Return 2015

“Steady Progress” on Government work on Chagossian return

Posted in FCO, Feasability Study, Henry Smith, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on July 31st, 2015 by Warren Paull – Be the first to comment

henry smithConservative MP Henry Smith, Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands, has asked the Government when they plan to make a decision on the resettlement of the Islands. Earlier this year an independent feasibility study proved that resettlement of the Chagos Islands was possible, a fact acknowledged this week in a letter from Minister for Overseas Territories James Duddridge. Mr Smith is the MP for Crawley, home to largest Chagossian population in the UK.

In the question, copied in below, Mr Smith asks for an update on when the Government will make their promised decision on supporting Chagossian return to their homeland. In his response, Minister Tobias Ellwood claimed that “steady progress” was being made on additional work the Government chose to undertake on the potential for resettlement after the publication of the report. No timeframe was, however, set out.

The question in full

Henry Smith MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when he plans to announce the Government’s decision on possible resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory by Chagos Islanders.

Answered on: 22 July 2015

Tobias Ellwood, Foreign Office Minister : The member for Crawley will note from the written answer of 23 June 2015 (British Indian Ocean Territory: Written question – 2386) given by my honourable friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge MP), that steady progress is being made on the further analysis of resettlement of BIOT. There is no date yet when an announcement on possible resettlement will be made.

University of Greenwich Chagos Socio-Legal Conference

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Cultural, Environment, Exile, FCO, Legal, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Supreme Court, UN, Uncategorized on July 1st, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
University of Greenwich, host of Monday's Chagos conference

University of Greenwich, host of Monday’s Chagos conference

On Monday a host of academics, legal experts and Chagossians came together to discuss a broad range of legal and social issues related to Chagossians enforced exile. Hosted by the Law School of the University of Greenwich, it featured prominent lawyer Phillipe Sands as keynote speaker.

Mr Sands QC has recently worked with the Mauritian Government to successfully convince an international tribunal that the UK-Government’s establishment of a Marine Protected Area in 2010 breached international law.  Analysing how race inevitably played a part in legal processes in the UK involving Chagossians, Mr Sands quoted Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird:

“in our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.”

A range of other speakers also delivered powerful addresses. Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group Coordinator David Snoxell spoke about the interplay of Parliament and the courts in the Chagossian fight for the right to return to the islands. He begins his talk by describing three “myths” of the Chagossian deportation. Later dealing with the 2004 use of Orders-in-Council (Royal Perogative) to forbid Chagossian return to the islands, he brands the move a “short sighted ploy.” Mr Snoxell’s full remarks can be read here.

Elsewhere, University of Greenwich Post-Graduate student Kinnari Bhatt presented a equally insightful address on the concept of Chagossians status as an “indigenous” people. Apologists for Chagossians’ forced exile have often argued they did not qualify for indigenous status as the islands were first populated in the 1700s. Ms Bhatt contends this idea that only a people living in a land from “time immemorial” can be called ‘indigenous’ is a flawed, eurocentric concept. A summary of her full paper of Chagossian indigenous identity can be read here.

As well as new pieces of writing, the conference was an opportunity to discuss previously published legal and political documents relating to Chagossians’ exile. As well the infamous Wikileaks revelations that the 2010 creation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area was at least in part an attempt to prevent Chagossian resettlement of their homeland, an African Union resolution from earlier this month which reiterated the group’s support for Mauritian sovereignty over the Islands.

As we get more written notes and summaries we plan to update this page so do check back for more detail in a week or so. We’ll let you know via Facebook and Twitter, so make sure you’re following us (click on the links to do so if you are not!).

Letter to the Telegraph: End "distressing" exile of Chagossians

Posted in coverage, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Supreme Court, Uncategorized on June 29th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
Mr Davies letter was published in 26th June 2015

Mr Davies letter was published in 26th June 2015

One of our long-term supporters Sid Davies last week had a letter published in The Daily Telegraph calling for a definitive end to the shameful UK-enforced exile of Chagossians.

Mr Davies’s letter is a beautifully written, poignant and personal account of his encounter with the islands. He visited the islands as part of yachting journey in the 1980s and describes the “distressing” sight of abandoned houses and churches. You can read it in full below.

Letter to the Telegraph by Sid Davies

SIR – I am pleased that Amal Clooney is to represent the Chagos islanders, who were forcibly evicted from their homes when the island of Diego Garcia was leased to the Americans as an airbase.

