David Snoxell is Co-Ordinator of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) APPG.
The Chagos Archipelago of 54 islands, previously administered as a dependency of the British Colony of Mauritius, was excised by Britain in 1965, three years earlier than Mauritius was granted independence.
It was renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and its inhabitants (about 1,500) had been deported to Mauritius and Seychelles between 1968-73 to make approach for a US navy base on the most important island, Diego Garcia. Depopulation enabled the British Authorities to keep away from having to manage the islands and to report yearly to the UN on its newest colony.
A settlement of the Chagos dispute made little progress in 2020 because the Authorities remained intransigent and Covid-19 led the Mauritian Authorities to postpone a proposed decision on the UN Basic Meeting to the 2021 session subsequent September.
Clearly, the individuals who have most to lose from this delay are the Chagossians, particularly those that had been deported. Many have died with out seeing their homeland. Britain’s failure to recognise the fitting to self-determination and to decolonise Chagos is the main target of worldwide opprobrium which exhibits no signal of abating.
There’s hope, nonetheless, in that Joe Biden and his Democratic Administration usually tend to wish to see an finish to the Chagos saga, as it might present a long-awaited victory for human rights and the rule of legislation and a safe future for the US base on Diego Garcia. At its eightieth assembly on 2 December, the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) determined to put in writing to the President-elect to enlist the help of the brand new Administration for an general settlement of the problems. The Chairman did so on 15 December.
The APPG hopes that the USA will play its half in bringing about an finish to those historic injustices. Members anticipate that the brand new Administration will see that an finish to the Chagos tragedy could be within the US long run curiosity and outweigh any short-term benefit of sustaining the established order. It will even be within the UK’s greatest curiosity.
In its Advisory Opinion of February 2019, the Worldwide Courtroom of Justice (ICJ) determined that “the decolonisation of Mauritius is incomplete, and that the UK is beneath an obligation to deliver to an finish, as quickly as potential, its administration of Chagos”. It additionally referred the resettlement of Chagossians of Mauritian origin to the UNGA to be addressed in the course of the completion of the decolonisation of Mauritius.
There’s a easy answer to the resettlement query. Whereas the Overseas Workplace stays against the UK being chargeable for resettlement and its prices, Mauritius is keen to facilitate and assist fund resettlement for these wishing to return, as soon as there may be settlement on the way forward for the Territory.
The UK has all the time maintained that the Islands can be returned to Mauritius when now not wanted for defence functions. The 53 Outer Islands have by no means been and can by no means be wanted for defence. Solely Diego Garcia, the place the US base is located, is required, and even there the US isn’t against a trial resettlement, offering others pay.
An UNGA decision of Could 2019, endorsing the ICJ Advisory Opinion, was adopted by an amazing majority of member states. Solely 5 states voted with the UK. The decision mandated the UK to implement the findings of the Opinion by 22 November 2019 together with “cooperating with Mauritius in facilitating resettlement of Mauritian nationals, together with these of Chagossian origin, within the Chagos Archipelago, and to impose no obstacle or impediment to such resettlement”. Passing accountability for resettlement to Mauritius is the apparent answer. The US has by no means been against resettlement, particularly if it had been on the Outer Islands, 130 miles from the bottom.
The Chairman of the APPG additionally wrote to Dominic Raab and identified the necessity, after 55 years, for a radical overview of coverage regarding resettlement and the way forward for the Chagos Islands, within the gentle of the ICJ Advisory Opinion and the UNGA decision. The momentary postponement till the seventy fifth session of the UNGA of additional motion by Mauritius offers a window of alternative for discussions on resolving these points.
In view of the dearth of progress because the APPG was established in December 2008, the APPG additionally determined that the Overseas Affairs Committee needs to be requested to carry an inquiry into coverage relating to the Chagos Islands and the exiled Chagossians. The FAC final did so in 2007/8 when it concluded that “there was a powerful ethical case for the UK allowing and supporting a return to BIOT”. The APPG additionally supported a proposal for a public inquiry into the conduct of the FCO’s administration of the worldwide points of BIOT since 2000. This may observe on from an FAC inquiry. It was determined to maintain the thought beneath lively consideration and revisit it in 2021, relying upon progress.
The Authorities’s Built-in Evaluate on Overseas, Defence, Safety, and Improvement coverage, which the APPG has urged ought to contemplate the way forward for Chagos, will conclude early subsequent 12 months. In his assertion on the Evaluate to Parliament on 19 November, the Prime Minister mentioned that “subsequent 12 months can be a 12 months of British management once we preside over the G7 and have a good time the seventy fifth anniversary of the primary UN Basic Meeting” and we’d “bolster our world affect.”
It will be a becoming approach of celebrating the seventy fifth anniversary if the UK and Mauritius had been to current to UNGA a joint draft decision enshrining an settlement of the problems which the UNGA may then endorse. If we’re to bolster our world affect and British management, the UK will first have to deliver an finish to the Chagos saga.
A lot depends upon whether or not the FCDO needs to resolve these points or prefers to allow them to smoulder on indefinitely. The UN has already altered its world map to indicate that Chagos belongs to Mauritius and a choice anticipated shortly by the Worldwide Tribunal of the Legislation of the Sea could endorse Mauritian possession of the islands. On the Indian Ocean Tuna Fee, the UK faces a problem to its membership on behalf of BIOT.
With the solar in peril of setting on World Britain, Chagos is one colonial millstone we may effectively do with out in our worldwide relations and international coverage. And it might, after 20 years, deliver an finish to the on-going nationwide litigation and the specter of additional worldwide litigation in opposition to the UK, thus saving the taxpayer additional authorized payments. Thus far, the federal government has spent roughly £10 million on this.