The African Union has called on Britain to withdraw from the Chagos Islands after a UN deadline for it to do so expired, saying London’s refusal to give up control of the overseas territory was a violation of international law.
In May, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a motion condemning Britain’s occupation of the Chagos islands, a remote archipelago in the Indian Ocean that includes the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia, and demanding that it to be reunified with Mauritius.
The UN vote set a six-month deadline for UK withdrawal which expired on Nov. 22.
Britain separated the Chagos Islands from the rest of its Indian Ocean colony three years before Mauritius was granted independence. The government of Mauritius claims the move violated UN Resolution 1514, passed in 1960, which prevented colonizers from splitting up the colonies before giving them independence.
The British government deported most of the 1,500 islanders from Chagos before it leased the largest island of the archipelago, Diego Garcia, to the United States for a strategic airbase.
The African Union has urged Britain to comply with the UN resolution and end its “continued colonial administration” there.
Britain does not recognize Mauritius’ sovereignty claim.
“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,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement on Nov. 5.
In 2017, some 94 countries supported a Mauritian-backed resolution in the UN General Assembly to seek an opinion from the international court of justice (ICJ) on the legal status of the archipelago.
An advisory opinion by ICJ, at The Hague, found the islands had been illegally severed from Mauritius in the 1960s. The president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, urged the UK and other member states to “complete the decolonization of Mauritius”.
The UK regards neither the ICJ judgment nor the UN motion as binding.
On Friday, around 200 protesters gathered outside the British High Commission in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, demanding Britain cede the Chagos Islands to Mauritius.
“This peaceful demonstration is intended to show the discontent of Mauritians at Britain’s refusal to respect the United Nations resolution… giving her six months to end the illegal occupation of Chagos,” said Olivier Bancoult, who was born on one of the islands of the archipelago and is leader of the Chagossian Refugee Group.
The protesters said they were considering options for filing a case against Britain at the International Criminal Court.
“We have to look at different avenues given that the UK is not complying with the decision of the United Nations,” Bancoult said.
Diego Garcia, the largest island in the archipelago, is now a strategically important US military base used by American bombers on long-range missions.
In 2016, Britain renewed a lease agreement with the United States for the use of Diego Garcia until 2036.
Mauritius Prime Minister, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, said in parliament on Thursday that Mauritius will continue to allow the United States to operate the base even if it resumed control over the islands.
“Mauritius has stated on various occasions that it fully recognizes the importance of the military base in Diego Garcia and will take no action that will impede its continued operation,” he said.
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