December 2010 update

The biggest shock this month has been discovering what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office really thinks about the Chagossians, their rights and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos.

Extracts from US Embassy cables, courtesy of Wikileaks/The Guardian

Friday, 15th May 2009

Summary. HMG would like to establish a “marine park” or “reserve” providing comprehensive environmental protection to the reefs and waters of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official informed Polcouns on May 12. The official insisted that the establishment of a marine park — the world’s largest — would in no way impinge on USG use of the BIOT, including Diego Garcia, for military purposes. He agreed that the UK and U.S. should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that U.S. interests were safeguarded and the strategic value of BIOT was upheld. He said that the BIOT’s former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve…..

He (Colin Roberts) asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents. Responding to Polcouns’ observation that the advocates of Chagossian resettlement continue to vigorously press their case, Roberts opined that the UK’s “environmental lobby is far more powerful than the Chagossians’ advocates.”….“We do not regret the removal of the population,” since removal was necessary for the BIOT to fulfill its strategic purpose, he said. Removal of the population is the reason that the BIOT’s uninhabited islands and the surrounding waters are in “pristine” condition. Roberts added that Diego Garcia’s excellent condition reflects the responsible stewardship of the U.S. and UK forces using it…..

Joanne Yeadon (Head of the FCO’s Overseas Territories Directorate’s BIOT and Pitcairn Section) stressed that the exchange of notes governed more than just the atoll of Diego Garcia but expressly provided that all of the BIOT was “set aside for defense purposes.”  She urged Embassy officers in discussions with advocates for the Chagossians, including with (sic) members of the “All Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos Islands (APPG),” to affirm that the USG requires the entire BIOT for defense purposes. Making this point would be the best rejoinder to the Chagossians’ assertion that partial settlement of the outer islands of the Chagos Archipelago would have no impact on the use of Diego Garcia. She described that assertion as essentially irrelevant if the entire BIOT needed to be uninhabited for defense purposes….

Yeadon dismissed the APPG as a “persistent” but relatively non-influential group within parliament or with the wider public. She said the FCO had received only a handful of public inquiries regarding the status of the BIOT. Yeadon described one of the Chagossians’ most outspoken advocates, former HMG High Commissioner to Mauritius David Snoxell, as “entirely lacking in influence” within the FCO. She also asserted that the Conservatives, if in power after the next general election, would not support a Chagossian right of return. She averred that many members of the Liberal Democrats (Britain’s third largest party after Labour and the Conservatives) supported a “right of return.”

Yeadon told Poloff, May 12, and in several prior meetings, that the FCO will vigorously contest the Chagossians’ “right of return” lawsuit before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). HMG will argue that the ECHR lacks jurisdiction over the BIOT in the present case. Roberts stressed May 12 (as has Yeadon on previous occasions) that the outer islands are “essentially uninhabitable” and could only be rendered livable by modern, Western standards with a massive infusion of cash…..

Comment (by US) We do not doubt the current government’s resolve to prevent the resettlement of the islands’ former inhabitants…. We are not as sanguine as the FCO’s Yeadon, however, that the Conservatives would oppose a right of return. Indeed, MP Keith Simpson, the Conservatives’ Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, stated in the same April parliamentary debate in which Merron spoke that HMG “should take into account what I suspect is the all-party view that the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognized, and that there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands, if not the inner islands.” Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO’s Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the BIOT.

The Foreign Office (Guardian, 4th Dec) said it rejected any allegation that it had misled the public and went on to say: “We cannot go into specifics of any leaked document because we condemn any unauthorised release of classified information.” This Association condemns deceipt, duplicity, hypocrisy and racism and also wonders who actually runs this country – our elected representatives or FCO desk officers whose main aim in life seems to be rubbishing the APPG.

PARLIAMENT

House of Lords, 14th December

Question asked by Baroness Whitaker

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Howell of Guildford on 28 October (WA 326-7), on what they spent the £1.5 million allocated to the British Indian Ocean Territory fund in 2009-10.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the £1.5 million allocated to the British Indian Ocean Territory Administration was used to offset some of the costs of running the territory’s patrol vessel. The patrol vessel has helped to enforce the fisheries regime, and now it will enforce the marine protected area. It is also an important tool to help ensure the security of the territory and to enforce environmental and other regulations which apply in the British Indian Overseas Territory. The vessel has hosted groups of Chagossians in recent visits to the outer islands of the territory.

