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Archipelago ownership

UN court has ruled the British sovereignty over the Chagos Islands for unjust backing Mauritius, pushing Britain and America to return the archipelago.
'Hands off Diego Garcia,' a woman stands in front of a painted wall in Ville Noire, Mauritius.
Photo: Dmitry Chulov/Dreamstime

Copenhagen, Denmark (TP)

A UN court has ruled the Chagos Islands unlawfully occupied by the United Kingdom, BBC reported in late January 2021.

The Chagos Islands, formerly named the British Indian Ocean Territory, is an area consisting of around seven atolls and 1000 islands located in the Indian Ocean between Africa and Indonesia. The island of Diego Garcia is the only spot with present habitants and houses an American military base.

The maritime law tribunal of the United Nations has criticized London for failing to hand the territory back to Mauritius.

It confirms an earlier ruling by the International Court of Justice in 2019 and a vote in the UN General Assembly reaching the same conclusion.

‘The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the BIOT and the UK does not recognise its claim,’ Christopher Pincher spokesperson for the British foreign Office responded to the ruling.

The Chagos Islands are located in a strategic area that gives the US an opportunity to counter the potential expansion of Chinese military power in the Indian Ocean. During the 1960s the US landed a secret deal with the UK to implement and American military airbase in Diego Garcia.

‘The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the BIOT and the UK does not recognise its claim’

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Christopher Pincher

Spokesperson for the British foreign Office

The UK removed thousands of Chagossians from their homes in Diego Garcia and sent them to Mauritius between 1968 and 1974, writes the BBC. Once included in same colonial administration with Mauritius under British rule, the Chagos Islands were separated and bought exclusively to the UK in 1965 in a deal that secured Mauritius’ independence in 1968.

International dispute

Amidst growing pressure from the international society, the UK does not seem willing to hand control over the Chagos Archipelago anytime soon, despite repeatedly promising to let Mauritius take charge once the territory is no longer needed for defence purposes.

‘They are hypocrites. Shame on them when they talk about human rights and respect’

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Pravind Jugnauth

Prime Minister of Mauritius

But keeping the defence would not be a problem for Mauritius, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said in January.

‘The end of UK administration has no implications for the US military base at Diego Garcia, which Mauritius is committed to maintaining.’

The verdict is without questioning. Mr. Jugnauth urges the UK to submit under the UN ruling.

‘The judgement… is clear and unequivocal. Mauritius is sovereign over the Chagos Archipelago,’ he told the BBC.

Already back in 2019 when the UN court first ruled the UK to end its control over the Chagos Islands, Mr. Jugnauth shot fire, when he called out the UK and US for lecturing countries to ‘respect human rights’ without doing much effort in Mauritius’ case.

‘They are hypocrites. Shame on them when they talk about human rights and respect,’ he said in front of a crowd consisting of Chagossians and their descendants in the Mauritian capital, Port Louis.

In February 2019 The International Court of Justice advised that the Chagos Islands should be handed to Mauritius to complete the country’s decolonisation.

The British government has already admitted their fault in the treatment towards Chagossians who were forcibly evicted from Diego Garcia in the 1960s.

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The Postcolonial | Copenhagen | CVR: 41032421

Lasse Sørensen (Founding Editor-In-Chief)

Suvi Loponen (Deputy Editor)