The UK’s claim to sovereignty over a group of remote islands in the Indian Ocean has been ruled to be illegal.
Britain evicted about 2,000 people from the Chagos Islands during the 1960s and 1970s so the US military could build an air base.
Today, the United Nations’ highest court said control of the islands should be handed back to Mauritius, from whom it was taken in 1965.
Demonstrator demands her return to the Chagos Islands during a protest outside the Houses of Parliament (Picture: Reuters)It is being hailed a victory for those who were displaced.
The International Court of Justice said Britain carved up Mauritius illegally and must ‘bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible’.
Former Donald Trump aide sues president over claims he ‘violated’ her with surprise kissThe advisory opinion is non-binding, but carries weight from the top UN court and puts pressure on the UK to act.
Many of the islanders who were evicted during the 60s and 70s resettled in the UK and have fought British courts to return to the islands ever since.
They had been banned from ever returning.
What is the Chagos Islands dispute?
During the Cold War, the US recognised that the isloated Chagos Islands – part of British Indian Ocean Territory – were the perfect location for an Indian Ocean military base.
Britain, a key ally, was happy to cooperate, and signed a sweetheart deal that gave the US a 50-year lease on Diego Garcia, for the sum of $1 a year, along with a discount on nuclear technology.
But in 1968 Mauritius was granted its own independence from its former British rule.
To avoid the risk of the Mauritius government refusing access to the base on Diego Garcia, Britain unilaterally annexed the Chagos Islands and forcibly removed all 2000 islanders.
Mauritius has long argued that jurisdiction over the islands should be returned to them.
A turning point in the dispute was 2017 when the UN General Assembly voted on the dispute.
Britain’s two traditional European allies, France and Germany, decided to abstain and the General Assembly backed sending the case to The Hague.
At the time a spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: ‘Taking this dispute to the International Court of Justice is an inappropriate use of the ICJ mechanism.’
The US, Australia and Israel all backed the UK’s claim of sovereignty.
The United States maintains its strategic naval base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands.
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.’