Baroness Whitaker: I thank the Minister for that very detailed Answer. Can I ask him about two further economies? Now that what the Times has described as “petty manoeuvres” by officials to keep the Chagossians from their home have been exposed, could not Her Majesty’s Government be brave enough to save the legal costs of the European court case-about £5 million, I think-and start the process of return for these unfairly exiled people? Secondly, does he agree with me that the vast majority of the world’s marine protected areas have allowed the original inhabitants to remain there to help with the conservation work?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Baroness, who follows these matters very closely, has raised a number of important issues. I think that one has to reject the talk of manoeuvres to keep Chagossians from their home. Fundamental and very difficult dilemmas must be faced by those who have the responsibility, or who want to take on the responsibility, of deciding how to solve this problem. The matter is before the European Court of Human Rights at the moment, and remains before it, and that is our position. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said that we continue to examine this policy in detail, and that is what we will do, but the fundamental position that we take was, I think, taken exactly by the previous Administration as well and is based on some very difficult but hard realities about both our needs for defence and the rights of those concerned.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will my noble friend ask the Americans to agree to the publication of the minutes of the politico-military discussion with US officials in October 2009 in so far as they covered the return of the Chagossians to their outer islands? Does he agree that, despite attempts by the FCO to ventriloquise the Americans into making a statement that even a small number of Man Fridays – as they contemptuously refer to the inhabitants-would jeopardise military operations at the base, the Americans have said nothing official on that subject since President Obama took office?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I do not think that I can comment on the WikiLeak gossip that has circulated around the globe. Much of it is very inaccurate or taken completely out of context, so I would not like to comment further on those matters.

Lord Ramsbotham: I declare an interest as the vice-chairman of the all-party group that was described by a foreign (office) official in WikiLeaks as being persistent but non-influential. The Minister mentioned defence. In our last meeting with Mr Henry Bellingham on 15 November, I mentioned to him a letter that we had had from Mr Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defence in America, who said that there was no good national security reason for not allowing the Chagossians to return to Chagos, including Diego Garcia. Is that the view of the Foreign Office as well?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The view of the Foreign Office is embodied in the fact that we are involved in the case at the European Court of Human Rights, and we are really not in a position to comment further except to say that we stand by the arguments and the justifications that lead us to remain in that position in the legal process. As I said, my right honourable friend has said in another place that we continue to examine this in detail and to look at the policy, but I cannot offer the noble Lord anything other than to say that the case is before the European Court of Human Rights, that the arguments are on the table there and that this matter has to be resolved there.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: As another member of that non-influential parliamentary group, I ask the Minister whether he is not concerned that it appears that Foreign Office officials have managed to irritate both the Mauritian Government and the United States Government by using the marine protection agency as a cover for denying the Chagossians the right to return.

Lord Howell of Guildford: I do not know where my noble friend gets this concept of a cover from, except presumably from WikiLeaks. There is no question of a cover; they are completely separate issues. However, when it comes to handling them, we are concerned because we have inherited a situation in which there was certainly a lot of misunderstanding and even ill feeling between us and the Mauritian Government. We are very anxious to talk to the Mauritians again and to try to handle this matter better than it has been handled in the past.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, has the Foreign Office had the opportunity, since the coalition came into office, to discuss this issue directly with the United States Government?

Lord Howell of Guildford: There are ongoing discussions with the United States Government about this and other matters related to broad defence needs and to the particular problems we are discussing today. So the answer is yes: discussions have been ongoing at various levels.

The Earl of Sandwich: Does the noble Lord agree that the European court is likely to decide in favour of the Chagossians and that it is high time that the Foreign Office prepared for the massive compensation scheme which will arise and to forecast where the money will come from? The money cannot come from Mauritius, and we have the responsibility.

Lord Howell of Guildford: I cannot possibly speculate on the outcome of a legal process-but the noble Earl has rightly pointed to one of the possible outcomes should it go a certain way, which has a really vast implication in terms of resources.

The Chagos Islands APPG held its 17th meeting on 15 December 2010.

The meeting began with a discussion with representatives of four NGOs (Pew, ZSL, Linnean Society, CCT), which are members of the Chagos Environment Network (CEN).The Group was heartened to learn that CEN’s position on resettlement was one of neutrality. If the right of return was restored CEN would be happy to work with Chagossians who wished to resettle. They were already working with Chagossians living in Crawley but would also be happy to work with Chagossians living in Mauritius and Seychelles. They said they would welcome Chagossians being involved in the future development of the MPA. CEN had also been taken by surprise by the motives of officials revealed in the US cable of 13 May 2009. They would not have agreed with that agenda. The APPG felt that this had been a valuable opportunity to hear CEN’s views.

