38th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 38th meeting on 9th October 2013.

The Group felt that the PQs  concerning the BIOT Policy Review, answered in early September, had been helpful. It was clear that the next stage was a statement by the FCO Minister to Parliament on the results of the consultation on the Review and the proposed feasibility study which was expected this month. The Group understood that it would include draft terms of reference and that thereafter experts would be invited to conduct the study. Members felt that the consultants should be  respected experts in their disciplines and of proven objectivity and independence, if the study was to be seen as balanced and transparent. The Group reiterated their wish that Parliament should be able to debate the results of the study before the summer recess in July 2014. This had been stated in the Chairman’s letter to the Foreign Secretary of 16 July on the Group’s views about the review of policy. It was agreed that the Chairman would respond to the forthcoming statement on behalf of the Group. Members asked the Chairman to remind the Foreign Secretary of his offer for a further meeting following their last meeting with him in December 2011.
The Group discussed possible interventions in debates and further PQs in the current session. The debate in the Lords on the Future of the Commonwealth on 17th October 2013 would be an opportunity, given the emphasis on human rights in the Commonwealth Charter, signed by The Queen in March, since the continued exile of the Chagossians remained inconsistent with Commonwealth values and the UK’s promotion of human rights.
Members also discussed the need for HMG to involve the Americans in potential resettlement in view of the  anticipated renewal of the 1966 UK/US Agreement in 2016. This should not wait until after the feasibility study had reported. It could be addressed in the annual round of UK/US Pol-Mil discussions usually in October. US agreement and funding, especially if resettlement were to be on Diego Garcia, should form part of the renewal of the 1966 Agreement and be discussed in 2014 when the Agreement comes up for re-negotiation.
The submission of 1st October by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) to the Ministry of Justice, concerning the UK’s failure to report on BIOT in its periodic reports to the UN Human Rights Council was considered. Members were surprised to learn that the UK had on each occasion declined to report on BIOT on the grounds that it was uninhabited, an argument repeatedly rejected by the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They felt that the UK should be honest about its own failings with regard to human rights. They hoped that the Justice Secretary would  ensure that this omission was rectified in the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review Mid-Term report.
The Group took note of articles in the Commonwealth Law Bulletin in August (Prerogative legislation as the paradigm of bad law-making: the Chagos Islands by Ronan Cormacain) and in Ocean Challenge Summer 2013 (Sharks on the lawn at Diego Garcia – but is rising sea-level to blame? by Richard Dunne).  They also took note of the ILPA briefing, so far as it concerned the Chagos Islanders, for the debate on ‘Requirements for those who apply for UK citizenship or nationality’ in the Lords on 8 Oct, and also noted the current state of appeals to the First Tier Information Tribunal concerning the application of FOI to BIOT.
Members were pleased to learn that an international conference on the Chagos Islands had been organised by the Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius from 29-31 October to mark their 30th anniversary and that the Coordinator would be speaking at it. They hoped that the UK, Mauritius and the US would participate.
The next meeting of the Group will be held on 20th November 2013.

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