanitarian law to UNCLOS". The statement "we will look to other alliances and partnerships, including in support of the UK Government's tilt to the Indo-Pacific region" was also highly relevant. A Chagos settlement was fully in line with the Reviews.
An overall settlement of Chagos between Mauritius, UK, US and India (which fully supported the Mauritian position on sovereignty) would be in keeping with the intentions and forward direction of both Reviews, providing valuable back-up for the UK's Tilt strategy. Strengthening cooperation in the Indian Ocean between UK, US, Mauritius, India and Australia would enable integrated action in the face of potential Chinese influence and activity. However it was crucial that Chagossians should have a say in what their future holds. The UK strongly supported self-determination in the OTs It was decided that the Chairman should write again to the Foreign Secretary to point out the need for an overall settlement of Chagos issues within the context of the Integrated Review and the Defence Command Paper. After the meeting four members of 'Chagossian Voices' joined the APPG to present their views on a range of problems. Members were pleased to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with them and hoped that other groups would also engage with the APPG and speak with one Chagossian voice. The date of the next meeting is 19 May