David Miliband ignored official advice on MPA timing

Posted in APPG, Diego Garcia, ECHR, FCO, ITLOS, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, USA, Wikileaks on June 21st, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

In an article for the Mauritius Times (No. 3124), David Snoxell, coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group, reviews the outcome of the judicial review of the Chagos Marine Protected Area (MPA) and the way in which the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, rushed through the declaration of a no-take MPA against official advice:

The documents released for the judicial review provide fascinating insights into the advice being submitted to the Foreign Secretary, leading up to the announcement of the MPA on 1 April 2010. Officials cautioned that the results of the public consultation should be announced but not rushed, pending careful “management” of the Chagossians and Mauritius. “There was further work to do with stakeholders before establishing an MPA.” Officials warned that “Our best defence against the legal challenges which are likely to be forthcoming is to demonstrate a conscientious and careful decision making process. A rapid decision now would undermine that… We would expect to recommend a phased introduction of a no-take MPA which would give time to put a sustainable funding package in place.”

Within hours David Miliband brushed aside official advice and decided on an immediate designation of a full ‘no-take’ MPA. On 31 March senior officials made last ditch attempts to head the Foreign Secretary off. One noted, “I think this approach risks deciding (and being seen to decide) policy on the hoof for political timetabling reasons rather than on the basis of expert advice and public consultation. That’s a very different approach to the one we recommended yesterday… to be developed over time with the involvement of many stakeholders and to be based on science as well as politics.” That evening officials were instructed to prepare a statement announcing the MPA the following day just as Parliament went into the Easter recess. It sparked emergency debates in both Houses five days later.

The judgment observes that “it was the personal decision of the Foreign Secretary to declare an MPA on 1 April 2010, against the advice of officials.” So his green legacy was secured but at much cost in terms of worldwide perceptions of the MPA, the UK’s reputation, the deepening mistrust, felt by the Chagossians and Mauritius, and the litigation which three years later is still with us.

Further discussions, as officials recommended, could have resulted in an MPA that accommodated Chagossian and Mauritian interests. The Coalition Government would probably have insisted on it anyway.

Winners and losers

Posted in CCT, conservation, ECHR, FCO, USA on June 18th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

Today’s Telegraph Mandrake column highlights awards given to those who have worked against the just resettlement of the Chagossians in their homeland:

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

The Queen’s birthday honours require time to appreciate all the black humour. Simon Hughes, secretary of the Chagos Conservation Trust, got an MBE for “services to environmental conservation,” just five days after the Chagossians lost their judicial review of the Chagos Marine Protected Area.

Hughes was not keen on the islanders returning to resume fishing after they had been exiled in the Seventies to make way for a US air base. “We want to conserve the fish, coral, flora and fauna and humans are not compatible with that,” he had noted. Other experts felt that involving indigenous populations in conservation projects was the key to making them work.

In January, Derek Walton, the FCO’s legal adviser, got an OBE for “human rights and diplomacy,” just 12 days after he had seen off the islanders’ last hope of returning home at the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

The question is when will a supporter of Chagossian human rights and conservation of the Archipelago be honoured?

Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, coverage, CRG, Diego Garcia, ECHR, FCO, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA on May 21st, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Getty images

An article by Dr Sean Carey, published in the UK Independent blog, is reproduced below:

“Being in Chagos is an incredibly special experience,” says Rachel Jones, deputy team leader of the Aquarium at ZSL London Zoo, in a new YouTube posting extolling the “unique” environment of the warm, pristine waters of the archipelago. “It’s literally like going back in time… It’s what reefs, I imagine, were like 50 or 60 years ago. She adds: “It’s very special being somewhere where you know you’re the only one there. There’s no one else around.”

How nice, you might think, that UK marine scientists can explore the corals and monitor shoals of fish in the British Indian Ocean Territory. But what Jones omits to mention is that 50 or 60 years ago there was a vibrant community of around 1700 islanders living in harmony with the environment. The only reason there isn’t now is that the entire population was exiled.

The shameful history of what happened was neatly summarised by Baroness Whitaker in the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords recently. She said: “In 1965 our Government detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in order to form a separate British Indian Ocean Territory, in defiance of four UN resolutions. They reclassified the inhabitants as contract workers, made the largest, most southerly island Diego Garcia, available to the United States for use as a military base, and gradually removed the Chagossians from all the islands, eventually depositing them in Mauritius and the Seychelles during 1971 to 1973.”

Since then the islanders, the descendants of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers, have been fighting a marathon legal campaign to restore the right of return. After a series of spectacular victories in the lower courts, the Chagossians, led by Port Louis-based electrician Olivier Bancoult, were narrowly defeated by 3-2 majority in the House of Lords in 2008. There was a further setback last December when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the case was inadmissible, because many of the islanders exiled in Mauritius (though not those in the Seychelles) had accepted compensation from the UK in 1982.

