December 2013 update

PARLIAMENT

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 39th meeting on 20 November 2013

 

The Group considered the ministerial statement of 19 November to Parliament concerning the new feasibility study and the draft terms of reference (ToRs) athttps://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/british-indian-ocean-territory-feasibility-study

 

Members congratulated the FCO on the thorough, far-reaching and objective nature of the draft ToRs. They were pleased to note the emphasis placed on possible resettlement in Diego Garcia and assumed that this indicated prior consultation with the US. They felt that  having different options  for resettlement was a sensible approach. While recognising that this would entail a more elaborate study they agreed that there ought to be some simplification of procedures and a shortening of the timescale in order to meet the deadline imposed by the  May 2015 general election and to reduce costs. Given that the Foreign Secretary had announced a stock taking of  policy towards resettlement on 20 December 2012 they had expected the study to be completed by the summer recess (July 2014), so that decisions could be taken well before the election. On the timetable proposed it looked as if it might not conclude until shortly before the election, since the ToRs would not be finalised until next year, followed by a period for selecting consultants. This would hardly allow enough time for  the BIOT Policy Review into which  the conclusions of the feasibility study will feed. It is understood that this review will consider all aspects of BIOT policy, including re-negotiation of the UK/US Agreement, sovereignty and future management of the MPA and the Chagos Islands.

 

The Group urged that there be no more procrastination and that the proposed feasibility study timetable be shortened to meet the overriding deadline of a general election.  A future government might well decide to carry out its own policy review. The Group was also concerned that no progress appeared to have been made in identifying the wide ranging experts who would carry out the study, and their availability. It was not clear whether there would be a tendering process for consultants or if the FCO itself would invite experts to participate, and how their suitability for this complex task would be determined.

 

Members took note of the PQs and Questions answered since the last meeting on 9 October, the interventions made by Lords Luce and Ramsbotham in the debate on the Commonwealth on 17 October and also Early Day Motion 649 tabled by the Chairman which reads:

 

“That this House congratulates the Chagos Refugees Group on their conference in Mauritius to mark 30 years since their foundation following their displacement from the Chagos Islands; and recognises that this historical wrong can best be corrected by allowing and facilitating their return to the Islands.” The Coordinator gave a report on the conference and on his meetings in Mauritius.

 

The Group was also informed of the Chagos Conservation Trust conference on 18 November which marked its 20th anniversary. Members were pleased to hear about developments in the Outreach programme for Chagossians living in the UK. They noted that Chagossians living in Mauritius and Seychelles were more likely to want to live in the Chagos Islands and that conservation and marine skills education was more appropriate for their needs.

 

Members were pleased to learn that Dr Mark Spalding of The Nature Conservancy, respected by Chagossians and the Chagos science community, had been appointed the new BIOT Science Adviser. They congratulated the FCO and Dr Spalding on his appointment.

 

The Group was informed that the Judicial Review of the MPA was set for appeal at the end of March and that the Mauritian case at ITLOS remained active. It was noted that the draft ToRs of the feasibility study referred to the possibility of amending the MPA. Members wondered why the MPA had not already been amended to take account of Chagossian and Mauritian interests, thus obviating the need for litigation.

 

The Group held its 40th meeting on 17 December 2013 and reviewed the progress made since its first meeting 5 years ago, on 16 December 2008. Members recalled the purpose of the Group was “to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and the Chagossian people”. The Group had also decided that “following the end of legal proceedings (Law Lords judgment Oct 08) the responsibility for the Chagos Islanders now rests with Parliament”. At its second meeting on 29 Jan 2010 the Group agreed several objectives one of which was. “A truly independent study of the practicalities and way in which a limited resettlement of Salomon and Peros Bahnos can be achieved….. drawn up in consultation with interested parties, not least the Chagossians”. They were pleased to note that after 5 years the FCO had now agreed to a new study. They were disappointed that another of its objectives (“Discussions with Mauritius on the future sovereignty of the Outer Islands”) had not so far begun although its objective (“Re-negotiation of the Agreement with the US by 2015, to reflect the right of the Chagossians to live on the Islands and any changes to the sovereignty of those Islands”) appeared to be on course.

 

Members discussed the proposed TORs for the new feasibility study. They endorsed the points made by Baroness Whitaker, Lord Avebury and Lord Luce in the Lords debate on 27 November, in particularly that it would be necessary to cut the length of the study from 12 to 6 months in order for decisions to be made and implemented before the general election. Members agreed that they should continue to monitor the process and timetable closely.

