Officials from the island nation of Mauritius began to plead their case against Great Britain on Monday before the International Court of Justice. The claim is that the UK pressured them into trading land for independence.
This is not a new claim. The land under dispute is the Chagos archipelago, also known as British Indian Ocean Territory. Following the negotiation in 1965, the UK declared ownership of the Chagos islands and forcibly evicted all residents. Many of those residents and their families eventually resettled in the UK, and once there initiated legal proceedings to reclaim their family lands.
The UK court cases have continued, and have been joined by the lawsuit from Mauritius in the ICJ. If the ICJ finds for Mauritius, they do not have the authority to change ownership, only to offer an advisory opinion. An advisory opinion, though, coming from the highest court of the United Nations, is often given the weight of settled law by UN member nations.
At issue for the United States is the Diego Garcia Base, the largest overseas US air base. It is located on the Chagos Islands and was built in 1966, after the UK leased the islands to the United States. Should the Mauritius government win its legal challenge and decide to honor their pledges to the Chagos natives, the base would likely need to be abandoned.
The Diego Garcia base is secretive and has been the subject of various rumors, most of which are unsubstantiated and often farcical. Per the Huffington Post, that has been admitted is that it played a direct role in the rendition of prisoners; what the extent of that role was remains undisclosed, but it does establish that the base is useful to the CIA. This is in keeping with what is publicly admitted about the base, in its mission statement.
MISSION: U.S. Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia’s mission is to provide critical support to U.S. and allied forces forward deployed to the Indian Ocean, while supporting multi-theater forces operating in the CENTCOM, AFRICOM, EUCOM, and PACOM areas of responsibilities in support of overseas contingency operations.US Navy
As the base is a key point for transport and operations in the Indian Ocean, where the majority of the US military operations have occurred over the past thirty-five years, the findings of the court are of particular interest to the United States.
Representatives from twenty countries will be speaking before the court during the hearing. Three: the UK, the US, and Australia, will press for continued bilateral negotiations between the UK and Mauritius. The others will ask that the court find in favor of the small country.