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UK should 'rapidly' give up Chagos Islands, says ICJ

In a major diplomatic victory for Mauritius, the UN's highest court on Monday ruled that the United Kingdom (UK) should end its control of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean "as rapidly as possible".

In a statement, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said: "Court is of opinion that the UK is under obligation to bring to an end its administration of Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible and that all member states are under obligation to cooperate with UN to complete decolonisation of Mauritius."

By a majority of 13 to one, the UN's top court stated that the process of decolonisation of Mauritius was not "lawfully completed".

It is to be noted that the ICJ's advisory opinion, delivered here, is not legally binding.

In its submission to the ICJ last year, Mauritius contended that it was forced to give up the control of the Chagos Islands, located over 3,000 km off the east coast of Africa, by the UK in 1965, in exchange for independence, which it gained in 1968.

It underlined that the move was in violation of UN resolution 1514, passed in 1960, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies before independence.

The UK government considers the archipelago as a British overseas territory and deported the entire population, before inviting the US to build a strategic military airbase on Diego Garcia, one of the largest islands of the archipelago. Over 1,500 islanders were forced to vacate the area and never allowed to return.

Mauritius challenged UK's claim on the Chagos Archipelago, saying that more than 50 years after the country got its independence from the British, and the process of decolonisation had remained incomplete as a part of it is still under its control.

Mauritius had approached the UN where a resolution was adopted to seek ICJ's opinion in the matter. The ICJ has been seeking opinion from 22 countries and the African Union on this issue. India has been supporting Mauritius in its battle for sovereignty at the international foras.

Backing Mauritius in its legal battle for Chagos Islands, India told the ICJ in last September that historical facts and legal aspects confirmed that sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago has been with Mauritius.

Presenting India's position in the Oral Proceedings before the ICJ on the Request for an Advisory Opinion by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in the matter concerning "The Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965," India's Ambassador in The Netherlands, Venu Rajamony, said the historical survey of facts concerning colonisation and the process of decolonisation indicates that the Chagos Archipelago throughout the pre and post-colonial era has been part of the Mauritian territory.

He added that these islands came under the colonial administration of the UK as part of Mauritian territory.

"The understanding reached in November 1965 between Mauritius and the UK for the retention of Chagos by the UK for defence purposes and return thereof to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence purposes, is also in itself evidence that Mauritius has been and continues to be the sovereign nation for the Chagos Archipelago," Rajamony had said.

"The legal aspects should root themselves in the historical facts, behaviour of the nations concerned, and the consideration of the issue by relevant administrative and judicial institutions," he added.