10 February 2012

British MP calls for action on repatriation of Chagossians

David Snoxell: Ministers recognise the injustice done to the Chagossians. But it's time for action, not words.

Conservative Home

David Snoxell is Coordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group and was British High Commissioner to Mauritius, 2000-04, and Deputy Commissioner of BIOT, 1995-97.

Screen shot 2012-01-12 at 18.07.44In 1965, the UK excised the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius to create a new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), so that the largest of the 55 islands, Diego Garcia, could be developed as a US base. In the process the population of 1,500 Ilois were removed from their homeland and dumped in Mauritius and Seychelles. Since the 54 outer islands have never been required for defence purposes what is stopping the Government allowing Chagossians to return for visits or to resettle there?

Since 1999 their case for doing so has trailed through the courts. At each stage the Chagossians won. But at the last hurdle in 2008, the Law Lords gave a qualified 3:2 verdict in favour of the Government. However, the case is now before the European Court of Human Rights. If it decides the case is admissible the Chagossians are likely to win since the UK is manifestly in breach of one or more of the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case should never have had to go this far. The right to return was restored in November 2000 by Robin Cook, following the High Court judgment in favour of the Chagossians, but this was overturned in June 2004 by Orders in Council. Jack Straw was to admit in 2009 that by not consulting Parliament he had sacrificed legitimacy for speed. It is inconceivable that Parliament would have agreed to deprive the Chagossians of the most fundamental of all human rights – the right to return to one’s homeland. It would be far better if the FCO were to withdraw from the case and settle out of court, as already suggested by Strasbourg. This would avoid fuelling the campaign of those who see its judgments as an attack on the independence of our courts.

Over the past decade there has been a systemic failure – a lack of political will and foresight  set against a background of international crises, low level handling of the issues in the FCO, lack of ministerial engagement, buying time, the inevitable face-saving, the defence of past mistakes and mounting legal bills, (about £3 million), exacerbated by the turnover of staff and ministers. This was not a planned strategy, rather a failure to grasp the nettle.  Since 2002, Ministers have signed off on keeping the Chagossians in exile, deploying largely disproved arguments, such as the security of the base, "treaty" obligations to the US, feasibility and cost of resettlement, conservation and the recently created Marine Protection Area.

The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All Party Parliamentary Group, whose purpose is "to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Islands and the Chagossians", was established in the wake of the 2008 defeat by the Law Lords and has wrestled with these arguments in the course of 26 meetings over more than three years. The group has currently 41 members. Several of its members are in the Coalition Government and four were FCO Ministers. The Group has had meetings with FCO Ministers on four occasions, with leaders of the Chagossian groups, the US Embassy and Mauritius High Commissioner, conservation groups and the UK Chagos Support Association whose Patrons are Philippa Gregory, Ben Fogle and Benjamin Zephaniah. The FAC has noted: “We conclude that there is a strong moral case for the UK permitting and supporting a return to BIOT for the Chagossians. The FCO has argued that such a return would be unsustainable but we find these arguments less than convincing”.

Before the election both parties expressed strong support for the Chagossians and William Hague promised “to ensure a fair settlement of this long standing dispute”. Nick Clegg’s office said: “Nick and the Lib Dems believe that the Government has a moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return”.  Then in a letter to a constituent Vince Cable announced in September 2010 that the Government was withdrawing from the case, opting instead for a friendly settlement. He noted that William Hague was “also committed to a fair settlement and that steps had already been taken to ensure their return”. A week later he was forced to recant, but added that “I am sure that the Chagossian cause will continue to be championed by my colleagues within the Liberal Democrat party.”

Why, then, in the 21 months of this Government has nothing happened?  There has been an abject failure of politicians to carry through the commitments they made on several occasions in parliamentary debates. A tiny group of FCO officials and legal advisers have continued to run policy towards Chagos.  Whilst being more sympathetic than the previous government, ministerial answers to parliamentary questions, interventions and letters have simply reiterated standard FCO lines. True, Ministers' public and parliamentary stance comes over as positive and anguished but the reality is, so far nothing has changed.  In a recent meeting with members of the Chagos APPG, the Foreign Secretary referred to FCO positions and policy rather than his own. The gap between what politicians feel and what officials "recommend" has never been so obvious. Yes, the climate has changed - but not yet the tide.

In a major speech last year, the Foreign Secretary said: “My ambition is a Foreign Office in which ideas thrive and the status quo can be challenged fearlessly...our diplomats excel at finding deft, realistic and workable solutions”.  There is not much evidence that Ministers are succeeding in challenging the status quo on Chagos and applying political will and compromise to finding workable solutions - though, unlike the previous government, it is pretty clear that they would like to do so. They give the impression of being unwilling passengers bound and gagged in the backseat of a car driven doggedly by their officials.