 

The Group decided that the Chairman should write to the Foreign Secretary about this and other concerns such as the need to engage Mauritius in a diplomatic dialogue concerning the future management of the Islands and of the MPA.  As Lord Luce had said in the debate ” it is essential that they (Mauritius) are regarded as a vital player in any Chagossian solution”. Members agreed with Lord Avebury’s suggestion, made in the Lords debate, that to help break the ice the new BIOT Science Adviser, along with members of the BIOT Science Advisory Group, should have  meetings with their Mauritian counterparts to discuss a joint approach to the science of Chagos, sharing data and current research. The Group decided to invite the Mauritian High Commissioner to a meeting.

 

Members were keen to take up the Foreign Secretary’s offer of a further meeting which he had made at the last meeting with the Group on 15 December 2011.

 

The Group also discussed legal developments. They took note that permission had been granted by the High Court for an appeal against the judicial review of the MPA to be heard on 31 March on the three grounds of improper motive, fishing rights and EU law. Members were interested to learn that, with respect to the ruling of the Law Lords in Oct 2008, lawyers had recently written to the Treasury Solicitor alleging a miscarriage of justice, on the grounds that the flawed feasibility study and the way it had been influenced, was a key factor on which the majority judgment had been based. The letter invited the Foreign Secretary to set aside that judgment and restore the right of return,

 

The next meeting of the Group is on 5 February.

 

David Snoxell

Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG

 

On the 27th November a fifty-four minute debate in the House of Lords demonstrated the determination of Peers to maintain pressure on the Government.  The full text of the debate is attached to this newsletter, and included a contribution from the cross-bencher Lord Luce recalling the first time he became aware of the human rights violations inflicted against the Chagossians:

 

“I think that it was in early 1982, when I was a Minister of State at the Foreign Office and had responsibilities for the African continent and the Indian Ocean, that I paid my first visit to Mauritius. When we landed, we were the only aeroplane at the airport. I came down the steps and the high commissioner whisked me away. At that point, I noticed that there were some 2,000 people at the airport. I expressed surprise that for one aeroplane there should be 2,000 people and I asked him why they were there. He said, “That’s a demonstration”. I said, “A demonstration against whom?” He said, “A demonstration against you”. So I said, “Look, if there’s a demonstration, the important thing is to meet the leaders. Please lay on the demonstration again and ask them to demonstrate again”.

 

They demonstrated the next day outside the high commission. I invited the five leaders, five marvellous Chagossian ladies, to come in and have tea. That was the first time that I realised that what we had done in the late 1960s and early 1970s by expelling 1,500 people, going back two, three and even four generations, was a really black mark for our country. It was serious abuse of human rights. I very much regret that, because I decided with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to resign very soon after that, I did not do more about the issue at that time.

 

I believe that the issue has undermined our voice in the case that we put for human rights all over the world. If we are going to argue for upholding the Commonwealth charter on core values, which we do, we have to be able to say that we are strong, in our own country and in our own foreign policy, on respecting human rights. Last week, on 21 November, we had a splendid debate, led by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in which I could not take part, on human rights all round the world. When we do that, we need occasionally to pause to remember that we abuse human rights from time to time. In this case, we have, and we need to put it right.”

 

CRG 30th ANNIVERSARY CONFERENCE

At the end of October the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) marked the 30th anniversary of its establishment with an international conference in Mauritius.  APPG Coordinator David Snoxell was one of several to have addressed the audience and a full copy of his speech is attached with this edition:

 

“Clearly, after more than a decade of intransigence, the FCO needs a thorough and objective review of all its policies towards Chagos. And here I pay tribute to today’s FCO for recognising this. The Policy Review announced ten months ago by the Foreign Secretary on 20 December 2012 was a belated but welcome step forward. I believe that it

is a genuine attempt to be open, objective and fair.” 

 

As promised, our Chair Sabrina Jean, who represented our Association, has provided us with some wonderful images from the conference:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chagossian natives

 

Caseem Uteem (former President of Mauritius) & Speak Human Rights’ Pooja & Kate

 

Sabrina Jean, Richard Payenendee & Richard Dunne

Olivier Bancoult, Sabrina Jean, Richard Payendee & Richard Dunne

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Dunne, Richard Gifford, Barbara Brown & Mrs Gifford

 

Front Row: Alain Dreneau & Professor Andre Oraison.

