Spain was one of 116 countries that voted this week in the UN General Assembly in favour of the definitive decolonisation of the Chagos Islands and the return of this archipelago from the Indian Ocean to Mauritius.
The General Assembly approved on Wednesday, by a very large majority, a resolution calling on the United Kingdom to return the archipelago to Mauritius within six months. The approved text, which is not binding, is based on an opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of last February according to which the process of decolonization of Chagos has not been completed in accordance with international law.
The resolution was passed with 116 votes in favour (including Spain and Argentina, as well as other allies of the United Kingdom, such as Austria, Greece, Sweden, Switzerland and, significantly, Ireland), six against (United Kingdom, Australia, Hungary, Israel, Maldives and United States) and 56 abstentions (France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal or Italy, among others). The Chagos Islands, officially known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, include the island of Diego Garcia, used by the United States as a military base.
Chagos is, together with Maldives and Gibraltar (occupied by the United Kingdom since 1704 and officially a colony since 1830), one of the three overseas territories held by the United Kingdom whose sovereignty is claimed by other countries, namely Mauritius, Argentina and Gibraltar. The Chagos resolution recalls the resolution adopted by the General Assembly in December 1968, which called on the United Kingdom, as the administering power, to put an end to the colonial situation in Gibraltar by October 1969.
The Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, warned the Assembly that the cession of territory agreement was signed by persons representing only the United Kingdom and not the local population and stated that decolonization would only be complete when Chagos returned to its rightful owners. The British retained Chagos after Mauritius’ independence in 1968, but the local population had been expelled two years earlier to facilitate the construction of the US military base, an episode that even the UK has described as “shameful”.
The UK ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, warned after Wednesday’s vote that London has no intention of abiding by the resolution and reiterated Britain’s position on this dispute, according to which Chagos has been under British sovereignty since 1814 and therefore never belonged to Mauritius. Regarding Gibraltar and Malvinas, Pierce assured that he does not expect any change of position from Spain and Argentina after the UN vote because they are two friendly countries.