After the CEN representatives had left, the Group discussed the status of the MPA and the impact of the US cable disclosures. The Group was dismayed that while Ministers had been assuring Parliament that the MPA would have no implications for the future of the Chagossians, FCO officials were telling the US that it would be a useful way of putting paid to resettlement and making it impossible for the Chagossians to pursue their claim to resettlement. The Group was surprised to realise that FCO officials had been urging the US (when the US were in discussion with Chagossian advocates and the APPG, “a persistent but relatively non-influential group”), to “affirm that  the USG requires the entire BIOT for defense purposes”, as a means of countering the argument that resettlement on the Outer Islands would have no impact on Diego Garcia. The Group noted that the US has never publicly made this assertion. The Group were also appalled by a derogatory reference to the Chagossians and that despite the frequently expressed regrets of Ministers about what had happened in the 1960/70s officials were emphasising to the US that they did not regret the removal of the population which was the reason why the surrounding waters  were in pristine condition. It was agreed that the Chairman should write to the Foreign Secretary.

The Group took note of Lord Luce’s intervention in the human rights debate on 2 December drawing attention to the ‘gross injustice’ of expelling the Chagossians from their homeland, Baroness Whitaker’s Oral Question, and the short debate that followed on 14 December which addressed a range of Chagos issues, and the answers to various Questions.

Following a report from the Coordinator, the Group discussed the  impact that the disclosures about the MPA had had on Anglo-Mauritian relations. They were pleased to learn that the Mauritian PM was fully supportive of the Chagossians and their right to return.

The Group noted that the APPG had been established just 2 years ago and in that time had held 17 meetings. The Group took comfort in the fact that the Chagos profile had been  considerably raised in Parliament, public and the media and that arguments against resettlement such as defence and security, cost and feasibility had been shown to be no longer valid. The Group therefore felt that it had gone some way to meet its original purpose which was ‘to help bring about a resolution of the issues concerning the future of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) and the Chagossian people’ but that there was still much to be done.

The next meeting will be on Wed 26 January at 4pm. It was agreed that the Patrons and Chairman of UKCSA should be invited to meet the group on that occasion.

David Snoxell

Coordinator

House of Lords
Written answers and statements, 23 November 2010
In answer to a question about Pitcairn, Lord Howell of Guildford
(Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office;Conservative), said:… this Government remain committed to Pitcairn, as they remain committed to all of the Overseas Territories. And we respect the principle of self-determination for the people of Pitcairn, as we respect it for all peoples of the Overseas Territories. Any possible change in sovereignty would therefore be for the Pitcairners to consider.

Fine words indeed. This Association would like to see them put into practice for the Chagossians.

PRESS COVERAGE.

There has been widespread coverage (Times, Guardian etc. and also Mauritian press) of the WikiLeaks which revealed the duplicity of the FCO officials. Far too much to cover it all but suffice it to say, none of it was complimentary to the FCO!  Here is a sample – Times editorial 4th December:

Britain’s proposal to create a maritime reserve in the Indian Ocean looks, at face value, like an imaginative and effective way of protecting vast tracts of ocean, allowing the recovery of fish stocks, preventing irresponsible exploitation of undersea resources and demonstrating to other countries Britain’s readiness to confront the growing threats to the world’s oceans. Unfortunately, the genesis of this proposal is neither laudable nor altruistic. The latest WikiLeaks revelations suggest that it may have become a ploy to thwart the Chagossians’ victory in British courts and prevent them ever being able to return to their native islands, now called the British Indian Ocean Territory, from which they were deported 50 years ago.

There is something unpleasant in the way that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is said to have dressed up a shabby denial of human rights in the clothes of an environmental initiative. For years, the Government has tried to fight off the demands of the exiled Chagossians, evicted from their islands and dumped in Mauritius, to be allowed to return home. London had already given the go-ahead to the Americans to build a military base in Diego Garcia, one of the islands in the group, and Washington made it brutally clear that it did not want any native inhabitants – “Man Fridays” in the bureaucrats’ appalling phrase – compromising the security of the oddly named Camp Justice. But the Chagossians refused to give in, and have doggedly pursued their claim through the courts, finally winning a Court of Appeal ruling in 2007 that they should be allowed to return.

