On Thursday of last week (22/6/17) the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly by 94 votes to 15, with 64 abstentions, on a motion advanced by Mauritius seeking a referral to the International court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on the Chagos Islands.
One suspects that the majority of any given population in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia would have trouble identifying where the Chagos Islands might be, let alone the significance of the vote.
It was however, a vote of considerable significance and to understand why, and the identity of the 15 naysayers, a brief history is in order.
The Chagos Archipelago is located in the central Indian Ocean. It was part of the British colony of Mauritius until 1965 when it was detached from Mauritius and included in a new entity called the British Indian Ocean Territory. The British paid the colony the sum of three million pounds for the islands. The concept of a colonial power negotiating with one of its subjects to “purchase” part of its sovereign territory is fraught with issues, not the last of which is the unequal bargaining power of the two entitles. There is another significant problem that will be returned to below.
Between 1965 and 1968, when Mauritius gained its independence, the British government forcibly removed the whole of the Chagos population. They were mostly resettled in the UK and the USA. That wholesale removal of the population has been a running legal sore…