ITLOS

Chagos: An overall settlement closer than ever

Posted in APPG, FCO, Feasability Study, ITLOS, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, resettlement, UN, USA on March 26th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment
An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

An aerial view of Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

In an article, published today in Weekly, the Mauritian equivalent of Express. David Snoxell, former high Commissioner for Mauritius and Co-ordinator of the All Party Parliamentary Group, gives his reactions to the Tribunal Award in favour of Mauritius. Explaining the basis of the case brought to the Arbitral Tribunal, established under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, by Mauritius as a result of the UK’s unilateral declaration of a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos Islands, he finishes the article with the hope that an overall settlement could soon be reached:

An overall settlement of the issues could be closer than it has ever been, thanks to the KPMG feasibility report published in February, which found that there were no obstacles to resettlement, and to this Tribunal which obliges the UK to negotiate with Mauritius. 2015, the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the 50th anniversary of the creation of BIOT and the renegotiation of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of the Archipelago for defence purposes, could indeed be an auspicious year for Mauritius, the future of the Chagos Islands and its former inhabitants. The log jam seems at last to have broken.

The article was written before Tuesday’s FCO statement announcing a delay on reviewing the policy on resettlement.

Statement on 23 March 2015 issued by the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG on prospects for Chagossian resettlement and the future of the Chagos Islands.

Posted in APPG, Diego Garcia, ITLOS, Mauritius, Parliament, resettlement, USA on March 25th, 2015 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

portThe Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group was established in December 2008 to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands and of the Chagossian people. Considerable progress has been made towards this aim.

The KPMG report on the feasibility of resettlement, published last month, concluded that there were no legal obstacles to resettlement.

The Group held its 48th and final meeting of this Parliament on Monday 23 March 2015. In the absence so far of a statement by the Government on the KPMG report members concluded that:

  1. 1: Notwithstanding the period of purdah, between the dissolution of Parliament and the general election, the Government should consult and agree with the main political parties a statement on the future of the exiled Chagossian people to be made before the election, setting out the intentions of parties likely to form the next government.

  1. 2: The APPG believes that, following the KPMG study, there should be agreement to a pilot resettlement on Diego Garcia, work on which should begin immediately when the next government comes to office, with a view to the first settlers arriving in early 2016.

  1. 3: The APPG urges the political parties to seize this opportunity, during the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and the 50th anniversary of the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory, to bring about a fair and just settlement to which Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were committed before the 2010 election, and rectify one of the worst violations of fundamental human rights perpetrated by the United Kingdom in the twentieth century.

  1. 4: The APPG considers that any renewal next year of the 1966 UK/US Agreement on the use of BIOT for defence purposes should be conditional on a commitment by both parties to facilitate and support resettlement.

  1. 5: The Group welcomes the Arbitral Tribunal’s conclusion of the international arbitration between the UK and Mauritius and its finding that the undertakings given by the UK in 1965 are legally binding in international law. It calls upon the Government to open discussions with Mauritius concerning fishing rights which until the declaration of the MPA were operated by Chagossian owned and operated vessels.

  1. 6: In consequence of the above finding which gives Mauritius an “interest in significant decisions that bear upon the possible use of the Archipelago” the APPG urges the Government to consult Mauritius over future arrangements both for the MPA and for the US base on Diego Garcia, and also on plans for the resettlement of Chagossians, in view of the facilities available on Diego Garcia. The Government should also draw on expertise and experience available in Mauritius.

  1. 7: The APPG will be re-established after the election and continue to promote its aim of an overall settlement of the issues.

39th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, conservation, CRG, Diego Garcia, FCO, ITLOS, Mauritius, MPA, USA, William Hague on November 29th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

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). Members congratulated the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (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 next meeting of the Group will be held on 17 December.This will be the 40th meeting of the Group since it was established in December 2008. Since that meeting the Group has continued to press for a new feasibility study.

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.

Justice is a very long time in coming

Posted in APPG, conservation, Diego Garcia, FCO, ITLOS, Labour, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA, Wikileaks, William Hague on June 3rd, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment
The US air base that now occupies Diego Garcia (copyright holder unknown)

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

“A fair settlement for some dispossed people may just be on the horizon”, writes David Snoxell in an article for Tribune, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the last boat load of Chagossians to be deported from their homeland.

While noting that, five months after its announcement,  there is little evidence of progress regarding a promised review by William Hague on resettlement of the Chagos Islands, Snoxell sees reasons for optimism.

