The highest court of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ruled that the UK must return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius “as rapidly as possible,” calling the occupation of the Indian Ocean archipelago illegal.
The archipelago sits in the middle of the Indian Ocean in an optimally strategic location for naval and military occupation. Of all of the British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT), Diego Garcia is the only inhabited island and is the home of a massive US military base.
Diego Garcia and the other BIOT Islands were previously dependent territories of the British colony of Mauritius. The islands were separated from Mauritius in 1965, three years before its decolonization in 1968 and Britain usurped the archipelago island territories. It has taken over 50 years for the British power grab to be deemed illegal under international law. The ICJ ruled that the UK must return the BIOT islands to Mauritius since they were not legally separated in 1965. The ruling is not legally binding and it is unknown if the land will ever be returned to the displaced Chagossians and their descendants.
The British government with US aid began forcibly removing Chagossians in 1968, gassing their pets and expelling the population to make way for an American military base on Diego Garcia. The depopulation of the archipelago was completed within 10 years and Diego Garcia, a former island paradise, became home to a massive US military base. For a half a century, the base has been vital for the US military.
The decision by the ICJ, being advisory and not legally binding, will be debated by the United Nations General Assembly. In the past, the expulsions have been ruled illegal, only to have the British government overturn those decisions. In 2000 and 2008 the expulsions were ruled illegal in British courts, but were repeatedly overruled.
In 2010, the British government tried to reinforce their control of the archipelago by establishing a marine nature reserve around the Chagos Islands. The plan was exposed by WikiLeaks, when they published a US embassy diplomatic cable from 2009 that read, “advocates of Chagossian resettlement continue to vigorously press their case, [Colin] Roberts opined that the UK’s “environmental lobby is far more powerful than the Chagossians’ advocates”…“Establishing a marine reserve might indeed, as the FCO’s Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or descendants from resettling.”