December 15, 2022
The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs
King Charles Street London SW1A 2AH
Re: Negotiations between the UK and Mauritian Governments on the exercise of sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago
Dear Mr. Cleverly,
We are writing to you about the ongoing negotiations between the UK and Mauritian Governments on the exercise of sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. In your statement of November 3, 2022, you stated that it is the UK Government’s intention ‘to secure an agreement on the basis of international law to resolve all outstanding issues, including those relating to the former inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago.'
In response to a question from Henry Smith on 14 November 2022, which raised concerns about whether the UK Government intends to consult with the Chagossian people, you stated that ‘we will ensure that we have conversations with the Chagossian communities. We will make sure that we are very conscious of that strength of feeling as we progress with the negotiations. It would not be right – indeed, it is not necessarily possible – for me to speculate as to the outcome of those negotiations, but we know the strength of feeling on this. I assure you that we take these views very seriously.’
Human Rights Watch, and the Chagossian people in the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles with whom we have spoken, remain very concerned that, to date, the UK Government has not centered them in the process or conducted effective consultations with them. As you are well-aware, the UK, in cooperation with the US, forcibly evicted the Chagossians from their homeland nearly 50 years ago.
Other than a short period of four years between 2000 and 2004, the UK Government has consistently refused to allow Chagossians to return to live permanently on the Chagos Islands. Despite the significant harm that their expulsion from their homeland has and continues to cause them, the UK Government has not only failed to reverse this policy but has not provided proportional and effective reparations for these harms.
True reparation measures should recognize that the Chagossians’ rights were grossly violated and be accompanied with acknowledgment of culpability. They should include their right to return in dignity (this includes adequate restitution by the UK Government including rehabilitation of the islands in order to allow for sustainable living conditions so that Chagossian people can resume a life on the islands and live in prosperity, at a minimum in the conditions they would have had they not been expelled five decades ago), full compensation for the harms they suffered, and guarantees that such abuses will not happen again. This is a minimum threshold for reparations but should not be taken as an exhaustive list and is subject to consultation with the Chagossian people.
It is essential that the agreement provides binding commitments on reparation measures, ending the long history of and ongoing abuses against the Chagossian people, and that the Chagossian people are effectively consulted on the commitment made on their right to return, and the form and content of the reparations including restitution, compensation and commitments of non-repetition that are owed to them.
Without effective consultations with the Chagossian people, who, due to their eviction from their homeland, are spread across three countries and elsewhere, these negotiations will serve to compound and perpetuate the violations they suffered at the hands of the UK Government. It is not sufficient for the Foreign Secretary to provide a vague commitment to have ‘conversations’ with Chagossian communities. The UK Government should conduct effective consultations with the Chagossian people, including by ensuring that they are transparent, proactive, accessible, inclusive, meaningful, and properly managed and resourced. Given the diversity of harms experienced by the Chaggosian people, there may be varying demands surrounding appropriate remedy; these variations should strengthen meaningful consultations, not be a deterrent to them. Should the Chagossian people be excluded from the negotiation and any reparations process, this will serve to further victimize them and undermine the opportunity to provide an effective remedy. It is evident from other contexts, including the Germany-Namibia negotiations concerning reparations for crimes committed during Germany’s colonial rule in what is now Namibia , that non-inclusive negotiations will ultimately lead to failure. Lessons should be learned from this.
Information should be made available to the Chagossian people about the estimated timeline for the negotiations including specific information about the dates and location of the different stages of the negotiation. This information should be regularly updated during the course of the negotiations. Chagossian people should be kept informed at every stage of the negotiation and the outcome of the consultations should be made public. And, if requested, Chaggosian people should be guaranteed confidentiality for information they might provide.
So far, the UK Government has only confirmed that negotiations have begun and that it is hoped that an agreement will be reached early next year.
