Chagos Islands

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:45 pm on 28th October 2015.

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Photo of Paul Monaghan Paul Monaghan Scottish National Party, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross 4:45 pm, 28th October 2015

My hon. Friend has raised a valid point that I will come to shortly.

In 1975, a former resident of the Chagos archipelago, Mr Michel Vencatassen, initiated a claim for compensation in the courts of England against the UK Government. The claim was settled in 1982 in an agreement under which the United Kingdom would pay £4 million into a fund for the former residents of the archipelago. Together with a previous payment of £650,000 made to the Government of Mauritius in 1966, that £4 million was later held as

“full and final settlement of all claims” arising from the removal or resettlement of the population of the Chagos archipelago—despite the fact that many Chagossians have received no compensation at all.

Other verdicts in the English courts went in favour of the Chagossians, in 2000, 2006 and 2007. But in 2008 the House of Lords overturned them all and ruled in favour of the UK Government. That bizarre ruling argued that the Chagossians were deprived of their right of abode lawfully. The ruling resulted in the formation of the all-party group on the Chagos islands, which has since met over 50 times and has attracted members of every single political party represented at Westminster. Full cross-party representation on such a group is very rare indeed.

Undaunted by the 2008 ruling, a group of Chagossians continued to pursue their claims before the European Court of Human Rights. In December 2012, the European Court judgment Chagos Islanders v the United Kingdom held that the claim was inadmissible, on the grounds that in settling their claims previously in 1982 and accepting and receiving compensation, the applicants had effectively renounced further use of legal remedies. Following the ruling, Mr Grieve, then Attorney General and speaking for the UK Government, said:

“we regret very much the circumstances in which they were removed from the islands and recognise that what was done then should not have happened.”

Fine words on a flawed judgement—flawed because, I note again, not all Chagossians were compensated.

Five weeks before the general election in 2010, parallel to the actions on deprivation of right of abode, the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband—now, it is worth noting, president and chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee, where he oversees humanitarian relief—ignored the advice of diplomats and rushed through the establishment of a marine protected area around the UK-controlled Chagos islands. That declaration was another significant, desperate and cynical attempt to anticipate legal claims on right of abode and to continue subverting the human rights of the Chagos people.

At The Hague on 18 March 2015, in its judgment Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v United Kingdom), the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favour of Mauritius against the UK Government concerning the declaration made on 1 April 2010 by David Miliband on behalf of the UK Government. The tribunal found that consultations on the marine protected area were characterised by a lack of information and an absence of sufficiently reasoned exchanges between the parties involved. It noted in particular that the UK Government engaged far less with Mauritius about establishing the marine protected area than it did with the United States. We need not speculate why.

More recently, on 4 August 2015, the UK Government announced a three-month consultation exercise on purported resettlement of Mauritians of Chagossian origin in the Chagos archipelago. That consultation period ended yesterday, when Mr Pierre Prosper, chair of the Seychelles Chagossians Committee, told me that although all Chagossians have responded to the consultation stating that they want to return, all have refused the terms of the UK Government’s offer,

“which reduces us to cheap labour for the military base, with no rights at all”.

Considering that consultation on resettlement, the Minister should know that the proposed conditions of resettlement amount yet again to a gross violation of the Chagossians’ most basic human rights.

The Prime Minister of Mauritius has also rejected the premise of the UK Government’s consultation and has demanded that Chagossians who wish to resettle on the archipelago should be able to live in dignity and enjoy their basic human rights. I support that view. The Prime Minister of Mauritius stated earlier this month at the United Nations General Assembly:

“The Chagos archipelago was illegally excised by the United Kingdom from the territory of Mauritius prior to its accession to independence, in breach of international law and resolutions of this Assembly.”

In the wake of that illegal excision, the Mauritians residing in the Chagos archipelago at the time were forcibly evicted by the British authorities, with total disregard for those people’s human rights. Most of them were moved to the main island of Mauritius. The Government of Mauritius are fully sensitive to their plight and their legitimate aspiration as Mauritian citizens to resettle on the archipelago. Mauritius welcomes the award of the arbitral tribunal delivered on 18 March 2015 against the United Kingdom under the United Nations convention on the law of the sea:

“We welcome the tribunal’s decision that the ‘marine protected area’ purportedly declared by the United Kingdom around the Chagos archipelago was established in violation of international law.”

That is an excellent summary of the current situation.

The current resettlement proposals offer no right of abode and stipulate that Chagossians must return to their islands as “contract workers”, with no right to buy land or property. Moreover, the resettlement is intended to be for a trial period, beginning with a two-year pilot, after which resettlement may be cancelled. During the pilot period, Chagossians will not be allowed visitors on their islands, despite hundreds of wealthy tourists visiting the islands each year, mooring their yachts, living in Chagossians’ abandoned homes and spending their time on the islands largely unmonitored. Similarly, unlike with Tristan da Cunha and Pitcairn, the UK Government’s resettlement proposals advise that no education services will be provided, thereby effectively excluding families with children from returning to their islands.

In short, the consultation and the terms of resettlement are transparent, unsatisfactory and quite obviously designed to scare the indigenous people and ensure that resettlement on the Chagos islands fails. The refusal of the consultation document to guarantee support for Chagossians if resettlement is cancelled after two years means that Chagossians face an unenviable dilemma, and an unattractive and very insecure future. Furthermore, many Chagossian groups in Europe—for example, in Switzerland and France—have not been consulted on the resettlement proposals at all. As an exercise in engagement, the consultation is therefore effectively worthless and should be viewed and condemned as such.

To be clear, the UK Government’s consultation fails spectacularly to address the key issues and should be roundly dismissed. It is, of course, welcome that the UK Government are considering how to make Chagossian resettlement a reality, but the terms of resettlement must be fair to Chagossians. The current proposals are not.

The basic premise advanced by the UK Government of there being “uncertainty” over both resettlement costs and demand is simply inaccurate. Indeed, recent freedom of information requests reveal that KPMG, which evaluated resettlement options and developed the costings, has described its own estimates as having been made with “pessimism”. It remains unclear who instructed that pessimism, but I am sure we will find out at some point. To put that pessimism into context, one estimate suggests “capital and training” costs of £267.5 million over six years to resettle 1,500 people. Another scenario is costed at £4.04 million per person to meet the capital costs of “resettlement and security” over the first 10 years.