Back in the Upper House, Lord Astor, the Coalition Government’s spokesman replied with customary courtesy. “The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, asked why the Chagos islanders could not return. We regret what happened in the late 1960s and 1970s. The responsibility for decisions taken then has been acknowledged by successive Governments. However, the reasons for not allowing resettlement, namely feasibility and defence security, are clear and compelling.”

Lord Astor was clearly reading from an old brief because the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is now being forced to come to terms with overwhelming evidence that neither reason given is clear and compelling. Why? Well, first the base is around 140 miles from the outer islands in the Archipelago, such as Peros Banhos and Salomon, which could be resettled. It’s simply not credible to believe that a few hundred Chagossians would jeopardise US operations. Secondly, if Diego Garcia remains viable for some 3,500 military personnel and ancillary workers then logic dictates that the other islands can also be made suitable.

Furthermore, pressure continues to mount both in the UK and internationally. Earlier this year in an article for The Mirror, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott made his feelings clear. “I’m ashamed the UK governments allowed this to happen. It was wrong and we must make amends,” he wrote. (Since then Lord Prescott has joined the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group; so too has former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Ashcroft.)

A few days ago, in an article for Libération, JMG Le Clezio also denounced the brutal removal of the islanders from their homeland as an “organised denial of human rights”. He claimed that the failure of the court in Strasbourg to take action was a “denial of justice” and a clear example of “moral cowardice”. The 2008 Nobel Prize winner for literature, who holds dual French and Mauritian nationality, calculates that it is part of the “indifference of the powerful” to those who are obliged to live on the margins.

It’s difficult to disagree – unless, of course, you work for the ZSL and other conservation groups which are apparently content to ignore the misfortune and misery of those who were in Chagos long before they were.

Political will can fix the Chagos situation

Posted in Diego Garcia, ECHR, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, William Hague on February 10th, 2013 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

As the government faces legal challenges to the Chagos marine protected area in UK courts and an international tribunal, hope for an out-of-court settlement remains.

In a piece in the left-wing weekly The Tribune, David Snoxell writes that political will could bring a swift resolution to the Chagos situation.

Following the European Court of Human Rights’ decision that it has no jurisdiction to rule on the Labour government’s use of the Royal Prerogative to block resettlement of the islands, the Foreign Secretary William Hague has said he will “take stock” and engage with the islanders.

“The islanders hope the coalition will live up to its pre-election promises of a just and fair settlement,” writes Snoxell. “With political will, diplomacy and compromise a resolution of the issues has always been possible. It would save the taxpayer yet higher legal costs and further damage to Britain’s human rights record.”

"White House Recognizes, But Fails to Accept Responsibility for Chagossian Hardships"

Posted in Diego Garcia, ECHR, Uncategorized, USA on January 30th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

JURIST Guest Columnist Elena Landriscina, New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Fellow, revisits her article on the displacement of the Chagos Islanders by the US and UK. Here, she examines what she argues is the lackluster response of the US to a petition of the plight of the Chagossians and calls for the US to right its wrongs

'The end of the road is reached when the issues are resolved' – David Snoxell speaks to the Mauritius Times

Posted in APPG, ECHR, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA, William Hague on January 14th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on 20 December 2012 that the Chagos Islanders’ case was inadmissible was not the end of the road for Chagossians (RV article 29 December). It may be the end of the Strasbourg road but there are other ways of attaining the Holy Grail.

Leaving aside remaining legal options the best way forward and always has been, is in the political arena. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague clearly had this in mind in his response to the Strasbourg ruling – “The Government will take stock of our policy towards the resettlement of BIOT.” This presumably is the review of policy promised by Mr Hague soon after the Coalition Government took office in May 2010. It has been a long time in coming but Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) officials had persuaded Ministers that until Strasbourg had given its verdict the policy could not be changed lest it prejudice their case, although the Court had on two occasions invited the FCO to seek an out of court settlement. Even when Vince Cable, a leading Liberal Democrat member of the Cabinet, announced on 9 September 2010 that the Coalition Government was “dropping the case in Strasbourg, opting instead for a friendly settlement” he was obliged to recant a week later.