There is a significant sign of progress. After four years of pressure from the APPG. FCO Minister Mark Simmonds has abandoned the official mantra that arguments against resettlement are “clear and compelling” and that “it’s not possible to put the clock back” and agreed to an independent study. This should revisit the flawed science and assumptions of the 2002 feasibility study, on which the FCO largely based its opposition to resettlement, an argument also intrinsic to its cases before the Law Lords in 2008 and Strasbourg in 2012. The study should be above board. In 2002, the Chagossians were not consulted. This time, it is vital that they and Parliament are involved. The timescale, terms of reference and the choice of consultants should be agreed with them.

Cross-party support for return of Chagosians to their homeland

Posted in APPG, ConDem, conservation, Diego Garcia, FCO, ITLOS, Labour, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, USA on May 16th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – 1 Comment

Yesterday’s debate on the Queen’s Speech included the following speech by Baroness Whitaker, supported by Lords Ramsbotham and Avebury. They mention the pre-election commitment of the government to deliver justice to the exiled Chagossians. In the limited time the Minister has to reply to a long debate covering foreign affairs, defence and development he simply reads off the lines from a general brief provided by officials. Clearly the bit on Chagos had not been updated for some time but no attempt is made to answer the points raised by speakers.

Lord Ramsbotham (Crossbench)

My Lords, in noting the antics in the other place following the non-inclusion in the gracious Speech of a possible referendum on Europe, I am confident that they will not be repeated in this House if my contribution is devoted to the surprising absence of another issue. Before I come to that, as a vice-chairman of the Chagos Islands all-party group I agree with everything that will be said by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on the Chagossian return.

Baroness Whitaker (Labour)

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his trailer for my remarks, and for his support.

The gracious Speech promises to “ensure the security, good governance and development of the Overseas Territories”.—[ Official Report , 8/4/13; col. 3.]

This is sorely needed for the Chagos Islands, the inhabitants of which were exiled from their homeland by the British Government in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I am indebted to our former high commissioner to Mauritius, Mr David Snoxell, for his advice.

It is not as if anyone now thinks this exile was an example of good governance. On 23 April 2009 the then shadow Foreign Minister, Keith Simpson, said: “There is no doubt that there is a moral imperative”, and that, “I suspect … the all-party view is that the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognised, and that there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 23/4/09; col. 176WH.]

In a letter to a member of the public on 23 March 2010 the shortly to be Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I can assure you that if elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.

I will briefly remind noble Lords of how this tragic fate overtook the Chagossians. 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. Some came to Britain from 2001.

Now, fewer than 700 of the original islanders remain. The United States base on Diego Garcia is 140 miles away from the outer islands, to which some would like to return. When the Government of the United States were asked by our Foreign Office publicly to affirm, as was reported in a WikiLeaks cable from the United States embassy in London, that they required the whole of the British Indian Ocean Territory for defence purposes, they did not do so. The State Department has indicated informally to a member of the Chagos Islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) All-Party Parliamentary Group, of which I also am a member, that if asked it will review the security implications of a limited return. Our Law Lords described official letters that claimed that there was a defence risk as “fanciful” and “highly imaginative”.

In 2014 the agreement with the United States will come up for renewal. I suggest that this gives an excellent opportunity for exploring whether a small number of Chagossian people could return to the outer islands. It would seem to have no security or defence implications for the base on Diego Garcia. I am assured that many will not want to return, but all want their right to do so restored, and some will want only to visit their homeland and come away.

Would this be a burden to the British taxpayer? The Foreign Office set up a feasibility study in 2001, which claimed that resettlement was not feasible and anyway was very expensive. The infeasibility argument has been discredited by one of its own consultants and by others, most recently in a report by Professor Paul Kench of Auckland University. As for the cost, it would be idle to pretend that justice would not carry some. However, the United Kingdom would not have to bear the whole burden of restoring the tiny infrastructure. The European Union high representative has confirmed to Charles Tannock MEP that funds are available. The UNDP may have capacity and it would surely be right for the United States, Mauritius and the Commonwealth to do their bit.

What of the marine protected area, with its full no-take ban on fishing—except, as it happens, around the waters of Diego Garcia, where recreational fishing can be practised—which was hastily declared by David Miliband, as Foreign Secretary, just before the last election? It is unlike most other MPAs, for instance around the Galapagos Islands, where the people who live there help to maintain it.

