International Court of Justice tells UK to give Chagos Islands back to Mauritius

A Chagos Islander demands their identity be given back.
Support us and go ad-free

On 25 February, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected the UK’s claim over the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands. The court found that the UK’s separation of the islands from Mauritius during the 1960s was “unlawful detachment” and a “wrongful act”. The UK must now return the islands to Mauritius “as rapidly as possible”.

Though advisory, the judgement brings the Chagos Islanders a significant step closer to returning home.

Britain’s not-so-noble empire

The British empire, so the myth goes, ended well over half a century ago. Clement Attlee, for example, claimed in 1960 that there was “only one empire where… the ruling people has voluntarily surrendered” its power, giving people their “freedom”.

But for the Chagos Islanders, nothing could be further from the truth. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as journalist John Pilger reported:

the British Government of Harold Wilson expelled the entire population of the Chagos Islands, a British crown colony in the Indian Ocean, to make way for an American military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island. In high secrecy, the Americans offered a discounted Polaris nuclear submarine as payment for use of the islands.

Since then, the Chagos Islands have remained a British territory. The Chagos Islanders, meanwhile, have fought tirelessly for their right to return home.

Their interests, however, collide with those of the US military. As The Canary reported in 2018:

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

According to a confidential US State Department letter to the UK Foreign Office, allowing the Chagos Islanders to return “would significantly downgrade the strategic importance of a vital military asset unique in the region”. US bombers, for instance, used Diego Garcia to attack Iraq and Afghanistan. The airbase also functioned as a CIA black-site, upon which US secret services detained “high-value suspects” with the “full cooperation” of the UK government. The US, moreover, plans to expand the base.

Diego Garcia, known as “Camp Justice” by the US, is therefore a site of converging imperialist tragedies.

Jeremy Corbyn

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been, in his own words, “a passionate advocate for the Chagos islanders for a very long time”. He said:

They have suffered for so long and fought so valiantly for their human right to live where they were born and grew up.

The UK government has not only dispossessed the Chagos Islanders of their homeland, though. In 2018, the UK Home Office threatened “to deport grandchildren of evicted Chagossians” within the context of PM Theresa May’s ‘hostile environmentpolicy.

The ICJ’s latest judgement suggests that Corbyn is on the right side of history – again.

A step towards justice

While the Chagos Islanders’ battle is far from over, the ICJ’s judgement presents a significant step towards justice. And the UK’s likely refusal to observe its decision will only bring further shame to an already appalling chapter in British history.

Featured image via David Holt

Support us and go ad-free

Get involved

  •  Follow the Chagos Heritage Project.
  •  Write to your MP regarding the Chagos Islanders’ right to return home.

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us