How then could an overall political settlement be achieved? Firstly the parties have to talk to each other – they include the main Chagossian groups in Mauritius and in UK and the Governments of the UK, US and Mauritius. There have never been substantive discussions on the future of BIOT and of the Chagossians. Perhaps an envoy of international standing could be invited to facilitate these discussions.
The issues break down into five interrelated areas – the right to return and resettlement, defence and security, feasibility and cost, conservation and the Marine Protected Area (MPA) and future sovereignty. All need to be treated separately as well as collectively for an overall settlement to be reached. There must be complete transparency and confidence building measures so that trust can be established between the parties. A deadline should be set, as there was for the handover of Hong Kong to China. An obvious deadline is 2015 which is the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of BIOT, the end of the Coalition Government’s five year mandate, a UK general election and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Mauritius. It is also the year by which the 1966 UK/US agreement, which made BIOT available to the US for defence purposes, can be re-negotiated before it is rolled over for a further twenty years in 2016.

Mr Hague envisages an inclusive process. As he said, “we will be as positive as possible in our engagement with Chagossian groups and all interested parties”. The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group is clearly an interested party. Since it was established in December 2008 it has held 32 meetings and in that time has made many suggestions to Ministers for resolving the issues. Its purpose is “to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and the Chagossians”. It has forty members which include several members of the current Government. Five former FCO Ministers who had responsibility for the Indian Ocean have joined, although two have since left Parliament. With its all-party complexion and wealth of parliamentary and ministerial experience the Group is well placed to offer advice and suggestions.

But what could be the overall shape of a settlement? In my view it should consist of the following elements:
1. Restoration of the right of the Chagossians to return to their islands.
2. In consultation with the Chagossians an independent scientific study by leading world experts into the practicalities of resettlement and a survey of the number wishing to re-settle. Without sound science future policy will continue to be based upon the false assumptions of the past.
3. Depending upon the results of that study and survey an experimental settlement for a viable group of Chagossians, initially on Peros Banhos. Mauritius supports resettlement – many Chagossians are both Mauritian and British.
4. Discussions with the US leading to an understanding that a settlement 130 miles away from Diego Garcia does not threaten the security of their base and that the US will give benign support to the settlement.
5. Resumption of talks at ministerial level between Mauritius and the UK to consider the future of the Archipelago and a time table for how the UK’s oft-repeated commitment, to return the islands to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence purposes, is to be discharged. As a first step this could be co-management or joint sovereignty of the Outer Islands.
6. Agreement on how the interests of Chagossians and Mauritius are to be safeguarded in the Marine Protected Area. This could include an inshore fishing zone for Chagossians, a management role for Mauritius in the MPA and a joint application by the UK and Mauritius to UNESCO for designating the Archipelago as a World Heritage Site.
7. Provision for Chagossians who resettle to be employed in conservation work, managing the marine reserve and protecting the unique marine and terrestrial environment of the Archipelago.

After 13 years of litigation and mistrust none of this will be easy. It will take courage, reconciliation and compromise through diplomacy and negotiation to achieve. But it surely must be in the interest of all concerned, not least that of the Coalition Government, finally to put this relic of the Cold War behind them and redeem Britain’s reputation for upholding human rights. 2013 could be the breaking of the Chagos logjam.

David Snoxell
Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group
British High Commissioner to Mauritius 2000-04

33rd Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, ECHR, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, Uncategorized, USA, William Hague on January 11th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 33rd meeting on 10 January 2013 to consider the situation following the Strasbourg ruling that the case of the Chagos Islanders was inadmissible and the political options available for making progress.

While noting that Strasbourg had not ruled on whether the treatment of the Chagossians had been a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights the Group understood that Court procedure did not allow for appeals to the Grand Chamber against a majority decision of inadmissibility by the seven judge Chamber. Leaving aside other legal options the Group considered how best to respond to the Foreign Secretary’s statement, following the Court’s decision, that “the Government will take stock of our policy towards the resettlement of BIOT” and that “we will be as positive as possible in our engagement with Chagossian groups and all interested parties”. The Group felt that this was an encouraging response and that it offered an opportunity to begin the process of bringing about an overall political settlement of all the issues concerning the future of the Chagossians and BIOT. These issues were the right to return and resettlement, defence and security, feasibility, and cost, the need for an independent scientific study, conservation and the Marine Protected Area and future management and sovereignty of the Archipelago.

The Group considered a range of ideas for helping the Foreign Secretary to move forward on these issues and to establish the common ground between all the parties. It was agreed that the Chairman should write to Mr Hague to set out the Group’s ideas and to ask for a meeting to discuss them. Members also decided to table a number of PQs and to ask for urgent debates in both Houses of Parliament. The Group felt that substantial progress should be made this year before 2014 when the 1966 UK/US agreement comes up for renewal and potential renegotiation. 2015 would be the year of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of BIOT, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Mauritius and the end of the Coalition’s five year mandate. For the Government to meet its pre-election promises of a just and fair settlement in time it was important to begin discussions as soon as possible.