The Foreign office tactic was then to seize on a plan for a maritime reserve, arguing, according to WikiLeaks, that any resettlement of the Archipelago would destroy its “pristine” condition (though it seems a military base would leave no footprint). It even went as far as urging the US to insist that it needed all the islands for their base so as to undermine the Chagossians’ proposal to settle only on the remoter islands. The Foreign Office disputes the accuracy of these purported US cables. But nevertheless, it looks unseemly that officials were apparently trying to help the US to find ways of blocking the islanders’ return.

The Chagossians have been triply betrayed. First, they were exiled with no say in their future. Second, the Labour Government – anxious to counter the resentment within the party of the US use of Diego Garcia in the Iraq war – insisted on hurrying through the reserve as a fait accompli before the general election. And third, the incoming coalition abruptly went back on pre-election promises by both William Hague and Nick Clegg of justice for the islanders. Instead, the Foreign Office has threatened continued defiance all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

The coalition has laudably called for a new approach to Britain’s small and isolated overseas territories, saying that it regarded them as assets, not liabilities, and wants to enhance their viability. This does not sit well with the refusal to recognise the right of an impoverished and demoralised group of British citizens to return home. The maritime reserve has now been set up. It is a fine idea. But why should it not, like the Galapagos, be conserved by its inhabitants? Both David Miliband and the coalition have said that they would respect any final victory by the Chagossians in Strasbourg. The more, therefore, is the pity of such petty manoeuvres to keep them out of their islands.

Lord Luce (FCO Minister 1981-2) wrote supporting the editorial, December 6th, and outlining steps forward which he had made in a House of Lords debate on 2nd December, (available from UKCSA via e-mail). He ended his letter: We must now plan a just settlement so that we can hold our heads a little higher on human rights.

Extract from that debate. Lord Luce said:

…..My third point is about making sure that our own house is in order when we talk about human rights in other countries. Whether we are dealing with the management of democracy or the rights of the individual, we cannot really stand up and talk to other people about these issues unless we are credible at home. I shall highlight that with one illustration only, which is the way in which we have treated one small group of people in the Indian Ocean. The Chagossians were expelled from the British Indian Ocean Territory in the late 1960s by the then Labour Government. To my mind, that was a gross injustice. While it was perfectly reasonable to set up a naval base for the United States in Diego Garcia, that should not have been at the expense of those islanders, who were dispatched to Mauritius and the Seychelles. Now, surprisingly, many of them are living nearby in Crawley. No Government since, including the one of which I was a member, have rectified this injustice.

Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:

“No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”.

There have been endless court cases and judgments in the past few years on the question of the Chagossians and I will not weary the House with the details. At the moment, the Chagossians are appealing to the European Court of Human Rights for their right of return to be restored. There are many related issues. There is now a marine protection area in the Indian Ocean around the islands. I strongly support that-it is an excellent idea-but it should not be at the expense of the Chagossians playing a part and having jobs relating to those environmental issues.

Like others, I have no doubt that the Foreign Secretary is strongly committed to human rights. When he was in opposition, he called for a fair and just settlement to this issue. In September this year, in setting up the advisory body to identify human rights abuses, he said:

“we will not apply double standards … where problems have arisen that have affected the UK’s … standing we will deal with them patiently and clearly”.

Other letters published in the press include this from Ben Fogle, Guardian 8th December:
Forty years ago, thousands of people were forcibly and illegally removed from their homeland, the British Indian Ocean Territory, to make way for Diego Garcia, a US military base. The expulsion has been described by some as UK foreign policy’s darkest day. Since then the islanders have fought for the right to go home. They won it from the High Court, but the Privy Council took it away. It now seems, from US information released by WikiLeaks (Foreign Office accused of misleading public over expelled ‘Man Fridays’, 4 December), that the Foreign Office has no regrets over its illegal action, and has been planning to destroy the islanders’ campaign by making their former home a marine sanctuary, in which no one would be allowed to live.
As a long-term advocate of conservation, I am horrified that the UK government has used this to keep the islanders from returning to their rightful home, and that I was duped into supporting the creation of the marine sanctuary under false pretences. According to the leaked documents, Colin Roberts, the FCO’s director of overseas territories, told the US that there would be no “Man Fridays” on the islands and said: “We do not regret the removal of the population.” The FCO described the all-party parliamentary group campaigning for the Chagos people’s right to return as a “persistent” but relatively non-influential group. I now regret my support of the marine sanctuary and look forward to joining the islanders in their campaign to return home.

