In brief

UK insists on keeping control over Chagos Islands against International Court of Justice’s opinion

Mauritius government, opposition Labour leader blame May for ignoring rights of Chagos Islanders, obstructing decolonization of Indian Ocean archipelago

Una protesta d'illencs de Chagos al Regne Unit demanant el dret de retorn.
Una protesta d'illencs de Chagos al Regne Unit demanant el dret de retorn. Author: UK Chagos Support Association
The government of the Republic of Mauritius and UK opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blamed the government of prime minister Theresa May for ignoring a decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) urging the UK to decolonize the Indian Ocean’s Chagos archipelago. Criticism comes after Foreign Office Minister of State Alan Duncan insisted that the British administration will continue over Chagos for the time being.

A non-binding opinion issued by the ICJ in February 2019 concluded that the United Kingdom did not legally complete the decolonization of Mauritius in 1968 as the European country retained the Chagos Islands, a part of the territory of its former colony, under its rule. Therefore, the ICJ said that the UK should transfer control over the Chagos archipelago —where the British government currently leases the highly strategic military base of Diego Garcia to the United States— to the Republic of Mauritius. Duncan says that the UK “does not recognize” Mauritius’ “claim” to Chagos, but that “sovereignty of the territory to Mauritius” will be ceded “when it is no longer required for defence purposes”.

The Mauritian government said it is “deeply disappointed” by Duncan’s statement, which is “an affront to laws, to the African continent and to the United Nations,” and added that the decision “will prevent” Chagos Islanders —who were expelled from the archipelago when the military base of Diego Garcia was built half a century ago— from being able to return to their homes.

In the UK, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed a letter to prime minister May in which he voices his “concern” that the British government “appears ready to disregard international law and ignore a ruling of the international court and the right of the Chagossians to return to their homes.”

Still, it must be noted that among the Chagossian exile different approaches exist on the issue. Some argue that the archipelago should be transferred to Mauritius so that Chagossians could go back there, while others believe that the right to return could be already implemented under continued UK sovereignty.