UN votes: UK must go to The Hague over Chagos

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Chagos Islanders marching in Crawley, Sussex – they demand the right to return to their home islands
Chagos Islanders marching in Crawley, Sussex – they demand the right to return to their home islands

THE UN General Assembly voted by 94 countries to 15 that Britain should go to the International Court of Justice (The Hague) over their occupation of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

The former British colony used to be part of Mauritius but was detached in 1965 and is now home to a US airforce and military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands.

Diego Garcia is infamously known for flights of ‘extra-ordinary rendition’. It is an island miles from anywhere, where suspects are taken from all over the world and interrogated using controversial methods.

The British have ‘leased’ Diego Garcia to the US free of charge until 2036. Mauritius, which gained independence from Britain in 1968, argues that the UK broke international law when it separated off the islands before granting Mauritius its independence.

Families were forced to leave the Chagos Islands in the 1960s and 1970s. They were driven from their homes, their pets killed in front of them, forced on to a boats and dumped in the slums of Mauritius. A number did not survive the boat journey.

The Chagos Islanders have been campaigning ever since for the right to return to their islands.

The Foreign Office said: ‘Sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory is clearly a matter for the UK and Mauritius to resolve ourselves. Taking this dispute to the International Court of Justice is an inappropriate use of the ICJ mechanism.’

The Foreign Office said it did not recognise Mauritius’ claim to sovereignty over the islands – but that it would return the islands when they ‘were no longer needed for defence’. ‘At present,’ the Foreign Office said, ‘it plays an important role in regional and global security, helping to keep the UK, US and other allies, including Mauritius, safe.’ In 2015, the UK Supreme Court denied a legal challenge by former islanders to return to Chagos after being removed more than 40 years ago.