In a diplomatic blow to Britain, the United Nations
voted on Thursday to ask the International
Court of Justice to rule on the fate of the British-ruled Chagos islands, which host an important military base.
The Indian Ocean archipelago has been at the center of a decades-long dispute over Britain's decision to separate it from Mauritius
in 1965 and set up a joint military base
with the US on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands.
General Assembly adopted a resolution presented by Mauritius
and backed by African countries asking the ICJ
to offer an opinion on the island chain's fate.
The measure was approved by a vote of 94-15 with 65 abstentions, notably from many European countries including Germany and France.
The vote was seen as a test of Britain's ability to rally support at the United Nations
from fellow Europeans after it voted to leave the European Union.
and the United States had strongly appealed to the 193-nation assembly to vote against the measure, arguing that it was a bilateral dispute.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft argued that the General Assembly should not intervene in a bilateral dispute that London was seeking to address through negotiations.
"How many other bilateral disputes left over from history could be brought before the General Assembly in this way?" asked Rycroft.
"The present draft resolution could set a precedent that many of you in this hall could come to regret."
Russia and China abstained, refusing to back Britain
at the General Assembly. Most EU countries also opted for an abstention, except for Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania and Montenegro.
The resolution asks the ICJ
to "render an advisory opinion" on Britain's decision to separate the Chagos from Mauritius
and rule on the resettlement of Chagossians to make way for the military base.
The ICJ's opinion would be non-binding, but it would lend support to a campaign by Mauritius
for the return of the Chagos Islands.
Mauritian Defence Minister Anerood Jugnauth told the UN
assembly that bilateral talks with Britain
had failed and that his country's sovereignty over the islands would not threaten the status of the Diego Garcia
was used by the US Central Intelligence Agency as an interrogation center for terror suspects from Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"More than five decades have passed, and now is the time to act," said the defense minister.
Jugnauth accused Britain
of working to block international
action, saying "Chagossians were cynically refered to as 'Tarzans' and 'Men Fridays' to avoid the scrutiny by the United Nations.
argues that it was illegal for Britain
to break up its territory while the Indian Ocean country was under British colonial rule. Mauritius
won independence in 1968.
rejects Mauritius's sovereignty claim over the Chagos Islands, but has said it will return the archipelago to Mauritius
when the military base
is no longer needed, without specifying a possible date.
and African countries voted in favor of the resolution.