The UK remains in violation of several UN human rights instruments and decisions. Our international reputation continues to be badly damaged by accusations of double standards. In the same speech, the Foreign Secretary said: “We cannot ride roughshod over international opinion or neglect to ensure that our actions are seen to be as legitimate as possible in the eyes of the world”.  What better year than 2012, when the eyes of the world are on London for the Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee, to restore the human rights and the dignity of the Chagossian people? What better way to mark the Queen’s long reign, which has seen the transition of the British Empire to a Commonwealth of Nations, by bringing to an end this tragedy and relic of Empire in the Indian Ocean? Jeremy Corbyn, the Chairman of the APPG, has asked for a debate early in the session. This will be the opportunity for the Foreign Secretary to tell Parliament about the progress that he is making towards a settlement of the issues.

British Empire continues amidst sovereignty, militarisation disputes

Britain's colonialist ambitions seem to remain insatiable as the British government continues to refrain from negotiating over the sovereignty of the lands it has colonized. When the sovereignty of Hong Kong was granted (returned? - OTR) to the People's Republic of China in 1997, the British Empire hoped that it would legitimately hold sovereignty over its remaining colonized territories under the rubric of 'the British Overseas Territories.' 

However, of the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories listed on the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization waiting to be decolonized, 10 including the Malvinas Islands and Gibraltar remain under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. 

As Argentina and Spain have called for negotiations, the British government continues to take a hostile stance ruling out the possibilities for any negotiation and taking provocative acts. 

Earlier this week, the British government sent the Duke of Cambridge Prince Williams clad in the uniform of the 'conqueror' to Malvinas Islands on a six-week-long tour to act as a search and rescue pilot. 

Furthermore, Britain's Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced plans for sending its most advanced warship to the islands in order to give Buenos Aires a 'pause' to think about calling for negotiations over the sovereignty of the islands. 

This comes as the UN Special Committee on Decolonization's draft  on the Malvinas Islands (see text of adopted resolution below - OTR) calls for a 'peaceful, negotiated settlement of the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom.' 

Moreover, as the Spanish government calls for bilateral negotiations over Gibraltar's sovereignty under the Brussels Agreement, the British Secretary of State for Europe, David Lidington categorically announced that Britain would not sit at the table of negotiations. 

In 1713, under the Treaty of Utrecht, Spain gave sovereignty over the town and castle of Gibraltar to Britain. However, the isthmus and the airspace were not part of the treaty. 

Meanwhile, Lidington made no reference to this issue and maintained that Britain “will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes.” 

Furthermore, British Foreign Secretary William Hague's comments in the Somali capital of Mogadishu tells of Britain's plots for its oil-rich ex-colony as he described his visit as a 'major diplomatic push to bring stability, and a sign of Britain's commitment to the people and country of Somalia.' 

Britain's refusal to get engaged in negotiations over the sovereignty of lands it has colonized takes the lid off its colonialist nature no matter if the lands are called 'the British Overseas Territories.' 

 Report of the United Nations Decolonisation Committee

Chapter XI 
Falkland Islands (Malvinas) 

...135. The Special Committee considered the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) at its 6th and 7th meetings, on 21 June 2011. 

136. In its consideration of the item, the Special Committee took into account paragraph 4 (b) of the annex to General Assembly resolution 58/316, as well as other relevant resolutions and decisions. 

137. During its consideration of the item, the Special Committee had before it a working paper prepared by the Secretariat containing information on developments concerning the Territory (A/AC.109/2011/14). 

138. At the 6th meeting, the Chair informed the Special Committee that the delegations of Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay had requested to participate in the Committee’s consideration of the item. The Committee decided to accede to the requests. 

139. At the same meeting, in accordance with a decision taken at the 3rd meeting, statements were made by Roger Edwards and Dick Sawle of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands, Maria Angélica del Carmen Vernet and Alejandro Betts (see A/AC.109/2011/SR.6). 

140. Also at the same meeting, the representative of Chile, also on behalf of Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), introduced a draft resolution on the item (A/AC.109/2011/L.7). 

141. At the same meeting, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina made a statement (see A/AC.109/2011/SR.6). 

142. Also at the same meeting, statements were made by the representatives of Cuba, China, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Federation, Indonesia, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Sierra Leone, Paraguay (on behalf of the Common Market of the South and associated countries), Guyana (on behalf of the Union of South American Nations), Guatemala (on behalf of the Ibero-American countries), Brazil, Uruguay, Peru and El Salvador (see A/AC.109/2011/SR.6). 

