Opinion | Britain Holds On to a Colony in Africa, With America’s Help

The cause is a little-known group of 55 islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean known as the Chagos Archipelago . For 150 years they we...


The cause is a little-known group of 55 islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean known as the Chagos Archipelago. For 150 years they were part of the British colony of Mauritius. Then, in 1965, at the instigation of President Lyndon Johnson, Britain decided to separate the islands from Mauritius and, at just the time that the world was agreeing the era of colonialism was over, created a new colony, called the British Indian Ocean Territory. One of the islands, Diego Garcia, was leased to the United States for a military base.

Mauritius got its independence in 1968, but without Chagos. The entire population of the islands — about 1,800 Black people, mostly descendants of slaves who lived and worked on copra plantations there — were forcibly removed and transported to other parts of Mauritius, the Seychelles and Britain.

The episode, which the British government itself has since called “shameful,” had not been widely known — until now, as these events come back to haunt Britain and, indirectly, America.

Mauritius has long sought to get Chagos back, and its effort has been supported by numerous states — including India, the entire African continent, various governments in Latin America and Europe — and the many displaced Chagossians who never gave up on their hope to return to their homes.

Those efforts have borne fruit. In February 2019, the International Court of Justice, in The Hague, ruled that Chagos has been separated from Mauritius illegally, in violation of both the right of self-determination and the territorial integrity of Mauritius. (I represented the government in that case, and continue to in related proceedings.)

The decision, issued at the request of the U.N. General Assembly, is not legally binding on U.N. members — so, neither on Britain nor Mauritius — but it offers an authoritative statement about the law, and the U.N. itself is required to honor that. The U.N.’s official maps have been changed to show the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, as belonging to Mauritius, not Britain.

Three months after the I.C.J.’s advisory opinion, the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted for a resolution affirming that Chagos was an integral part of Mauritius and called on Britain to withdraw from the islands within six months, by November 2019. The resolution — which Britain and the United States opposed — also said that Chagossians should now be able to return to their homes.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Opinion | Britain Holds On to a Colony in Africa, With America’s Help
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