Election 2015

The 2015 Election: What impact for Chagossians?

Posted in APPG, Conservative, Election 2015, Labour, Parliament, SDLP, SNP on May 17th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

electionWhat does the election mean for the Chagossian fight for justice?

In the many hours of media reaction to the recent UK election, this is probably not a question you have heard answered, or even asked.

The fight for Chagossian justice is of course beyond narrow party politics. It is a simple question of right and wrong which any Parliamentarian from UKIP to Green, DUP to Plaid Cymru, should be able to see requires immediate resolution. Remember to write to your newly elected or re-elected MP asking them to do so.

UK Chagos Support Association does not have any party political allegiance. We will work with anyone to finally see justice done and a stain on the nation’s character removed.

With a decision on return due in the near future, however, it is important who is Parliament to fight for justice, and indeed who will be making the decisions. So let’s see how things are shaping up.

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Returned Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond

Foreign Office Ministers

There haven’t been many changes in the Foreign Office, which will make a final decision on whether to support Chagossian return. Even prior to the election, the Foreign Office was entirely populated by Conservative Party Ministers.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond remains in his post, as does the Junior Minister with responsibility for Overseas Territories (including the Chagos Islands) James Duddridge MP. Hugo Swire MP, who has also dealt with Chagos related issues in Parliament, also retains his role in the Foreign Office.

With no changes in personnel, there can be no excuse for any delay on delivering a positive decision on return in the very near future.

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

The currently annouced candidates for the Labour leadership in their first hustings

Shadow Foreign Office Ministers

With the Labour Party about to conduct a leadership election, their Shadow Cabinet is subject to change in the immediate future.

Previous Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander lost his seat at the election. Under Acting Party Leader Harriet Harman, Mr Alexander has been replaced by Hiliary Benn. Mr Benn has made no public comment on the Chagossian situation that we are aware of, although as a former Department for International Development Minister he has extensive experience supporting projects in Overseas Territories.

It is also worth remembering Ms Harman, in a letter to one of our supporters shortly prior to the election, struck a positive note about the potential to resolve the decades of injustice suffered by Chagossians. We hope she can use her time as head of Her Majesty’s Opposition to ensure the UK finally lives up to its legal and moral obligations to the Chagossian people. Labour Party supporters might even consider asking the various candidates what they would do to deliver justice.

SNP Annual ConferenceOther Parties and the Chagossian Cause

One of the big stories of the election was the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), with the party gaining almost 50 seats and becoming the third largest party in Parliament. At their last conference, the SNP pledged to act to support Chagossian return, so we are look forward to working with them to make this a reality.

The new SNP spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, high-profile former leader Alex Salmond, has spoken eloquently in Parliament previously about the injustices suffered across decades by Chagossians. We certainly hope in this new role he can finally give the Chagossian cause the national attention it deserves.

The other parties which have formally offered support to the Chagossian cause-the Green Party and the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) have retained their MPs (one and three respectively).

portThe All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands

Thankfully the Chagossian cause has supporters across all political parties in Westminster. Since 2008 some of the most strident advocates for justice have worked in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands.

Most members of the Group retained their seats in the election. Liberal Democrat Andrew George, the group’s Treasurer and Secretary, was not however returned to Parliament. Nor was former Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz who was a member of the group. We thank both for their years of support for the Chagossian cause.

The APPG is likely to formally meet for the first time in early June. If any MPs are interested in joining they can contact voluntary Group Coordinator David Snoxell at drsnoxell@gmail.com.

On any other issues MPs are welcome to contact ourselves for further information on how they can help make history in the next Parliament by delivering Chagossian justice.

Our Committee Chair's Open Democracy Article on Chance for Return

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Uncategorized on April 20th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Our Committee Chair Stefan Donnelly has had an article published on Open Democracy analysing the previous Government’s failure to deliver a decision on Chagossian return and the unique opportunity the next Government has to rectify that failure. You can read the piece below, or on the Open Democracy website.

 

dg boat‘Regret’ and ‘delay’: when will Britain end the exile of the Chagossian people?

Britain, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains stubbornly centre-stage in the growing UK election campaign rhetoric. Announcing the budget, the Chancellor told us Britain could again “walk tall in the world.” Ed Miliband frequently suggests “Britain can do better.” The other parties have their own variations on pledges to make the nation fair, respected and honourable.

And yet just before parliament concluded at the end of March, an opportunity to end decades of continuing human rights abuse, which mars Britain’s reputation globally, was quietly missed. To put it more starkly, a choice was made to continue enforcing the exile of the Chagossian people.

A lengthy, dark chapter

Chagossians, UK citizens were forced from their homeland in late sixties and early seventies under UK orders. Deportation of the native population was a condition of a deal which gave the US military use of Diego Garcia, the largest Chagos Island, for a fifty year period.

