Britain ordered by UN to return control of Chagos Islands to Mauritius

The United Nations has passed a resolution demanding the United Kingdom ends its administration of the Chagos Islands.

The General Assembly adopted a resolution based on findings by the UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Britain must hand back control of the archipelago to Mauritius within six months.

Britain forcibly evicted people from the islands, a sovereignty in the Indian Ocean disputed by the UK and Mauritius, in the 1960s and 1970s so the United States could build a military base.

On Wednesday, the UN Assembly backed by 116 votes to six a verdict by the ICJ that the UK's detachment of the islands and their incorporation into the British Indian Ocean Territory was "unlawful".

COURTS Chagos
(PA Graphics)

As well as the UK, the resolution was opposed by the United States, Australia, Hungary, Israel and the Maldives.

There were 56 abstentions, including France and Germany, from the vote, which is not legally binding but places huge diplomatic pressure on the UK.

A UN communique said: "Since the decolonisation of Mauritius was not conducted in a manner consistent with the right to self-determination, the Assembly affirmed, the continued administration of the Archipelago constitutes a wrongful act.

"It urged the United Kingdom to co-operate with Mauritius to facilitate the resettlement of Mauritian nationals, including those of Chagossian origin, in the Chagos Archipelago and to pose no impediment to such efforts."

The Foreign Office said the joint UK-US defence facility on the British Indian Ocean Territory "helps to keep people in Britain and around the world safe from terrorism, organised crime and piracy".

A spokesman said: "We have however made a longstanding commitment since 1965 to cede sovereignty of the territory to Mauritius when it is no longer required for defence purposes. We stand by that commitment."

For us, Mauritius is a friend and ally in an important part of the world.

Maintenance of the security and stability of the Indian Ocean region is vital to the maintenance of international peace and security. @KarenPierceUN | General Assembly pic.twitter.com/Tiz1wcBbch

— UK at the UN 🇬🇧 (@UKUN_NewYork) May 22, 2019

On Wednesday, Karen Pierce, the UK's ambassador to the UN, said the issue had not been for the ICJ as it was currently a "bilateral sovereignty dispute".

She also said the resolution would "set an unwelcome precedent" over sovereignty disputes "that should be of concern to member states".

Dame Karen said: "The United Kingdom regrets that the General Assembly has today voted to adopt this resolution.

"The United Kingdom fully recognises the importance of the issue of decolonisation and the UN's role in that. The United Kingdom ... sincerely regrets the manner in which Chagossians were removed from British Indian Ocean territory in the 1960s and the 1970s and we are determined to improve their lives where they have resettled."

The UK agreed a package including £3 million with Mauritius for the detachment of the archipelago in 1965.

Chagossians were forcibly removed between 1967 and 1973 to make way for a US military facility on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the group.

Mauritius, which gained independence in 1968, maintains that the islands are its own and Chagossians have also brought cases in British courts for the right to return.

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