In 1985, I called at Saloman Atoll, which is about 100 miles north of Diego, when crossing by yacht from Darwin to Aden. The abandoned houses and roofless church, together with the overgrown pathways were distressing to see. It is to our shame that we treated these islanders so cruelly and it is high time we made amends and repatriated them.

While I was there, a yacht arrived from the Maldives, crewed by a French couple. They had called previously and found that the abandoned hens had no cock among them, so they brought one across the ocean to bring joy to the lonely poultry.

Sid Davies
Bramhall, Cheshire

Parliamentary Questions on Chagossian Return

Posted in APPG, Campaign, FCO, Parliament, Return, Return 2015 on June 26th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

parliamentSeveral highly interesting Parliamentary written question relating to Chagossian return have been asked in the last few days (printed in full below). Much credit is due to the all-too-few politicians in Westminster who turn their interest to the Chagossian cause.

Patrick Grady, International Development Spokesperson for SNP, submitted a range of questions including one asking for a timeline to be set out for the Government’s decision on supporting Chagossian return to their homeland.

Mr Grady also questioned what discussions concerning Chagossian return had taken place with the Department of International Development and other relevant bodies. Prior to the election the Government indicated such conservations would take place as they claimed not to be satisfied that the independent KPMG study into return offered sufficient “certainty.”

UKIP’s sole MP Douglas Carswell also submitted a question relating to the Chagos Islands, questioning whether the terms of the agreement which allows the US to use Diego Garcia as a military base would be altered during the current two year window of renegotiation. If no new terms are agreed by 2016, the deal will continue to allow the US to use military facilities on Diego Garcia until 2036. With the All-Party Parliamentary Group, we would argue that if the UK chooses to maintain the base, mutual support for Chagossian return must be a fundamental condition.

What do the questions and their answers tell us?

Patrick Grady, the SNP International Development Spokesperson who submitted written questions on Chagossian return this week

Patrick Grady, the SNP International Development Spokesperson who submitted written questions on Chagossian return this week

A timeline is certainly not revealed in the answer to Mr Grady’s question. Rather the Government states “we will explain our conclusions to interested parties in due course.” Perhaps not much can be read into such an answer but we would certainly suggest there should be a Parliamentary debate on the issue before any “explanation” is delivered to vaguely defined “interested parties,” which one would hope would mean simply “Chagossians.”

On the question of what “discussions” had taken place around the topic of Chagossian resettlement, the relevant Minister James Duddridge states that “Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions and the US Government” officials have been consulted as part of the process. This is in addition to previous consultations with the “Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence.”

This is more or less to be expected but it is reassuring the issue of pensions and welfare is being considered as formalising the status of Chagossian pensioners, often the most keen to return as soon as possible, would be crucial to any return to the islands.

A final question question querying the UK’s response the an international tribunal’s decision that the UK had breached international law in establishing the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area in 2010 was also submitted by SNP Spokesperson. The response states the UK is willing to engage with Mauritius, who’s Government brought the case, and has written to the Mauritian Government.

It also emphasises that the court found “no improper motive” in the establishment of the Marine Protected Area (MPA). This is a highly questionable claim since the judgement in fact stated that “political concerns” were the chief reason for the timing of the MPA’s creation.

What do the parties say about the Chagossian fight for justice?

 

UKIP's only MP Douglas Carswell also submitted a question relating to Diego Garcia this week

UKIP’s only MP Douglas Carswell also submitted a question relating to Diego Garcia this week

Since their conference earlier this year, the SNP have been formally committed to supporting the Chagossian people’s right to return home.

Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Alex Salmond has spoken passionately about the injustices suffered by the Chagossian people whilst two SNP MPs, Paul Monaghan and Alan Brown, have joined the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group.

UKIP has not expressed a formal policy position on Chagossian return. Some senior figures are though reportedly sympathetic.

 

The Questions in Full

 

UKIP’s Douglas Carswell on US-UK deal over Diego Garcia

 

British Indian Ocean Territory: Military Bases
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Written Answers
23 Jun 2015
Douglas Carswell UKIP, Clacton

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what plans his Department has to revise the terms of the 1966 Exchange of Notes concerning the Availability for Defence Purposes of the British Indian Ocean Territory.

