E.U. Nations Refuse to back Britain over Sovereignty in the Indian Ocean
Britain has been forced into a hearing at the Hague over an historic territorial dispute, after scores of E.U. nations turned their backs on the U.K.
By Ross Logan
Several countries, including Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium, abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution put forward by Mauritius, asking for an advisory opinion from the International Courts of Justice on the Chagos Islands.
The U.K. maintains it has sovereignty over the archipelago, in the Indian Ocean, while islanders says the rule is illegal and are seeking decolonisation.
The resolution was ultimately carried by a vote of 94 to 15, a result skewed by the 65 abstentions.
The only E.U. nations to back Britain at the U.N. general assembly were Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Lithuania.
The decision not to vote by many E.U. countries normally considered allies will undoubtedly be seen as evidence of the deepening divide caused by Britain’s decision to quit the bloc.
However, other factors may also have been a consideration, not least the highly controversial manner with which islanders have been treated.
The Chagos Islands, which Britain refers to as the British Indian Ocean Territory, were separated from the rest of Mauritius by the U.K. in 1965.
Between 1968 and 1971, some 1,500 islanders were evicted to make way for a U.S. airbase on Diego Garcia, the largest of the seven islands.
The base was also used by the CIA for rendition purposes following the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Mauritius claims the separation of the islands form the rest of the colony was a breach of international law, and the Hague will now be asked to put forward its own, non-binding opinion on the dispute.
Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s permanent representative to the U.N., had warned the general assembly that the vote could set “a precedent that many of you in this hall could come to regret”.
Arguing that a state could only be brought before the Hague with its own consent, Mr Rycroft said:
“The resolution for an advisory opinion is an attempt by the government of Mauritius to circumvent the principle.”
He also reiterated the U.K.’s promise to return the islands to Mauritius once they were no longer required for military purposes, although a lease for the airbase does not expire until 2036.
Jagdish Koonjul the Mauritian representative to U.N., said after the vote: “I’m elated. The results are beyond my expectations.
“It’s interesting that the E.U. didn’t support the U.K. Even some of the countries that supported the U.K. agreed that this was an issue of decolonisation.
“Now we wait to see what the U.K. will do as a result of the vote.”
The U.N. vote is a blow to the U.K.’s claims of ownership over the islands, following a back and forth court battle between the government and exiled islanders.
In 2007, a group of Chagos Islanders won their right to return the home in a High Court battle where they were supported by then-Labour backbencher Jeremy Corbyn.
But that decision was overturned by House of Lords judges after an appeal by the then-Labour government.
In 2015 a U.N. tribunal found the U.K. acted illegally in the way it exercised control over the islands, both in 1965 and 2010 when it established a marine protection zone and banned fishing.