Second Row:  Richard Dunne, David Snoxell & Dr Laura Jeffrey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Vine

 

Dr Laura Jeffrey

 

Christian Raboude & Dr Maureen Tong

Olivier Bancoult & Sabrina Jean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIOT POLICY REVIEW: DRAFT TERMS OF REFERENCE PUBLISHED

Minister for the Overseas Territories Mark Simmonds made a written statement to Parliament on November 19th confirming that a draft of the terms of reference for the forthcoming feasibility study had been published:

 

“Over the summer, FCO and BIOT officials sought initial views from over 400 people, including members of the Chagossian community in the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

 

These initial consultations show that views within Chagossian communities vary widely on the issue of resettlement. Though a clear majority of Chagossians expressed a preference to return to BIOT, there were significant differences in the detail. Numerous concerns and issues were highlighted, by Chagossian groups and others, which will need to be carefully considered during the Feasibility Study. These include the scale of resettlement, the extent of the provision of modern infrastructure and facilities, access to employment opportunities, and the need to protect the unique environment of BIOT.

 

The input provided has helped to shape the draft Terms of Reference(TORs) for the study which will be published immediately on the Overseas Territories webpage on GOV.UK and placed in the libraries of both Houses. The Feasibility Study will look at the full range of options for resettlement and will include all  the islands of the Territory, including Diego Garcia with its vital military base. Following the Study, in assessing the potential options for resettlement, the Government will wish to balance a range of factors including whether this could be accommodated in a way that does not inhibit the scale and output of the existing base, and whether the base can continue to operate undisturbed alongside any potential resettlement.”

 

A summary of the draft TORs published by the Foreign Office last month is also attached to this edition of the newsletter.  The closing date for submissions passed before our December edition was published but we will await confirmation of the finalised TORs in the New Year.  UKChSA joint-patron Philippa Gregory provided the following submissions on behalf of our Association:

 

“The UK Chagos Support Association is aware of submissions from other stakeholders and would want to  support the comments made by the Chagos Refugee Group, The Alliance, and The All Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos, and add the following thoughts:

 

Working, as we do, in support of all Chagossians, but with especial contact with those exiled in the UK, we would like to draw your attention to the urgency of the feasibility report. The Chagossians have already waited far too long for the right to return to their homeland, and every year now sees more deaths in exile. We are particularly concerned at the length of time proposed for the feasibility report, especially as this might take the reporting period over a general election. Accordingly we call upon the FCO to speed up the process. Also, we think it appropriate that the legal changes necessary to the MPA legislation and to the Chagos citizenship status be investigated now – so that Chagossians can start their return as soon as possible. We also would want to know that the feasibility report will be accepted by all parties, in the event of a change of government.

 

The political social and cultural aspects of the feasibility report must take into account the needs for a full community of islanders to return to their homes. The report currently rules out issues of citizenship and compensation and we believe that this is a grave mistake. Chagossians cannot return to their homeland without clarity about their legal status. The current Chagos-only citizenship and visa arrangements which are acknowledged to have been drafted in error and are a practical obstacle to the Chagossian people will have to be reviewed and amended. At the moment they divide families. If people are to live on Chagos, Mauritius, and the UK, if they marry other nationalities and if their children are born in either Chagos or the UK what is their legal status to be? We recognise that these are complex and complicated issues but the feasibility report cannot answer on the ‘feasibility’ of return, unless it addresses this fundamental need. We suggest that the Home Office be requested urgently to prepare a mini-feasibility report on the legal status of the Chagossians and that this should mirror, as is only fair and just, the status of other British Overseas Territories, without special Chagos clauses, and report at the same time as this FCO feasibility report.

 

Political – we require that the necessary approaches and negotiations with the US government regarding the terms of the use of Diego Garcia are made public. We are concerned at the suggestion that, until now, the US has not been made aware of the Chagossians wish to return. It is not feasible that the USA should continue to use Diego Garcia as her base excluding the Chagossians.  The report will need to consider what arrangements can be made. Please note the Chagossian willingness to negotiate.