James Duddridge The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The British Indian Ocean Territory remains a vital strategic asset for the UK and the US, and a key contributor to our broader bilateral defence relationship. We have consistently said that we want to see the US presence there continue. No decision has yet been made about whether to seek to revise the terms of the Exchange of Notes, but we will have in mind this continuing, shared strategic interest.

 

 

SNP’s Patrick Grady on return timetable, ongoing work relating to return and Chagos Marine Protected area

Patrick Grady Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what steps the Government is taking to comply with the award of the Arbitral Tribunal in the case of Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v. UK) dated 18 March 2015.James Duddridge The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth AffairsThe Arbitral Tribunal agreed with us that it had no jurisdiction to consider sovereignty, and found that there was no improper motive in the creation of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). In respect of the Tribunal’s findings about the process of establishing the MPA, it noted that it is now open to the UK and Mauritius to enter into negotiations to take account of Mauritian interests in the marine environment of the Territory.The Government wishes to implement the award in the spirit of greatest possible cooperation, and has written to the Mauritian government several times since the award, making a proposal to hold consultations about the protection of the marine environment as early as July………………………….………………………..

British Indian Ocean Territory: Resettlement

Patrick Grady Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what discussions he has had with (a) the Department for International Development and (b) other relevant bodies to facilitate Chagossian resettlement on the Chagos Islands in 2015.

James Duddridge The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Following consideration of this issue in the last Parliament, officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence are working jointly to clarify the areas requiring further analysis announced in my Written Ministerial Statement of 24 March 2015 (HCWS461).

To aid this further analysis, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also sought information from the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions and the US Government on relevant issues and on essential practical requirements associated with options to resettle a Chagossian population as well as continuing discussions with other interested parties including Parliamentarians and Chagossian representatives. This work is ongoing, and we will explain our conclusions to interested parties in due course.

…………………………………………………..

British Indian Ocean Territory: Resettlement
Patrick Grady Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when the Government plans to make an announcement on allowing Chagossian resettlement on the Chagos Islands.

James Duddridge The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Following consideration of this issue in the last Parliament, officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence are working jointly to clarify the areas requiring further analysis announced in my Written Ministerial Statement of 24 March 2015 (HCWS461). To aid this further analysis, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also sought information from the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions and the US Government on relevant issues and on essential practical requirements associated with options to resettle a Chagossian population as well as continuing discussions with other interested parties including Parliamentarians and Chagossian representatives. This work is ongoing, and we will explain our conclusions to interested parties in due course.

"No man shall be exiled" Chagossians & Magna Carta

Posted in APPG, Campaign, Exile, Feasability Study, Jeremy Corbyn, Letusreturn, Magna Carta, Parliament, Return, Return 2015 on June 15th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
This letter, published in The Times, was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

This letter, published in The Times, was signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group signed by all current members of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group

“No man shall be exiled except by the lawful judgement of his equals or the law.”

On the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, some clauses in the document are particularly poignant when considering the heartless deportation of the Chagossian people just over 40 years ago. Chagossians’ expulsion from their homeland never went through Parliament nor did it go before a jury. Rather the Government used Royal Prerogative to force Chagossians from their homes; precisely the sort of unchecked power the Magna Carta is intended to prevent. Such measures were used again in 2004 to effectively nullify a High Court decision to permit return.

The Magna Carta is celebrated as laying the foundation for the most basic human rights. Celebrations, however, must be tempered by the fact that 800 years after the document was signed in Runnymede, Chagossians -British citizens- do not enjoy its protections.

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn was amongst the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands which wrote a letter to this effect in The Times several days ago. A copy of the letter can be downloaded here or viewed above.

"UK has a moral duty to Let Us Return" Chagossian Allen Vincatassin on Sputnik

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Exile, FCO, Feasability Study, Letusreturn, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 30th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

Chagossian Allen Vincatassin, elected President of a Chagossian Provisional Government in 2011, has called on the UK to finally deliver justice for the Chagossian people by supporting their return home. Speaking on RT current affairs programme Sputnik to George Galloway, Mr Vincatassin highlighted the “moral duty” of the UK Government to Chagossians following their forced deportation four decades previously.

AV and GGMr Vincatassin has recently published Flight to Freedom, a book about the history of the Chagossian people in exile, which you can buy here.