Various government ministers have expressed “regret” over the deportation, the deliberate attempt to mischaracterise native Chagossians as migrant workers and their appalling neglect in exile. Very little though has actually been done to address Chagossians’ key demand: the right to return home.

It has been argued that the US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia expressly forbade resettlement of the island. This deal, however, expires in 2016. There is no better time than right now to offer justice to Chagossians and end a lengthy, dark chapter in both nations’ histories.

Hope was offered when the government announced it would commission a feasibility study into Chagossian resettlement. When consultants KPMG published their final report this January hopes were raised further. The report demonstrated costs and environmental impact would be minimal, whilst no serious security or legal concerns were identified.

In reaction to the report the government commissioned a “policy review.” Days prior Parliament’s dissolution, however, a “delay” was announced in a three-sentence written statement.

No timescale was given for the delay. Two “uncertainties,” of cost and demand were held up as justification, but neither stand up to serious scrutiny. Parliament in any case had no opportunity to scrutinise, whilst the media by and large chose not do to so. But let’s consider them now.

Costs

Infrastructure projects inevitably have “uncertainties” over costs, but the in-depth KPMG study found resettlement could be accomplished for as little as £60m over three years. A recent freedom of information request confirmed that, if anything, KPMG regarded these estimates as made with “pessimism.”

Even if the full amount was taken from the UK’s International Development budget, the £20m per year to support return would only amount to less than 0.002% of overall spending, from a budget protected by law. In practice though, a range of other sources would contribute.

If the US-UK agreement on using Diego Garcia as a military base is renewed, it seems obvious that support for Chagossian resettlement must be a fundamental condition. Adjusted for inflation, the £11 million discount the UK received on the Polaris Nuclear Weapon system as part of the original agreement would be worth almost £200 million today.

The EU’s European Development Fund is another likely source of funding, whilst private and third-sector investment would be a significant factor.

Demand

Claims on “uncertainty” over the numbers wishing to return seem even more bizarre. It is highly difficult for Chagossians to make an informed decision on return when the Government has given absolutely no indication of the type of resettlement they’d be willing to support.

Despite this, however, at least 100 Chagossians have already volunteered to return as part of a small-scale “pilot” resettlement project to Diego Garcia.  This is the option favoured by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands and is assessed favourably in the KPMG report.

An even greater number of Chagossians, including those based in the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles have indicated they would like to return if the initial resettlement programme proves successful.

Political uncertainties, a real opportunity

The only “uncertainties”, then, emanate from the political establishment. Does any political leader have the moral conviction and political courage to finally deliver a measure of justice for Chagossians? Will the new intake of parliamentarians be dogged enough to hold the government to account on an issue far too often neglected by administrations of all colours?

Although the delay is most unwelcome, the election does provide an opportunity to ask these questions directly and meaningfully. UK Chagos Support Association is asking everyone standing for election to sign a simple pledge card, stating their commitment to ending almost half a century of human rights abuse which should shame the nation.

It takes actions, not words, for Britain to “walk tall” or “do better.” There can be no more excuses. If rhetoric about British values is to mean anything at all, supporting Chagossians long-denied right to return home must be an absolute priority for whatever Government is formed after 7th May.

On the 22nd May Chagossians and their supporters will be protesting in Westminster and handing in a petition to whoever is the new Prime Minister. You can add your signature here and support the protest here.

Chagossian Justice Pledge Card: Ask want-to-be MPs to sign!

Posted in Campaign, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 13th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Click to see a printable version of our pledge card

Click to see a printable version of our pledge card

As the UK Election campaign proceeds apace, if you live anywhere in the UK there’s a good chance someone will be stopping you shortly and asking for your vote.

In return, you can ask them to sign this pledge card. It states that

It is a simple affair you can print off and get your perspective MPs to sign. Please do let us know if you get any responses, negative or positive. Do also keep a hold of the card so we can hold those elected to account! To find out who is standing in your constituency, check here, it just takes a second.

If you don’t have the pledge card to hand, just grab a piece of paper and scribble down something like the above phrase. What is important is simply getting on-the-record commitment from would-be Parliamentarians to support Chagossian justice.

We need to tell Parliamentarians this is an issue which matters to ordinary people, and that we will not let this human rights abuse continue in our name.

"Chagos Islanders Betrayed" Observer Article on Government's failure to deliver justice

Posted in coverage, Election 2015, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on April 5th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Click on the image to read the full article

Click on the image to read the full article

There is a major new article in this morning’s Observer on the Government’s failure to deliver a promised decison on Chagossian right to return home prior to the election. Quoting our Secretary and Patron Philippa Gregory’s initial reaction, the piece records that this is “another serious betrayal of the Chagossian community.” It also rightly notes that another of our Patrons, Ben Fogle, is to hand in this petition next month (22nd May) as part of a protest by Chagossians calling for their right to return home to finally be restored.

