Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Give Back the Chagos Islands

The United Nations general assembly has overwhelmingly backed a motion condemning Britain’s occupation of the remote Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. The 116-6 vote left the UK diplomatically isolated. The USA, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives backed the UK in the vote and 56 countries abstained, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland and Romania. Other European allies including Austria, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland voted for the UK to relinquish sovereignty.

British diplomats said the non-binding resolution would have little practical impact. But it has taken a political toll, draining support for the UK in the general assembly.

Mauritius says it was forced to give up the Indian Ocean group - now a British overseas territory - in 1965 in exchange for independence. Britain purchased the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 for £3m, creating a region known as the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Between 1967 and 1973, it evicted the islands' entire population to make way for a joint military base with the US, which is still in place on Diego Garcia. US planes have been sent from the base to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq. The facility was also reportedly used as a "black site" by the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects. In 2016, the lease for the base was extended until 2036. Mauritian Prime Minister Pravid Kumar Jug-Nauth told the General Assembly Mauritius would allow the military base to continue operating "in accordance with international law", if it were given control of the islands. Jug-Nauth said this would give the facility a "higher degree of legal certainty" for the future.
However, he said the forcible eviction of Chagossians was akin to a crime against humanity.

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