There is worldwide support for a marine protected area that takes account of the interests of the Chagossians and Mauritius. However, it should have been properly conceived, with a defined role for inhabitants. As it stands, there is only one vessel to patrol the ban over 640,000 square kilometres, and I have seen photographs of very recent substantial illegal fishing operating within the MPA.

The MPA was proclaimed without taking account of the views of the Chagossians, who applied for judicial review in the high court, or of Mauritius, which has brought a case under the Permanent Court of Arbitration for breach of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. There is much work to be done to make the MPA what it ought to be so that everyone can wholeheartedly support it.

In the time available I have simply tried to pinpoint the chief aspects of a manifest and agreed injustice of a fundamental kind. This hardly matches the human rights standards of the Commonwealth charter, which we signed only last March. However, it is very good news that the Foreign Secretary has shown indications of a positive attitude to righting these wrongs in his statement following the end of the human rights case in Strasbourg, and that he is reviewing the policy on resettlement. I hope that the Minister can say how the Government will now proceed and when Parliament will be consulted about the review of that policy.

Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I warmly echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on the right of the Chagossians to return to their homeland, from which they were ejected many years ago in one of the most shameful episodes in British colonial history. I also join her in welcoming the review by the Government of their Chagos policy, which I hope will lead to the removal of this blot on our reputation.

Lord Rosser (Labour)

At this point, I refer to the speech made by my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the issue of the Chagos islanders—a matter also referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Avebury. The issue is whether they should be able to return to the outer islands. My noble friend referred to the statement made in 2010 by the now Foreign Secretary that he would,

“work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.

My noble friend asked what the Government were doing or intending to do in the light of that undertaking. I do not know what that statement by the Foreign Secretary was meant to mean. I hope that the Minister will provide a direct answer to my noble friend’s question when he responds.

Lord Astor of Hever (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Defence; Conservative)

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. The Government will continue to look at the issues involved and engage with all those with an interest.

34th Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary

Posted in APPG, conservation, ITLOS, Legal, Mauritius, MPA, Parliament, William Hague on February 20th, 2013 by Mark Fitzsimons – Be the first to comment

Photo: Gail Johnson

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 34th meeting on 13 February 2013. The Chairman welcomed two new members, Lord Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister, and Lord Ashcroft.

Members discussed the letter of 15 January from the Chairman  to the Foreign Secretary, in which the Group’s views on the way forward had been set out and  a request made for a meeting to follow up the last one with him in December 2011. As no reply had yet been received the Group asked the Chairman to send a reminder. Members felt that Parliament should be closely involved in consideration of the policy options being put by officials to the Foreign Secretary, before decisions were taken. These could best be discussed in a meeting with him.

The  Group discussed the decision on 15 January of the Arbitral Tribunal (of the Permanent Court of Arbitration) on the Mauritian case, lodged  with ITLOS in December 2010, challenging the legality of the MPA. The Tribunal had decided against the FCO and that it would consider both jurisdiction and merits together, but this would probably not be until the middle of 2014. The Group felt that this provided ample time for the FCO and Mauritius to come to an accommodation and settle out of court. Members did not think it was appropriate to describe the Mauritius case as being hostile and aggressive litigation. Cases came to court to enable  judges to decide whether or not there had been a breach of the law. This was a legal, not a hostile process. Also in a case between states, especially as they were both members of the Commonwealth, there was plenty of opportunity to come to a diplomatic solution. The Group noted that the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting would be held in Mauritius. It was therefore crucial that the FCO and Mauritius settled their differences in a friendly manner before then. Mauritian support for Chagossian resettlement was noted.

The Group considered the 19 Parliamentary Questions  on Chagos issues which had been tabled and answered since their last meeting. Members detected, for the most part, a more positive and open minded approach to the issues. Lord Prescott, whose article in the Sunday Mirror of 19 January, was considered, suggested that he should raise the issues with the Commissioner for Human Rights of  the Council of Europe and in one of the Council’s Monitoring Bodies. Members agreed to continue to press for debates in both Houses of Parliament. They also asked the Chairman to invite David Miliband, who had just been appointed a Co-Chair by the Pew funded Global Marine Conservation, to attend an APPG meeting.

The next meeting will be held on 20 March 2013. A further meeting on 17 April 2013 was pencilled in so that the Group could meet Olivier Bancoult, since he would be in London at that time for the Chagos Islanders Judicial Review of the MPA.