Following the influential UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) report calling on the UK government to back Chagossian return, Ministers have this week faced fresh pressure in Parliament to comply with the committee's recommendation.
A few weeks ago the Committee released a report which called on the UK government to act now to “facilitate Chagossians return to their islands.” The report also criticised the ongoing “discriminatory restrictions” which mean Chagossians are the only British citizens legally banned from living in their homeland. The report also called for “compensation” for Chagossians who have suffered in exile.
SNP MP Dr Paul Monaghan, a firm supporter of the Chagossian cause since his election in 2015, this week asked Ministers in Parliament “what steps” the government planned to take in reaction to the committee's recommendation on Chagossian return.
In reply, the Foreign Office Minister of State Alan Duncan stated that “the Government is aware of the recommendations,” but said that “ratification of the Convention has not been extended to the British Indian Ocean Territory (the Chagos Islands).”
He added that “The Government remains committed to its review of current policy on resettlement and will continue to keep Parliament, Chagossians and their supporters closely informed of progress on the issue.”
The Minister's answer is technically correct, but needs clarification. The treaty has not been extended to the British Indian Ocean Territory, but it has been extended to all other British Overseas Territories. This indicates that the only reason it wasn't extended to the British Indian Ocean Territory was because when the treaty was ratified in the UK in 1969, deportations were well under way.
The only reason the Convention does not then apply was because of the removal of the civilian. Considering governments of all colours have long accepted the deportations were morally wrong and a grave mistake, it seems dubious to use this a reason to ignore the committee's recommendation.
Its also worth noting many Chagossians now live in the UK, and are entitled to UK citizenship. It is under Chagossians status as UK residents and citizens that the Committee make their recommendations, not as citizens of the British Indian Ocean Territory.
This response by Alan Duncan is the first major comment on Chagossian return since Theresa May became Prime Minister. The commitment to engage with Chagossians and their supporters is welcome. What we need now though is a timetable for when this decision will be made.
A study stating Chagossian return was viable concluded over 18 months ago. The UK-US agreement on the use of British Indian Ocean Territory expires in three months. Now is the time we need to see real leadership from government finally end Chagossian return.
Full details of Dr Monaghan's question and the Minister's response can be read on Theyworkforyou.com.