 

Economic – on behalf of the Chagossians we welcome the exploration of a sustainable lifestyle on Chagos and hope that the report considers two potential income streams: the money which could be raised for fishery protection by the Chagossians, the sustainable industry of artisan fishing and sustainable agriculture, and the income which presumably the US government will pay for the continued use of the Diego Garcia base.

 

Consultation – we welcome the feasibility report’s intention of consulting stakeholders, and we respectfully remind the FCO that while there are many interested parties, there is only one community of indigenous inhabitants: the Chagossians, and that their views should be paramount. They are particularly concerned that consultations about the environment and the suitability of island developments be made with them, as active and participating observers and reporters. They are particularly concerned about their legal position as Chagossians, British Overseas Territory dwellers and British subjects. We, as the supporters’ association, support them completely in their determination to be allowed to decide their future on Chagos and elsewhere.”

 

 

 

 

 

Olivier Bancoult provided the following submissions on behalf of the CRG:

 

“The Chagos Refugees Group (CRG) has met on two occasions, and has also consulted a broad range of experts about the draft TORs and the conduct of the Feasibility Study more generally.  The General Assembly was held on Sunday 8th December and was attended by the majority of the native Chagossians living in Mauritius.  The General Assembly made a list of recommendations and as a result we wish to propose several changes/refinements to the draft TORs. These are shown in the attached version as ‘track changes’. We are grateful for the opportunity to provide input at this stage and would further ask that if any of our proposals are considered controversial, then there should be a further brief consultation with us to try to reach a compromise.

In addition, the CRG would ask that the following general points concerning the Feasibility Study are taken into account:

1) The Consultants appointed to the study should be truly independent and that there should be no changes to the TORs without further consultation with interested parties.

2) That the study should be published directly by the consultants without any prior vetting, or reviewing by any party, including the FCO/BIOT.

3) Consideration should be given for Chagossian involvement in the study; for example if consultants visit the islands, then at least one appointed observer should be permitted to accompany them. Ideally this would be A Chagossian ‘native’ who can assist in traditional knowledge and provide general background knowledge about the islands where necessary, under supervision of an expert chosen by the Community.

4)We would like to obtain a guarantee that the US is agreeable to resettlement.

 

In parallel with the Feasibility Study we would ask for discussions and consultation on other issues that we have identified but which are not directly related to resettlement:

 

1) Environmental and conservation training for Chagossians be commenced in Mauritius as soon as possible but only if it is conducted without prejudice to the fundamental human rights of the Chagossians and without prejudice to ongoing litigation

2) Pension provision for ‘native’ Chagossians.

3) Educational scholarships for young Chagossians.

4) The establishment of a ‘funeral fund’ to help meet costs associated with dispersed families consequential upon the British Overseas Territories Act 2002.

5) That consideration be given to widening the scope of the Chagos “Marine Protected Area” to one that encompasses the islands themselves and which includes human involvement. 

6) That the UK address the problems of family separation arising after the British Overseas Citizenship Act 2002. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAVID SNOXELL

It was a busy few weeks for APPG coordinator David Snoxell who also found time to write an article which appeared on the Conservative Home website, a similar piece also appeared in Labour’s Tribune magazine.  Reflecting on recent events, he argued that we may indeed be witnessing a watershed moment in this extraordinarily prolonged injustice:

 

“During a debate in the Lords in November, peers urged the Government to shorten the process so that decisions can be taken well before the election. The only way to achieve this would be to make the feasibility study six rather than twelve months. Since there have been several academic studies analysing the 2002 feasibility study over the past decade and, since significantly more scientific data is now available than in 2002, this should be possible.  Clearly, speakers felt that the deadline of an election was an overriding factor.

 

It had taken until now to reach a point (commissioning a new study) which could have been decided when the Government came into office. In the run-up to the election, the Coalition parties had each promised to work for a fair and just solution. It was noted that the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group had been established in 2008 to press for justice, and will have its 40th meeting later this month. It has pressed for a new feasibility study since its first meeting.”

 

FROM THE EDITOR

It’s quite remarkable to think where we all were twelve months ago, collectively still reeling from that now infamous Strasbourg ruling.  As 2013 glides off into the sunset we can all seek reassurances from the renewed sense of hope that 2014 could indeed become a pivotal year in this struggle for justice.  On behalf of the Association I would like to thank all of our fantastic supporters for all their work over the past year and wish you and your families a very happy new year.

 

Thank you as always for your continued interest and support,

 

Clency Lebrasse (Update compiler)