There should be proactive outreach and an informed communications strategy that ensures that the Chagossian communities are aware that the consultation is being conducted, the scope of the consultation including the form and content of reparations owed to the Chagossian people as well as the commitment made on their right to return, and how to participate in the consultation process. This outreach should take account of the locations of the affected communities (the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles) and the mediums that persons within those communities have access to (for example communication via online and offline channels and in relevant languages).
Accessible and Inclusive
The consultation should be accessible and inclusive. Necessary measures should be taken to ensure that all parts of Chagossian communities are able to participate in the consultation taking account of location, language, mobility, whether people are able to read and write, access to mediums of technology, and financial means. Modalities of participation, namely, the tools to facilitate participation in the consultation, should be established to take account of these factors such as having a mix of online and offline tools that allow for written and oral participation, and providing resources to ensure that persons can access in-person consultations, if necessary. The Government should support the reduction, and as far, as possible to removal of barriers that may restrict access to participation in the consultation.
Proactive measures should also be put in place to strengthen equal participation of women and older persons, and other groups that will have distinctive and important experiences and perspectives. This includes special measures like specifically inviting information from these groups and proactively creating accessible means and spaces (whether in person or virtual) that they are able, and feel comfortable, participating in.
Given that the negotiations and eventual agreement will, as the Foreign Secretary acknowledged, ‘concern matters relating to the former inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago’, it is critical that Chagossian people are meaningfully consulted at all stages of the negotiation to inform the issues that are on the table, and the outcomes that are eventually agreed. This requires a consultation process that feeds directly into the different phases of the negotiations including before the text of the agreement is finalised. The consultation process should begin at the earliest possible stage of the negotiation when all options are still on the table including the scope of the negotiations. This means the parties to the negotiation should refrain from taking any formal, irreversible decisions prior to conducting consultations with the Chagossian people in the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles.
For the consultations to be meaningful they need to allow the Chagossian people to meaningfully input into the form and content of the reparations owed to them, and the commitments made on their right of return.
We are very concerned that no effective consultation has been conducted despite your statement of 03 November, where you assert that the UK and Mauritian Governments are looking to have an agreement signed by early 2023. This timeline provides very little opportunity for adequate consultation with the Chagossian people, and suggests that the parties involved have no intention of conducting meaningful consultation with Chagossian people despite the negotiations being about their homeland from which the UK Government forcibly evicted them.
Managed and resourced
The consultation process needs to be effectively managed and adequately resourced. There should be a coordinating body, compromising representatives from the UK and Mauritian Governments, that is adequately resourced, and has necessary expertise, to ensure that there is full and effective consultation with Chagossian people in the UK, Mauritius, and the Seychelles. This body should have relevant expertise to develop the processes and tools necessary to facilitate an effective consultation, and ensure that women and other groups within the Chagossian communities are able and encouraged to effectively participate. The coordination body should also have the expertise to be able to distill the information gathered from the consultation including in a gender sensitive manner.
In light of the above, we would ask that you provide us with a written response to the following questions as a matter of urgency and at the latest on or before 11 January 2023:
1) In relation to the negotiations announced on the 03 November by the Foreign Secretary, will the UK Government conduct an effective consultation with the Chagossian people in the UK, Mauritius and the Seychelles? And if so, how and when it is envisaged that this will be done?
2) What is the timeline for the negotiations, including the dates and locations for the different stages of the negotiations, and the estimated date for a final agreement?
3) Has the negotiating mandate been agreed between the UK and Mauritius? If so, are the issues of reparations, including the right to return, restitution, compensation and commitments of non-repetition of the harms suffered by the Chagossian people at the hands of the UK, within the scope of the mandate?
We would also appreciate an opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues in person at your earliest convenience. Please let us know when this may be possible.
We would appreciate confirmation of receipt of this letter and that you will provide a response on or before the requested date.
Human Rights Watch
Executive Director Africa Division
Human Rights Watch
Senior Legal Advisor
Legal & Policy Office Human Rights Watch
Copying to Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for the Middle East, South Asia and the United Nations and Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.