The International Court of Justice on Monday dismissed the UK's right to govern the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean and called on its government to withdraw from the archipelago, a verdict viewed as a big setback to Britain's standing in the UN.
Mauritius had filed a claim in the top UN court demanding its right over the islands, an assertion which was backed by India during the legal proceedings in September last year.
In its advisory opinion, which is not legally binding, the The International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded that the archipelago had not been lawfully separated from Mauritius, a former British colony which gained independence in 1968.
The Chagos Islands, which includes the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia, has been operated as a British Indian Ocean Territory.
"The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible," ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said in a ruling in The Hague.
The ICJ ruled that the process of separating the Chagos Islands from Mauritius during decolonisation in the 1960s constituted an "unlawful detachment" and was a "wrongful act".
In its submission to the ICJ last year, Mauritius argued it was coerced into giving up the Chagos Islands, while the UK government had told the court it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.
In its submissions to the hearing last year, Indian Ambassador Venu Rajamony said the historical survey indicated that the Chagos Archipelago throughout the pre and post-colonial era had been a part of the Mauritian territory.
The ICJ ruling is expected to be referred back to the UN General Assembly, where it will be debated.
The dispute involves around 1,500 native islanders being deported so the largest island could be leased to the US for the airbase in 1971.
Many of the evicted islanders were sent to Mauritius and the Seychelles but eventually resettled in the UK. They have fought in British courts for years to win the right to return to their homes.
Welcoming the ruling, the Mauritian government said it was a "historic moment in efforts to bring colonialism to an end, and to promote human rights, self-determination and the international rule of law".
The UK Foreign Office is yet to comment on the development, which is being viewed as a big setback to Britain's standing in the UN.
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