10:44, February 25 193 0 theguardian.com

2019-02-25 10:44:05
UN court rejects UK claim to sovereignty over Chagos Islands

The UK’s claim to sovereignty over the remote Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean has been ruled to be illegal by the United Nation’s highest court.

Although the majority decision by the international court of justice in The Hague is only advisory, the judges’ announcement is a further, severe blow to Britain’s prestige on the world stage.

The case was referred to the court, which hears rival legal submissions over international boundaries, after an overwhelming vote in 2017 in the United Nations assembly in the face of fierce opposition from a largely isolated UK.

Delivering the lengthy judgment, 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”.

He added: “The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible.”

The UK retained possession of the Chagos archipelago, which includes the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia, after Mauritius gained its independence in 1968.

The UK government refers to it as British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT. About 1,500 native islanders were deported so that the largest island could be leased to the US for the airbase in 1971. They have never been allowed to return home.

In its submission to the ICJ last year, Mauritius argued it was coerced into giving up a large swath of its territory, the Chagos Islands. That separation was in breach of UN resolution 1514, passed in 1960, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies before independence, lawyers for Mauritius said.

The UK government had told the court it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. The ruling is expected to be referred back to the UN general assembly, where it will be debated.

The assembly vote in 2017, in the wake of the Brexit referendum, showed that the UK’s international influence was on the wane, with many EU countries failing to support a fellow member state and even traditional allies such as Canada abstaining.

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