What is the Chagos Islands dispute about?

Headline : What is the Chagos Islands dispute about?

Details :

The News:

  • Mauritius has called the UK an “illegal colonial occupier” after it ignored a UN mandated deadline to return the Chagos Islands.
  • Chagos is a small archipelago (group of islands) in the Indian Ocean.

About: Chagos Islands

  • The Chagos Islands are a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual tropical islands in the Indian Ocean.
  • This chain of islands is the southernmost archipelago of the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, a long submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean.


Background of the Dispute

  • Mauritius was a British colony Mauritius was a British colony from 1810 and gained its independence in 1968.
  • In 1965, Mauritius was forced to give up the Chagos Archipelago in exchange for independence.
  • Britain purchased it and created the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), and since then, Chagos islands remained a British overseas territory.
  • In 1971, UK allowed the United States to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands and evicted the entire population from the islands.
  • Since independence of Mauritius, the sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago is disputed between the UK and Mauritius.
  • In 2017, the UN General Assembly asked the ICJ to offer its opinion on the sovereignty claim of the Chagos Islands.
  • In February 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its Advisory Opinion, ruled that the United Kingdom claim over the island as illegal and should end its control. It asked the ordered UK to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius and ruled that continued British occupation of the island is illegal.

ICJ decision however is non-binding:

  • The majority decision by the international court of justice in The Hague is non-binding and only advisory in nature.
  • However it is seen as significant as the unambiguous clarity of the judges pronouncement is a humiliating blow to Britain’s prestige on the world stage.

UNGA voted for UK to give up Chagos:

  • In May 2019, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Chagos Islands being returned – with 116 states backing the move and only six against.
  • The UN said that the decolonisation of Mauritius by Britain was not conducted “in a manner consistent with the right to self-determination” and that therefore the continued administration of the territory “constitutes a wrongful act”.


News Summary:                 

  • The UN had given the UK six months to give up control of the Chagos Islands – but that period has now passed.
  • The UK continues to insist that it does not recognise Mauritius’ claim to sovereignty, and insists it has every right to hold onto the islands – one of which, Diego Garcia, is home to a US military airbase.
  • As the six-month period came to a close at the end of November, the Mauritian Prime Minister said the UK was now an “illegal colonial occupier”.


Way ahead:

  • The deadline is not binding, so no sanctions or immediate punishment will follow – but that could change.
  • However, UN maps could start reflecting the legal fact that the UN sees this islands as belonging to Mauritius.
  • Also, Britain is going to find itself under pressure at institutions like the ICJ that it has traditionally seen as very important.
Section : International Relation