116-6 UN vote a diplomatic win for Chagossians, stinging defeat for Britain
The vote was in support of a motion setting a six-month deadline for Britain to withdraw from the Chagos island chain. (Pierre Prosper)
(Seychelles News Agency) - In an overwhelming vote in favour of the rights Chagossians, the U.N. General Assembly voted 116-6 to condemn Britain's occupation of the Chagos islands, a stinging diplomatic defeat for the U.K.
The vote was in support of a motion setting a six-month deadline for Britain to withdraw from the Chagos island chain and for the islands to be reunified with neighbouring Mauritius, according to the Guardian newspaper. However, British diplomats said the non-binding resolution would have little practical impact.
The U.K. and the United States, which uses one of the islands as a military base, Diego Garcia, fought furiously to prevent such a political rebuke. However, the best the two powers could do was to persuade 56 member states to abstain from voting.
This victory for the Chagossians, though only on paper, comes after 50 years of struggles for the Islanders to return to their home. The battles taking place in the UK courts and the International Court of The Hague has taken so long that some islanders have died without being able to return to their islands after a forceful eviction.
Pierre Prosper, chair of the Chagossians group in Seychelles, said the fight of the islanders to reclaim their home is not totally over.
"While we see the Mauritian Government's UNGA win as a potential positive development for Chagossians as the UK Government had always maintained negative positions towards us ... we are however are very wary of the sincerity of the Mauritian Government's claim to meet the Chagossian aspirations. The Mauritian Government had never promoted or supported the welfare of the Chagossians, especially for those in Mauritius,” Prosper said.
The chairperson added that this is a sad and dangerous precedence. “In that line, the local Chagossians Committee will initiate discussions with the Mauritian government, hopefully with the support of the Seychelles government.”
According to Prosper the Chagossians will now ask for a "Self-Governing Territory" governed by Chagossians under the Mauritian flag.
“Our own government, own legislation, own budget and own border control. The Chagos islands should be a " Protectorate". Mauritian citizens by default may settle and carry out businesses, but with the permission of the "Chagossian Regional Government".
The group said that they will also ask that the Mauritian government recognises Chagossians as an indigenous group.
“We do not want to be integrated within the Mauritian society as a generic Mauritian citizen with no special rights. We hope all Chagossians understand and support this position especially those in Mauritius,” said Prosper.
In addition, Prosper said that “we will further ask the Mauritian government, in their negotiations with the UK, to talk about fair compensation for all Chagossians and especially for those disposed in Seychelles, that never received any form of compensation.”
“Finally, we would still like to leave the door open for talks with the UK Government directly, for a change in attitude toward Chagossians.”
The Guardian also reported: In London, the Foreign Office stressed the importance of the partnership with the US over the Diego Garcia military base. “The joint UK-US defence facility on the British Indian Ocean Territory helps to keep people in Britain and around the world safe from terrorism, organised crime and piracy,” a spokeswoman said.
“As the US government has made clear, the status of BIOT as a UK territory is essential to the value of the joint facility and our shared interests – an arrangement that cannot be replicated.”
The vote in the UN General Assembly endorsed an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February, calling on the UK to relinquish its hold on the territory in order to complete the process of decolonisation.