Guardian criticises government hypocrisy on Chagos and the Falklands

Posted in ECHR, USA on January 5th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

The US air base that now occupies Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

The Guardian newspaper editorial of 4th January highlighted the hypocrisy of the UK government’s stance over the Falkland Islands, contrasting it with the way the Chagos islanders were expelled, and continue to be excluded, from their homeland.

Britain’s blanket refusal to discuss the sovereignty of the Falklands can be contrasted with its attitude to another group of islanders, over whose trampled rights it continues to shed few tears. Some 1,786 Chagos Islanders were evicted from their homes by Britain between 1967 and 1973 to allow the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia. Does not the very same UN principle of self-determination, cited so forcibly by Mr Cameron in relation to the Falkland Islanders, apply to them too? A referendum held among their survivors and dependents would almost certainly produce a result that would embarrass the British government. They want their homes back and yet they have been prevented at every turn by Britain from returning to them. The latest setback the Chagossians faced was a ruling by the European court of human rights, which held that because their claims had been settled “definitively” in the British courts, they had effectively renounced further claims that their expulsion from their homes had been unlawful. Their honourable fight for justice goes on.

 It seems that this hypocritical and indefensible stance is obvious to everyone but the government and unelected officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

US response to Chagos petition: an abdication of responsibility

Posted in ECHR, Mauritius, USA on December 27th, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

The response to a petition requesting that the US Government redress wrongs against the Chagossians is published below. The petition, signed by 30,037 people, included the statement that “The United States should provide relief to the Chagossians in the form of resettlement to the outer Chagos islands, employment, and compensation.” 

The language of this response follows closely the language of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Indeed, one might think from the style that it had been written by the FCO! The UK govenrment has, in reality (as opposed to spin), done little for Chagossians, especially the majority who live in Mauritius. Whatever the UK has done for Chagossians in recent years cannot be seen as a substitute for the loss of a fundamental human right, enshrined in both Magna Carta and the US Constitution

The US is, with the UK, complicit in denying the Chagossians their human rights but the US has done nothing to support the Chagossians. The  compensation paid to the Chagossians in 1982 (30 yrs ago – the last compensation) was small, used to repay debts and quickly disappeared. The UK failed to provide any material assistance, or help Chagossians, who were not used to a money economy, plan savings, expenditure and debt repayment. The FCO is not actively engaged with Chagossians in Mauritius, as claimed, and has never sought to bring about a resolution of these issues. Instead, they have applied the divide and rule principle with their ‘support’ and ‘engagement’ with the various Chagossian groups.

Finally, the response to a petition requesting that the US Government  was released within 24 hours of the ECHR ruling, despite the petition being closed on 4 April 2012. This would appear to be a cynical attempt to distract from the real issue: resettlement.

Response to We the People Petition on Redressing Wrongs Against the Chagossians

By Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary for European & Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon, and Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro.

Thank you for your petition regarding the former inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago. The U.S. recognizes the British Indian Ocean Territories, including the Chagos Archipelago, as the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom. The United States appreciates the difficulties intrinsic to the issues raised by the Chagossian community.

In the decades following the resettlement of Chagossians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United Kingdom has taken numerous steps to compensate former inhabitants for the hardships they endured, including cash payments and eligibility for British citizenship. The opportunity to become a British citizen has been accepted by approximately 1,000 individuals now living in the United Kingdom. Today, the United States understands that the United Kingdom remains actively engaged with the Chagossian community. Senior officials from the United Kingdom continue to meet with Chagossian leaders; community trips to the Chagos Archipelago are organized and paid for by the United Kingdom; and the United Kingdom provides support for community projects within the United Kingdom and Mauritius, to include a resource center in Mauritius. The United States supports these efforts and the United Kingdom’s continued engagement with the Chagossian Community.

Thank you for taking the time to raise this important issue with us.

Chagos case: the UK government still ‘determined to pursue colonial mentality’

Posted in ECHR, FCO, Legal on December 26th, 2012 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) today reiterated its call for the UK government to recognise the Chagos islanders’ fundamental right to go home, following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights today that their case was inadmissible on technical grounds. The Chagossians were expelled from their island home in the 1960s and 1970s so that it could be turned into a US military base. MRG has supported the islanders in their long struggle and was an intervenor before the European Court.

“Having expelled a whole people from their homes, the United Kingdom government is now washing its hands of all responsibility,” says Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of Minority Rights Group International. “The government has not even tried to defend what the Court today described as its ‘callous and shameful treatment’ of the islanders, but has simply relied on jurisdictional arguments.”

“The court described the legislation in this area as a ‘colonial remnant’, but the UK has shown that it is still determined to pursue the colonial mentality,” he adds.

“The UK government is happy to defend the rights to self-determination of the Falkland Islanders, but when the Chagos Islanders appeal for protection from their government they are abandoned.”

The full article can be found on the website of Minority Rights Groups International.