Britain routed in humiliating UN vote over islands

Britain routed in humiliating UN vote over islands

Britain faces growing pressure to give up the Chagos Islands after a humiliating defeat in a vote at the United Nations yesterday.

The UK was routed on the motion, which called for the Indian Ocean island group to be relinquished to Mauritius, with the UN General Assembly voting for it by 116 to 6 votes. European allies, including France and Germany, were among 56 states that abstained.

It was a worse result for Britain than a 2017 vote at the UN that passed a resolution for the legal status of the territory to be referredto the International Court of Justice (ICJ), marking an escalation in international disapproval.

The court ruled in February that the UK’s sovereignty over the land, known as the British IndianOcean Territory, should end “as rapidly as possible”.

Despite Britain’s isolation over the issue, any immediate change in policy is unlikely. A strategic joint US-UK military installation on Diego Garcia, the largest atoll, is at the heart of the territory’s importance to London.

The base is believed to be a listening post and was a launch pad for US B52 bombers in its Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. In 2016 the rent-free lease of the airbase was extended to 2036.

Washington had been vigorous in lobbying against the UN motion yesterday, making the rout a diplomatic blow for America too. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, made clear this month that UK sovereignty was “essential to the value of the base”.

Mauritius was supported by India and African nations, which regard the UK’s claim over the territory as a hangover from the empire. Australia and Israel supported Britain.

A general assembly motion holds less force than a security council resolution, meaning the vote will be unlikely to force the UK’s hand.

Britain took control of the archipelago in 1814 and separated the territory from Mauritius in 1965, which was a British colony until 1968. The UK went on to evict 2,000 Chagossians to Mauritius and the Seychelles to make way for the US base in 1971. The UK has made several apologies for the “shameful” way the evictions were carried out.

Karen Pierce, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN, said yesterday: “The joint UK/US defence facility on the British Indian Ocean Territory plays a vital role in our efforts to keep our allies and friends, including Mauritius, in the region, and beyond, safe and secure. It is vital to efforts to combat conflict, terrorism, drugs, crime, and piracy. It hosts seismic monitoring capabilities that support the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

”Britain rejects the finding of the ICJ, which it says contravenes the court’s principle that bilateral sovereignty disputes need the consent of both states.

 

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