Citing the recent independent feasibility study completed by KPMG, Mr Vincatassin explained that there were “no obstacles” to supporting return and he called for a pilot resettlement on Diego Garcia to begin as soon as possible. Urgency was required, he added, simply because time was running out for the native-born Chagossians to see their homeland again. He also makes the point that Chagossians, as British citizens, are entitled to expect their Government to actively defend their human rights.

Analysing the prospects of winning return, Mr Vincatassin was positive and identified the next year as a great opportunity for the UK and US to end the exile of the Chagossian people. Noting constitutional changes expected in the UK and upcoming renegotiation of the  US-UK agreement on the use of Diego Garcia, he concluded that the Government just “need to invest” a modest amount of finally deliver justice for the much abused and neglected Chagossian people.

"No reasons left not to support return" Our Chair's interview with IOO

Posted in Campaign, coverage, Exile, Feasability Study, Letusreturn, Mauritius, resettlement, Return, Return 2015, Seychelles on May 26th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

chagos 22In a wide-ranging interview our Committee Chair Stefan Donnelly has discussed the campaign for Chagossian justice with Indian Ocean Observatory (IOO). The online publication focuses on geo-political and environmental issues affecting the Indian Ocean Region. In an interview conducted via email, Stefan explains the history of the Chagossian exile and where the campaign for return stands now.

The full interview can be read here.

i Newspaper Article & Other Media Coverage of Chagos Return Protest

Posted in Ben Fogle, Campaign, coverage, Letusreturn, Protest, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 24th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment
See below for a detailed summary of the article

See below for a detailed summary of the article

One of the many heartening things about Friday’s (22nd May) protest and petition hand-in was the media attention it received. The latest we’ve noticed is the pictured right short article in the i newspaper.

Although not currently available online, we’ve put together a detailed summary of the article below. Credit for the piece goes to Press Association Journalist Richard Wheeler who attended the protest on Friday.

 

i Article: “Fogle: I’ll take Islanders to Chagos”

Ben Fogle says he will charter a boat and take exiled Chagossians back to their homeland if the Government refuses “to right a terrible, terrible wrong.” The presenter also suggested the Whitehall attitude to the Chagos Islands- still a British controlled Overseas Territory- struck him “as a form of racism when compared to the help that has been given to the Falkland Islands.

He led a Chagossian delegation into Downing Street to deliver a petition calling on the Prime Minister to make amends for the “crime against humanity” carried out by allowing Chagossians to resettle as soon as possible.

The British forced the Chagossians to leave the islands, in the central Indian Ocean in the late sixties and early seventies to allow a US military base to be built on Diego Garcia, the largest Chagos Island.

The media in attendance at the 22nd May protest

The media in attendance at the 22nd May protest

Other media outlets covering the protest included BBC, RT, the i newspaper, BT’s Online News Service (important as it is likely to be seen by the millions who use BT to connect to the internet or for email), Asian Image and The Argus.

If you see any further articles in the Sunday papers, do please let us know at ukchagos@gmail.com

Ben Fogle Hands in Petition for Chagossian Return

Posted in Ben Fogle, Letusreturn, Parliament, Petition, Protest, Return, Return 2015 on May 22nd, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

BEN & SABRINALong-time Chagossian supporter and TV personality today handed in a petition (still available to sign) calling on the UK Government to finally support Chagossian return to their homeland. Chagossians have fought for their right to return for decades since their forced deportation, conducted under UK orders so a US military base could be built.

An independent report last year confirmed return was possible. The Government committed to making a decision on return before the election but failed to so.

Today Chagossians called on David Cameron to live up to finally deliver justice. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Fogle branded the UK’s treatment of Chagossians a “terrible injustice” and called for immediate resolution, before adding optimistically he believed the “future would be bright” for Chagossians.

Watch Ben Fogle speak about his belief Chagossians will finally win the right to return

IMG_0028Sabrina Jean (pictured above), Chairperson of Chagos Refugee Group UK Branch, handed in the protest with Ben and thanked him for his consistent support over many years. Mrs Jean herself deserves much credit for organising the event and ensuring it was well attended by Chagossians.

Speaking to the BBC, Ben added “For me, being a Brit, it was probably one of the things I’m most ashamed about, that I’m part of a country that forcibly evicted these people and is now refusing their right to return.”

Today must represent the beginning of making a return a reality. The Prime Minister can now be under no illusions Chagossians want the right to return and the UK public back them.

