UK criticised for ignoring UN deadline to return Chagos Islands to Mauritius

A group of Chagossians on a 2006 visit to Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos archipelago Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/PA

The UK has been condemned for ignoring a United Nations deadline to hand the Chagos Islands back to Mauritius.

A six-month deadline to return control of the overseas territory came and was set to pass on Friday, with the UK refusing to recognise Mauritius’s claim of sovereignty over the islands.

The UN overwhelmingly voted in May to set the six-month deadline for UK withdrawal from the Indian Ocean archipelago in a major diplomatic blow.

Jeremy Corbyn vowed to “end colonial rule” if he wins the December 12 election and accused the Conservatives of “shamefully” considering themselves above international law.

A US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress being towed past another on the flight line at Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia. Credit: Staff Sgt Mary L. Smith/PA

“It’s clear that in refusing to return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius and defying the UN General Assembly and International Court of Justice, this Conservative government shamefully considers itself to be above international law,” the Labour leader said.

“A Labour government will end colonial rule.

“We immediately will enact our manifesto promise to allow the people of the Chagos Islands and their descendants the right to return to the lands from which they should never have been removed.”

The UK evicted Chagossians from the archipelago between 1967 and 1973 so the US could erect a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the group.

That move, and the islands’ incorporation into the British Indian Ocean Territory, was ruled “unlawful” by judges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

While not legally binding, the UN vote heaped diplomatic pressure on Britain to return the territory with the General Assembly backing the resolution 116 votes to six.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

The UK purchased the archipelago from Mauritius for £3 million in 1965, when it was still a British colony.

Mauritius, which gained independence from Britain in 1968, maintains the islands are its own.

Asked for a comment, the Foreign Office pointed to a recent ministerial statement saying: “The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814.

“Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the BIOT and the UK does not recognise its claim.”