Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting: Public coordinator's summary
Thanks as ever to Group Coordinator David Snoxell for the below summary of the latest Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting.
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-party Parliamentary Group held its (virtual) 79th meeting on 21 October. The Group welcomed a new Member, Lord Lancaster, a former Conservative Defence Minister, bringing the current membership to 56, representing all political parties.
PQs, Questions and interventions in debates since the last meeting on 15 July were reviewed. It was noted that responses tended to evade questions, providing instead standard FCO lines which were well known to the Group. One example was a question tabled in July by Baroness Whitaker on the cost of the UK's participation in the ICJ proceedings to which the Answer was not relevant. She would re-table the question.
The Group's legal adviser summarised legal developments on the Horeau and Bancoult potential appeal to the Supreme Court. It was noted that failing the Supreme Court the case could return to the ECtHR in Strasbourg, in view of the 2019 ICJ Advisory Opinion. A recent claim to MOD for compensation, by an American lawyer representing Seychellois Chagossians (this group had never received compensation) was also noted.
The preliminary hearing of the Mauritius/Maldives maritime boundary delimitation case at an ITLOS Special Chamber of 9 judges in Hamburg, 12-19 October was considered. The significance of this case was that if ITLOS agreed it had jurisdiction and that the case was admissible (contested by Maldives) it would proceed on the basis of the determination of the ICJ Advisory Opinion and UNGA resolution endorsing it, which affirmed that Chagos had always been and continued to be an integral part of Mauritius, notwithstanding the UK's claim to sovereignty (the UK is not a party to the proceedings). The Chamber will give its findings in the new year.
The meeting was also informed that because of COVID-19, Mauritius had asked the President of UN General Assembly for a deferment to the 75th session next year of the draft resolution concerning the UK's failure to abide by the ICJ Advisory Opinion and subsequent UNGA resolution of 22 May 2019 which had set a deadline of 22 November 2019 for implementation. This could provide an opportunity for diplomatic discussions between the UK and Mauritius.
Members considered the letters on behalf of the APPG from the Chairman to James Cleverly (23 March), to the Foreign Secretary (20 July) and Baroness Sugg's reply (18 August). The Group felt that her reply had ignored most of the points made by the Chairman. It was decided that the Chairman would write to the Foreign Secretary and again invite him to meet members. Failing that the Group would ask for an adjournment debate.
In view of the lack of progress since the APPG was established in December 2008 members decided that the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) should be asked to hold an inquiry into Chagos. It had last done so in 2007/8 when it concluded that "there was a strong moral case for the UK permitting and supporting a return to BIOT". The situation had regressed dramatically since then, particularly in view of the ICJ and UNGA involvement which came about because the UK had made little attempt to resolve the issues with Mauritius and the US over the previous 18 years. It was time for a radical rethink of policy towards Chagos.
The Group also felt that the public should be made aware of its unrelenting efforts to help bring about resettlement and an overall settlement. It was decided that letters from the chairman and members of the Group to Ministers since 2008, and future correspondence should be placed in the public domain for the benefit of historical evidence and research. The House of Commons Library would be asked to be a repository and contact would be made with a public website where the correspondence could be accessed by the public. For future consideration would be whether or not to include ministerial replies to APPG correspondence.
There was support for a proposal that the APPG should call for a public inquiry into the conduct of the FCO's management of the international aspects of policy towards BIOT/Chagos since 2000. This might follow on from an FAC inquiry. The Group decided to keep the idea under active consideration and revisit it next year.