House of Commons Library Briefing on the Chagos Islands

Posted in APPG, Feasability Study, House of Commons Library, Letusreturn, MPA, Parliament, resettlement, Return, Return 2015 on May 14th, 2015 by Stefan Francis Donnelly – Be the first to comment

hoclThe House of Commons Library, an independent research body based in Parliament which aims to provide unbaised information to MPs and peers, has published an updated briefing on policy issues affecting the Chagos Islands. The briefing covers the period since the publication of the previous Houses of Commons Library Report on the Chagos Islands in mid-2013.

Following the delay of the decision on supporting return, promised by the Government prior to the election, the current Parliament will now take the decision on whether to support Chagossian return to their homeland. Ensuring MPs have accurate information about the situation is then vital and Parliamentarians are likely to consult this document. We will of course also be briefing MPs about how they can deliver Chagossian justice.

The document covers a range of issues including the feasibility report and decision on return, the international legal action on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area and the sovereignty dispute with Mauritius. It is well worth a read but you can find some of the key quotes from it below.

 

On Return and the recent KPMG feasibility study:

The report notes it is “significant” that Diego Garcia was included in the study as it had previously been “believed that the US would not want the island, where it has a military base, included.” It is worth noting the US has not expressed this desire and has always maintained the issue was a matter for the UK, which retains sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. In any case with the conditions of the UK-US agreement on the use of Diego Garcia being re-negotiated, it is incumbent upon the UK to insist that support for Chagossian return is a fundamental condition of any renewed agreement to allow continued US military presence.

“Because of its position on sovereignty, the Mauritian Government declined to engage with the new feasibility study on resettlement, although it supports the Chagossians on the issue.”

The Government claim that “was not a clear indication of likely demand for resettlement, and costs and liabilities to the UK taxpayer” are referenced, as our Chair’s critique of this decision. 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands’ proposal of a small-scale “pilot return” which could be begin in 2016 is also noted.

“But it is possible that the incoming UK Government will ultimately reject all the resettlement options put forward in the KPMG study.” This could, but need not, mean denying support for return. The KPMG study focused on three fairly arbitrary resettlement models. Return could also be feasible following a range of other models.

On the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Verdict on the Chagos Islands Marine Protected Area

“an Arbitral Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea unanimously ruled that the Marine Protected Area (MPA) declared by the UK [around the Chagos Islands in 2010] is not compatible with obligations under the Convention to give proper regard to the rights of Mauritius and is therefore not lawful. The unanimous ruling was issued on 18 March. It is final and binding.”

 

“There is evidence that, when it was established, FCO officials saw the MPA as a means of preventing Chagossian resettlement. To date, there has been no official British response to the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling.” Perhaps it does not qualify as an ‘offical response’ but a Foreign Office Spokesperson did respond to the judgement speaking to a Guardian journalist. In fact the spokesperson, rather baselessly, claimed the judgement proved there was ‘no improper motive’ for establishing the MPA so it is good to have independent acknowledgement this was not what the judgement stated.

On Sovereignty

“It has been argued in the past that, even if sovereignty over the entire BIOT is unlikely to be on the agenda in the near to medium-term, there may be more room for flexibility on the outer islands, which are not required for defence purposes. But the previous UK Government gave no indication that it might be thinking along those lines.”

 

On the future of US military facilities on Diego Garcia

“Under the 1966 Exchange of Notes between the UK and the US, a decision on whether to extend the arrangement for a further 20 years must be made by 31 December 2016.”

“The All Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands 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 [Chagossian] resettlement.”

 

On upcoming legal action

“Chagossians living in both Mauritius and the UK have also been seeking to challenge the establishment of the MPA. The original ground was that the public consultation process was flawed because it failed to acknowledge that resettlement was feasible. An additional ground was that the consultation failed to mention Mauritian or Chagossian fishing rights.”

“Finally, an application to the Supreme Court to set aside the 2008 House of Lords verdict – which ruled 3:2 that the use of Orders in Council in 2004 to prevent the Chagossians from returning was lawful ….was made in January 2015. The grounds for the application are that the 2008 judgment was partly based on the 2002 feasibility study, which has now been shown to be flawed, and that documents which demonstrated this were not disclosed…. The Supreme Court is expected to consider both applications by the end of June 2015.” Now scheduled for 22nd June