UN General Assembly demands an end to British administration in the Chagos

African and the Non-aligned countries, except Maldives, unitedly backed Mauritius’ claim for sovereignty over the Chagos. Australia, Hungary, Israel, Maldives, United Kingdom, and United States voted against the resolution.

May 28, 2019 by Muhammed Shabeer
Chagos Archipelago

On May 22, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution, demanding an end to Britain’s “colonial administration” of the Chagos Islands, which include the United States air base on Diego Garcia. The resolution demanded the return of these islands to Mauritius within six months.

The resolution follows the the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the Indian Ocean island chain should be given back to Mauritius, which claims sovereignty over it. The General Assembly had discussed the advisory opinion on February 25 and decided to vote on it. 116 countries voted for the advisory opinion, six voted against and 56 abstained from voting. The African Union and the Non-Aligned Movement, except the Maldives, expressed unanimous support for Mauritius. Australia, Hungary, Israel, Maldives, United Kingdom, and United States voted against the resolution.

Even though the General Assembly vote is not considered as binding as UN Security Council resolutions, it is still a historic mandate against the UK and a positive sign for the people of Chagos and Mauritius.

According to an unofficial UN press note, the General Assembly came to the opinion that the decolonization of Mauritius was not conducted in a manner consistent with the right to self-determination. The Assembly affirmed that the continued administration of the archipelago by the UK constitutes a wrongful act. It urged the UK to cooperate with Mauritius and facilitate the resettlement of Mauritian nationals, including those of Chagossian origin, in the Chagos Archipelago.

Pravind Jugnauth, the prime minister of Mauritius, said that the ICJ’s landmark opinion confirmed the long-standing position of Mauritius and Africa that decolonization has not been completed. It also found, he added, that all States must cooperate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization process, which will be reached when Mauritius can exercise sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago.

UK Chagos Support Association vice-chair Stefan Donnelly said, “This could be a very significant day in the history of Chagossians. But only if it leads to a better future than the grim past recollected by brave Chagossians during the ICJ trial.”

“All nations involved in this long process need to commit that their number one priority must be supporting justice for Chagossians forced to live in exile for decades. That means the restoration of Chagossians to live in their homeland, and proper compensation for the years of neglect in exile. Recognizing Chagossians must be at the center of any decisions made about the future of their homeland is also absolutely vital,” he said.

In 1965, the UK had coaxed Mauritius to sell the Chagos Islands to them for a meager compensation, and later leased it to the US to set up a military base until 2036. According to estimates, around 1,500 to 2,000 Chagossians were evicted from the Diego Garcia island to Mauritius by the British when they leased it to the US. Since then, the Chagossians remain dispersed in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Mauritius and Seychelles, and are not allowed to return to the Chagos archipelago.

Mauritius initiated proceedings against the UK’s authority over the Chagos on December 20, 2010, after the UK enforced a Marine Protected Area around it on November 1 that year. Mauritius invoked the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to challenge the legality of the ‘marine protected area’.

On March 18, 2015, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that the Chagos Marine Protected Area was illegal. Later, in 2017, Mauritius approached the United Nations, and an advisory opinion of the ICJ was requested by the resolution 71/292, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on June 22, 2017. Mauritius was supported by 94 countries in the UN to consult the ICJ regarding the UK’s authority of the Chagos archipelago.