143. At the same meeting, the Special Committee adopted draft resolution A/AC.109/2011/L.7, without a vote. 

144. At the 7th meeting, on 21 June, the representative of Grenada made a statement (see A/AC.109/2011/SR.7). 

Resolution Adopted without a vote
21st June 2011

Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) 
The Special Committee (on Decolonization), 

       Having considered the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), 
    Aware that the maintenance of colonial situations is incompatible with the United Nations ideal of universal peace,

    Recalling General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, 2065 (XX) of 16 December 1965, 3160 (XXVIII) of 14 December 1973, 31/49 of 1 December 1976, 37/9 of 4 November 1982, 38/12 of 16 November 1983, 39/6 of 1 November 1984, 40/21 of 27 November 1985, 41/40 of 25 
November 1986, 42/19 of 17 November 1987 and 43/25 of 17 November 1988, Special Committee resolutions A/AC.109/756 of 1 September 1983, A/AC.109/793 of 21 August 1984, A/AC.109/842 of 9 August 1985, A/AC.109/885 of 14 August 1986, A/AC.109/930 of 14 August 1987, A/AC.109/972 of 11 August 1988, A/AC.109/1008 of 15 August 1989, A/AC.109/1050 of 14 August 1990,  A/AC.109/1087 of 14 August 1991, A/AC.109/1132 of 29 July 1992, A/AC.109/1169 of 14 July 1993, A/AC.109/2003 of 12 July 1994, A/AC.109/2033 of 13 July 1995, A/AC.109/2062 of 22 July 1996, A/AC.109/2096 of 16 June 1997, A/AC.109/2122 of 6 July 1998, A/AC.109/1999/23 of 1 July 1999, A/AC.109/2000/23 of 11 July 2000, A/AC.109/2001/25 of 29 June 2001, A/AC.109/2002/25 of 19 June 2002, A/AC.109/2003/24 of 16 June 2003, the resolution adopted on 18 June 2004, the resolution adopted on 15 June 2005, the resolution adopted on 15 June 2006, the resolution adopted on 21 June 2007, the resolution adopted on 12 
June 2008, the resolution adopted on 18 June 2009 and the resolution adopted on 24 June 2010, and Security Council resolutions 502 (1982) of 3 April 1982 and 505 (1982) of 26 May 1982, 

    Distressed that, notwithstanding the time that has elapsed since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 2065 (XX), this prolonged dispute has not yet been settled, 

    Aware of the interest of the international community in the resumption by the Governments of the Argentine Republic and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of their negotiations in order to find as soon as 
possible a peaceful, just and lasting solution to the sovereignty dispute relating to the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), 

    Expressing its preoccupation over the fact that the good level of relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom has not yet led to negotiations on the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), 

    Considering that this situation should facilitate the resumption of the negotiations in order to find a peaceful solution to the dispute over sovereignty, 

    Reaffirming the principles of the Charter of the United Nations on the non-use of force or the threat of force in international relations and the peaceful settlement of international disputes, 

    Calling attention to the importance of the Secretary-General continuing his efforts to give full effect to the mission entrusted to him by the General Assembly in its resolutions on the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), 

    Reaffirming the need for the parties to take due account of the interests of the population of the islands in accordance with the provisions of the General Assembly resolutions on the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), 

    1.  Reiterates that the way to put an end to the special and particular colonial situation in the question of  the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) is the peaceful and negotiated settlement of the dispute over sovereignty between the Governments of the Argentine Republic and the United Kingdom of Great 
Britain and Northern Ireland; 

    2.  Takes note of the views expressed by the President of the Argentine Republic on the occasion of the sixty-fifth session of the General Assembly; 

    3.  Regrets that, in spite of the widespread international support for a negotiation between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom that includes all aspects of the future of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), the implementation of the General Assembly resolutions on this question has not yet started; 

    4.  Requests the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to consolidate the current process of dialogue and cooperation through the resumption of negotiations in order to find as soon as possible a peaceful solution to the sovereignty dispute relating to the question of the Falkland 
Islands (Malvinas), in accordance with the provisions of General Assembly resolutions 2065 (XX), 3160 (XXVIII), 31/49, 37/9, 38/12, 39/6, 40/21, 41/40, 42/19 and 43/25; 

    5.  Reiterates its firm support for the mission of good offices of the Secretary-General in order to assist the parties in complying with the request made by the General Assembly in its resolutions on the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas); 

    6.  Decides to keep under review the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) subject to the directives that the General Assembly has issued and may issue in that regard.