A UN COURT has ruled the UK must return Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands, which it found were under illegal UK occupation and which host a major US military base on Diego Garcia, to Mauritius ‘as rapidly as possible’.
The islands were ethnically cleansed of their inhabitants under the Wilson Labour government in 1968 to make way for a major US nuclear naval base and later for a US torture centre.
The residents were shipped off to Mauritius, and to encourage them to go, their farms were burnt down, their animals slaughtered and they were sent packing with a warning that if they tried to return they would face the same fate.
The issue of who holds the sovereignty of the islands, located more than 2,000 miles off the east coast of Africa, will now be debated by the United Nations General Assembly – which referred the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) despite London’s hysterical protests.
The ICJ judgement is that: ‘The United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring an end to its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible, thereby enabling Mauritius to complete the decolonisation of its territory in a manner consistent with the right of peoples to self-determination.’
Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Centre, said: ‘Everything boils down to what Britain does. If it transfers the islands to Mauritius – and it has a history of obeying these rulings – then it’s up to Mauritius. If they say the existing agreement is no longer valid, then the US will have to renegotiate.’
In a statement following the ICJ verdict, Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth urged the UK to ‘respect’ the court’s ‘clear, precise and very strong opinion.’ A representative for the UK’s Foreign Office said in a statement that ‘this is an advisory opinion, not a judgement.’
The Chagos Islanders, with thousands living in exile in England and Mauritius, have not been consulted about the future of their islands.
They were forced out of their homes into exile while the islands were handed over ‘nominally’ to Mauritius, before being handed back to the UK in the form of the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Mauritius was a British colony from 1810 until 1968, when it achieved independence from London and became a republic. Several years before independence, the UK began talks with the US on the ‘strategic use of certain small, British-owned islands in the Indian Ocean’ for defence purposes.
The ICJ said: ‘During these talks, the United States expressed an interest in establishing a military communication facility on Diego Garcia.’
The Wilson Labour government decided that as part of the ‘decolonisation process’, as well as ‘ethnic cleansing’, the Chagos Archipelago would become a separate colony, without any people (the British Indian Ocean Territory) on which the massive US base was built.
Representatives of Mauritius agreed to the separation. Central to the work was the expulson of the entire population of the Chagos Islands a situation the UK has since admitted ‘was shameful and wrong’.
In the 1980s, the UK paid an estimated $5.2 million to more than 1,300 evicted islanders, on the condition they sign or place a thumbprint on a form renouncing their right to return to the Chagos Archipelago. This was an offer that they could not refuse.
But this offer was never accepted by the Chagossians who are now rightfully demanding their right to return to their independent Chagos homeland and that the US base be closed.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn commented yesterday that ‘over 40 years ago the Chagos Islanders were disgracefully forced from their homes by the UK government – to make way for a US military base.
‘It’s fantastic to see the (ICJ) take crucial steps to correct this injustice and uphold the right of the Chagossians to return home.’
However, it is in the UK that the real action must take place. Corbyn must now pledge that a Labour governent will return all the Islanders back to their homes, with massive compensation for their nearly 50 years of forced exile, and that the UK recognises their Independent Republic of the Chagos Islands.