Ben deplored how the FCO had manipulated conservation groups into supporting a Marine preservation area – as did Dr. Mark Spalding in an article for Coral List: Some  250,000  people voted in support of the Chagos MPA via the Avaaz network, an internet-based social activist grouping who are also strong on human  rights. I spoke to Avaaz at length when they first put up their petition as it was clear that they were ill-informed about the human rights angle. They assured me that Chagossian interests were fully taken into consideration. They were wrong, and they misled a quarter of a million signatories.

Unfortunately, so did Greenpeace.

Apart from revealing the FCO’s true attitude to the Chagossians, the leaks also showed how the UK secretly allowed the US to keep cluster bombs at Diego Garcia base.

Guardian, 2nd December, carried an article by Rob Evans and David Leigh which we print in full as summarising it would leave out many valuable points and nuances:

British and American officials colluded in a plan to hoodwink parliament over a proposed ban on cluster bombs, the Guardian can disclose.

According to leaked US embassy dispatches, David Miliband, who was Britain’s foreign secretary under Labour, approved the use of a loophole to manoeuvre around the ban and allow the US to keep the munitions on British territory.

Unlike Britain, the US had refused to sign up to an international convention that bans the weapons because of the widespread injury they cause to civilians.

The US military asserted that cluster bombs were “legitimate weapons that provide a vital military capability” and wanted to carry on using British bases regardless of the ban.

Whitehall officials proposed that a specially created loophole to grant the US a free hand should be concealed from parliament in case it “complicated or muddied” the MPs’ debate.

Gordon Brown, as prime minister, had swung his political weight in 2008 behind the treaty to ban the use and stockpiling of cluster bombs. Britain therefore signed it, contrary to earlier assurances made by British officials to their US counterparts.

The US had stockpiles of cluster munitions at bases on British soil and intended to keep them, regardless of the treaty.

When the bill to ratify the treaty was going through parliament this year, the then Labour foreign ministers Glenys Kinnock and Chris Bryant repeatedly proclaimed that US cluster munition arsenals would be removed from British territory by the declared deadline of 2013.

But a different picture emerges from a confidential account of a meeting between UK and US officials in May last year.

It shows that the two governments concocted the “concept” of allowing US forces to store their cluster weapons as “temporary exceptions” and on a “case-by-case” basis for specific military operations.

Foreign Office officials “confirmed that the concept was accepted at highest levels of the government, as that idea had been included in the draft letter from minister [David] Miliband to secretary [of state Hillary] Clinton”.

US cluster munitions are permanently stored on ships off the coast of the Diego Garcia airbase in the Indian Ocean, the cables reveal. The base is crucial for US military missions in the Middle East. Diego Garcia, still deemed British territory, has been occupied by the US military since its inhabitants were expelled in the 1960s and 1970s. The British concept of a “temporary exception” to oblige the US does not appear to be envisaged in the treaty. But the British arranged that “any movement of cluster munitions from ships at Diego Garcia to planes there, temporary transit, or use from British territory … would require the temporary exception”.

Nicholas Pickard, head of the Foreign Office’s security policy unit, is quoted as saying: “It would be better for the US government and HMG [the British government] not to reach final agreement on this temporary agreement understanding until after the [treaty] ratification process is completed in parliament, so that they can tell parliamentarians that they have requested the US government to remove its cluster munitions by 2013, without complicating/muddying the debate by having to indicate that this request is open to exceptions.”

Lady Kinnock subsequently promised parliament that there would be no “permanent stockpiles of cluster munitions on UK territory” after the treaty as the US had decided it no longer needed them on British soil.

There is no suggestion that Kinnock or Bryant were aware of a plan to mislead parliament.

23rd November, The Independent, Mauritius, reported:

The British government, which had up till now abstained from commenting on Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam’s criticism on the excision of the Chagos Archipelago and the deportation of the Chagossians at a memorial service on November 3, has finally broken its silence in support of the policy adopted by the coalition government. Ewan Ormiston (deputy High Commissioner to Mauritius) said that the British authorities unreservedly contest the lawsuit filed by the Groupe Réfugiés Chagos in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

‘Our policy is clear,’ said Ormiston. Speaking on the proposed creation of a marine park in the Chagossian waters, he said, ‘It is an ambitious project that aims to protect this part of the Indian Ocean which provide a safe refuge for its rich marine life’
When asked if the American defence, as announced in the British press, has exerted pressure on the British government to act fast with this project, Ormiston categorically denied it. ‘The United States did not pressurise the UK government into setting up the marine protected area (MPA)’, he said.

