The International Court of Justice, the principal court of the United Nations, announced Monday a decision that calls on the UK to end its control over the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth welcomed the decision as a “triumph for justice” and said he has expressed his hope that the British government will honor the ruling.
The court ruled in a 13-1 decision that the UK never lawfully completed the decolonization of Mauritius at the time of its independence in 1968, three years after the Chagos stopped being a part of the island nation’s territory.
“The Court considers that this detachment was not based on the free and genuine expression of the will of the people concerned,” the court said. “It takes the view that the obligations arising under international law and reflected in the resolutions adopted by the (UN) General Assembly during the process of decolonization of Mauritius require the United Kingdom, as the administering power, to respect the territorial integrity of that country, including the Chagos Archipelago.”
The residents of the Chagos islands were subsequently forced to leave. Between 1967 and 1973, the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago who had left the islands were prevented from returning, while the remaining residents were forcibly removed and prevented from returning.
“To date, the Chagossians remain dispersed in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Mauritius and Seychelles,” the court said. “By virtue of United Kingdom law and judicial decisions of that country, they are not allowed to return to the Chagos Archipelago.”
In 1966, an agreement between the UK and the United States allowed the latter to build a military base there, which the U.S. maintains on the main island of Diego Garcia. Under British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) law, unauthorized access to Diego Garcia is forbidden.
The sole dissenting vote on the UN court came from the U.S.
Image: UN ICJ, Diego Garcia U.S. Navy file