ICJ Asks Britain To Give Up Illegal Possession Of Chagos Islands

International Court of Justice has asked Britain to give up control of the Chagos Islands which serve as the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia.  Britain’s control of Chagos Islands – the remote Indian Ocean archipelago is illegal, said the UN’s highest court in an advisory opinion.

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In 1968, Britain retained ownership of the Chagos archipelago which serves as the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia by paying Mauritius approximately £4m for the islands.

The United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that British control of the remote Indian Ocean archipelago is illegal. The UK has been ordered to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius “as rapidly as possible”. The president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said: “the detachment of the Chagos archipelago in 1965 from Mauritius had not been based on a free and genuine expression of the people concerned”.

During the discussions on requesting an ICJ advisory opinion, Mauritius in the UN General Assembly said:  “Mauritius is committed to the continued operation of the base in Diego Garcia under a long-term framework, which Mauritius stands ready to enter into with the parties concerned.”

The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “This is an advisory opinion, not a judgment. Of course, we will look at the detail of it carefully. The defence facilities on British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy”.

In his statement, the judge also noted:” the original agreement had not allowed for third-party involvement in the territory. The base’s construction led to the displacement of some 1,500 people, who have been unable to return to the islands”.

While welcoming the ICJ’s advisory opinion, the U.K. Chagos Support Association – an advocacy group – said: “The question of sovereignty has no bearing on the right of return or for the imperative for both the U.K. and Mauritius to treat Chagossians with the rights and respect that they deserve. That includes proper compensation and access to British citizenship. All must acknowledge the right to self-determination of the Chagos Islanders and any decisions about the future of the Chagos Islands must be made by those who once inhabited them and their descendants.”

India has also extended its support to Mauritius in its case, with India’s Ambassador to the Hague Venu Rajamony informed the court saying, “Regarding the process of decolonisation of Mauritius, it remains incomplete both technically and in substance as long as the Chagos Archipelago continues to be under the colonial control”. Britain says that the islands will be returned to Mauritius when they are no longer needed for defence purposes.

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