UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to demand that Britain end its “colonial administration” of the Chagos Islands, which include the U.S. air base on Diego Garcia, and return them to Mauritius within six months.
The 193-member world body approved a resolution supporting an advisory opinion in February by the International Court of Justice that the Indian Ocean island chain be given back to Mauritius. The vote was 116-6 in favor, with 56 abstentions.
The General Assembly resolution, like the court’s ruling, is not legally binding but it does carry weight since the ruling came from the U.N.’s highest court and the assembly vote reflects world opinion.
The court said in its opinion that Britain had unlawfully carved up Mauritius, which the Chagos Archipelago was a part of, in 1965 when Mauritius was a British colony. It said that “the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.”
Britain disputes that the islands, which it calls the British Indian Ocean Territory, were ever a colony.
Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Karen Pierce, told the assembly: “British Indian Ocean Territory has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over it and we do not recognize their claim.”
Pierce expressed disappointment at the General Assembly vote, which saw only the U.S., Australia, Hungary, Israel and the Maldives support Britain.She said the islands remain under British sovereignty, “and it is not in our plan to give the islands to Mauritius.”
Pierce said the United Kingdom stands by the 1965 agreement with the Mauritian Council of Ministers to detach the British Indian Ocean Territory in exchange for fishing rights and other benefits and a commitment “to cede the territory when it is no longer needed for defense purposes.”
She stressed the importance of the U.S. and U.K defense facility on Diego Garcia to the safety and security of allies and friends, including Mauritius, in the region and beyond in the current “dangerous and uncertain” world.
“It is vital to efforts to combat conflict, terrorism, drugs, crime and piracy,” Pierce said.
Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Juqnauth told the assembly the court’s landmark opinion “confirms the longstanding position of Mauritius and Africa that the decolonization of Mauritius ... will not be completed until Mauritius is able to exercise sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago.” — (AP)