UN Call For UK To End Administration Of Chagos

March 5, 2019

“The UK is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible,” the United Nations Court has said, stating the UK’s “continued administration of the Chagos Archipelago constitutes a wrongful act.”

The Chagos Archipelago, which the UK calls the British Indian Ocean Territory, is technically an Overseas Territory like Bermuda, however the island is heavily disputed, as the entire population of Chagos Archipelago was forcibly removed from the territory by the British between 1967 and 1973, and have been prevented from returning as the UK agreed to allow the USA to use the island as a military base.

The Chagossians have maintained a campaign to try and obtain the right to return to their island, including via the United Kingdom courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and have now been granted an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and is located in The Hague.

This strong rebuke by the United Nations court of the UK’s handling of the Territory comes as the UK Foreign Affairs Committee is maintaining that their other Territories are themselves acting in a discriminatory manner by not allowing same sex marriage and UK citizens to vote.

President of the UN Court Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf delivering the Advisory Opinion. Photo courtesy of the UN/ICJ by Wendy van Bree

President of the Court, HE Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf Feb 2019

The UN’s press statement said, “By thirteen votes to one, is of the opinion that the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible,” with the one dissenting vote from the American judge on the panel.

In providing history, the UN advisory noted that the British Indian Ocean Territory [BIOT] consists of the Chagos Archipelago, and in 1966, the UK and USA made an agreement for the establishment of a military base by the United States on the Chagos Archipelago.

“Between 1967 and 1973, the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago who had left the islands were prevented from returning. The other inhabitants were forcibly removed and prevented from returning. On 16 April 1971, the BIOT Commissioner enacted an Immigration Ordinance, which made it unlawful for any person to enter or remain in the Chagos Archipelago without a permit.”

View of the ICJ courtroom as the Advisory Opinion was handed down. Photo courtesy of the UN/ICJ

View of the ICJ courtroom on 25 February 2019 (reading of the Advisory Opinion of the Court)

The ICJ notes that by “virtue of United Kingdom law” they “are not allowed to return to the archipelago” and the ICJ document [PDF] notes that, “In 2004, the United Kingdom issued two Orders in Council: the British Indian Ocean Territory [Constitution] Order 2004 and the British Indian Ocean Territory [Immigration] Order 2004. These orders declared that no person had the right of abode in the BIOT nor the right without authorization to enter and remain there.”

The official UK Government website notes that the British Indian Ocean Territory is a UK Overseas Territory which is “administered from London” and access “is only permitted to those with connections either to the military facility or to the Territory’s Administration.”

Video, courtesy of the UN, of the Court handing down the advisory:

Noting that the decision by the UN Court is only advisory, the UK’s Guardian newspaper described the ruling as “a humiliating blow to Britain’s prestige on the world stage.”

“About 1,500 native islanders were deported so the largest island could be leased to the US for the airbase in 1971. They have never been allowed to return home,” the Guardian report.

“Let us Return’, a 2015 film on the Chagos Islanders plight

“This is an issue relating to the protection of the human rights,” the advisory notes.

The British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee recently held an inquiry into they handle the British Overseas Territories and it did not appear to address the issue of the Chagos Islanders, with the only real mentions of the area in their 48-page report [PDF] was to state that “the largest continuous marine protected area in the world surrounds the Chagos Islands” and the “Ministry of Defence will spend just under £18 million on the costs of running the military facilities in the British Indian Ocean Territory.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “This is an advisory opinion, not a judgment. Of course, we will look at the detail of it carefully. The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.”

The ICJ press statement follows below [PDF here]:

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