Dec 3rd ReutersMauritius plans to summon Britain’s top diplomat in the country (High Commissioner Nick Leake) after a leaked U.S. cable suggested a new marine park around the disputed Chagos islands was a ploy to stop uprooted islanders returning home.
Mauritius’ Foreign Affairs Minister Arvin Boolell was quoted in local newspapers on Friday as saying the classified document confirmed his government’s belief that the protected area was in fact a smoke-screen.
“We are going to formally convene the British High Commissioner next week … to listen to his explanations,” Boolell was quoted as saying.

4th November Noor Adam Essack had an article News on Sunday, Mauritius about a young student.

Sandrina Thondoo belongs to the younger generation of Mauritians who are keen to do something useful. Quiet by disposition, she becomes quite animated when asked about her studies and how she now sees Mauritius after a long absence.
She left Mauritius to pursue her studies in Switzerland. ‘I did a law degree at the University of Fribourg and I am now working on the final stages of a Masters thesis about young Chagossians at the Institute of Kurt Bosch.’She had no difficulty in choosing her topic because of her interest in the people of the Chagos Archipelago. What she set out to do is to look at the problems of young Chagossians from the angle of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. This entails
examining critically the extent to which Mauritius and the United Kingdom, as signatories of the Convention, fail to honour their legal obligations towards young Chagossians.
‘For the time being, I have weekly meetings with young Chagossians who are willing to participate in my research work. I meet them on Saturdays at the Chagos Refugee Centre in Pointe aux Sables.’

NEWS FROM CRAWLEY:

Ifield Community College Choir, December 4th working on a project with the BBC for broadcast in January.

We had been inundated with snow and I was wondering on the Friday if it would go ahead. I went into school (which was closed) to judge the situation and was on the verge of cancelling…until a group of the Chagossian drummers appeared out of the snow to rehearse! They had remembered since Tuesday, when we were last in school and came even though the school was shut.

Anyway that encouraged me to steam ahead and we put the piece of music together on Saturday.

In the piece, our school choir sings with four of the BBC Singers. The piece starts with a Sega rhythm played by the drummers, and a section of a song in Creole about leaving the Chagos islands. This is sung by a group of 5 Chagossian boys. The Mozart Lacrimosa emerges from this with the Sega rhythm continuing throughout. The Chagossian song re-emerges later in the piece, alongside a descant line from a song by Evanescence (also based on the Mozart Requiem). It’s quite something!

Amanda Boyle is producing a feature about it, and became quite fascinated. She interviewed ten of the Chagossians about music, identity, culture and other deep issues the previous week. A few of the students have been hesitant and shy about speaking English in the past, but this brought lots of interesting thoughts and feelings out of them. One lad, who speaks very little normally, was asked what music meant to him. He immediately said…”Music is freedom”.

Anyway this was going to be a 3 minute performance on the radio, but its now becoming a 6-8 minute mini-feature (in a season of programmes about Mozart). Amanda is pushing for more time as she says she’s got enough material to make an hour long programme. Patrick Allen.

Feedback

We welcome your ideas, thoughts, and opinions. All recent correspondence has been reaction to the WikiLeaks exposure of the FCO’s machinations and duplicity.

One supporter added that she would now be buying many of her Christmas presents from Lush as they had kindly made a donation towards training young Chagossians in Mauritius. Good idea.

Annual General Meeting will be held at 1.00pm on 20/02/11 in London. Agenda etc. in next Update.

This is not a recent item but, as we approach the end of the year, it is a time for reflection and remembering. From the CRG website: It is with deep sorrow and pain that the Chagos Refugees Group announces the passing away of Marie Elphezia Véronique on 1st June 2010 at the age of 94.
A native of Diego Garcia, she was among the first Chagossians who were forcibly removed from their homeland in the late 1960s. Marie Elphezia Veronique was at the forefront of the early Ilois struggle, together with Charlesia, Lisette Talate and others, when the first protest movements flared up in the streets of Port Louis. She was among the Ilois women who went on the longest hunger strike in the history of modern Mauritius to protest against the plight of the Chagossians and to claim their right to go back to the Chagos.
Olivier Bancoult still recalls how Tantine Phezia, as she was affectionately called, came forward to share her rich experience with him and guide his first steps on the long road of the Chagossian struggle. ‘She will continue to live in our hearts and be our source of inspiration, says Olivier. Her courage and determination will guide us and inspire our struggle.’