Voluntary Coordinator of the Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group David Snoxell is also quoted as saying the failure of the Government was “a lack of political courage.” Our own argument, that claims UK taxpayers would be liable for the full costs of resettlement are “disingenuous,” is also noted.

Just to clarify, we do not believe KPMG’s estimate is “disingenuous” (although many have suggested that it is overly high, and a recent freedom of information request confirmed even KPMG officials believed it a “pessimistic” figure). Rather we argue costs could be largely covered by income associated with the expected renewal of an agreement on the Diego Garcia US military base in 2016, European Development Fund resources and private sector investment.

Elsewhere in the article, Chair of the Chagos Conservation Trust Charles Sheppard rightly states “the Chagos marine biodiversity and condition are a valuable international asset.” As the Chagos Conservation Trust website clearly states, however, a returned Chagossian society can be entirely compatible with conservation efforts, and the Trust itself has no position on the Chagossian people’s return. One of the Trust’s senior members also confirmed their belief Chagossian return could be achieved with minimal environmental impact in a recent short film.

If you are as deeply disappointed as the Chagossian people, please do consider supporting their protest in Westminster on 22nd May. We’ll be telling the next Prime Minister, whoever they are, that this failure must be rectified as a matter of real urgency.

Political Backing for Chagos Justice: Positvie Comments from Labour, SNP & SDLP

Posted in Campaign, Election 2015, Labour, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, SDLP, SNP on March 29th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

mlk hopeAs if to prove the truth of Dr King’s quote (pictured right), the disappointment of the Government’s failure to deliver a decison on Chagossian return last week has been followed by much more hopeful political developments this week. Read new comments and commitments below from Labour, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

Labour

A supporter has forwarded us an email from Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and Labour Party Chairperson Harriet Harman regarding deported Chagossians’ right to return home.

Harriet Harman addressing the Labour Party Conference

Harriet Harman addressing the Labour Party Conference

Labour Shadow Ministers have been by and large publicly silent on the issue since a 2013 House of Lords debate. Approaches to the relevant Shadow Ministers from ourselves have not received a response.

In an email dated the 27th March, however, Labour’s deputy leader states that:

 

“The recent feasibility of return report and UN ruling on the Marine Protected Area (MPA) offer a real opportunity for the Government to resolve this issue, and I await their decision which they promised would be made in this Parliament, which will hopefully allow the historical wrong of the expulsion of the islanders from those islands finally to be put right. ” ( Harriet Harman, Deputy Labour Party Leader and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister)

 

 

We agree, and commend the (somewhat belated) recognition that this is an excellent opportunity to deliver justice for Chagossians. Although the statement stops short of support of resettlement, we are glad Ms Harman acknowledges more needs to be done “put right” the “wrong” of Chagossians’ forced expulsion.

Labour could well form the next Government and if they do support for Chagossian return must be a priority. We encourage Labour to make formal commitments to the Chagossian people before the election.

The SNP

Delegates at the conference voted to support Chagossians

Delegates at the conference voted to support Chagossians

Elsewhere, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) passed a motion at their conference this week pledging support the Chagossian people’s fight for justice. We are trying to get hold of the exact text of the motion at the moment but we welcome the formal support of a party which has provided strong advocacy in the past.

As the motion passed, supporting the Chagossian calls for justice is now official SNP policy. With the party expected to win a high number of seats in the upcoming elections (polls have suggested anywhere between 40 and 50+ in the last few months), their support could be highly valuable in the next Parliament. We will reserve further comment until we have the full text of the motion.

 

The SDLP

And the backing kept coming! The Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) also confirmed their support for Chagossian right to return home this week. The confirmation was prompted by our hopeful but thankfully successful contribution to a Twitter Q&A with their Foreign Affairs and International Development Spokesperson Mark Durkan, which can be seen below.

Mark Durkan speaking in Parliament

Mark Durkan speaking in Parliament

The SDLP currently hold three seats in the House of Commons (they only stand in Northern Ireland). Mr Durkan has a strong record backing human rights causes during his time in Parliament and he and his party’s support could be highly valuable to Chagossians in the next Parliament.  

The Green Party

In the interests of fairness, we should point Mr Durkan was following the footsteps of Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, who confirmed her party’s ongoing support for the Chagossian people last summer following our Twitter haranguing.

The run up to the election is the perfectly opportunity to get those politicians seeking your support to commit to backing the Chagossian people’s right to return as a matter of urgency. Next time you see a politician, don’t forget to mention Chagos!