PORT LOUIS (Dispatches) -- The African Union on Friday called on Britain to withdraw from the Chagos Islands and end its "continued colonial administration” there after a UN deadline for it to do so expired.
The Chagos Islands belong to the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, according to an advisory opinion from the top United Nations court issued in February. The UN General Assembly voted in May in favor of Britain returning the islands to Mauritius and set a deadline for Nov. 22.
The African Union urged Britain to comply with the U.N. resolution and reiterated the AU’s support "for a complete decolonization” of the Chagos Islands.
Britain does not recognize Mauritius’ sovereignty claim.
"The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement on Nov. 5.
Around 200 protesters gathered outside the British High Commission in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, on Friday. They demanded Britain cede the Chagos Islands to Mauritius and said they wanted to return to the archipelago where they were born.
A group supporting the rights of people indigenous to the Chagos Islands said they were considering options for filing a case against Britain at the International Criminal Court.
"We have to look at different avenues given that the UK is not complying with the decision of the United Nations,” Olivier Bancoult, who was born on one of the islands of the archipelago and is leader of the Chagossian Refugee Group, told Reuters.
Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth said that Britain’s refusal to give up control of the islands was a violation of international law.
"The United Kingdom cannot profess to be a champion of the rule of law and human rights whilst maintaining an illegal colonial administration,” he told parliament on Thursday.
The only inhabited island of the Indian Ocean archipelago is home to the Diego Garcia U.S. military base, rented out by Britain, and a bomber base for the Air Force.
On Friday, UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged to renounce British "sovereignty” of the Chagos Islands and respect a UN vote calling for the archipelago to be handed back to Mauritius.
Corbyn said he intended to "right one of the wrongs of history”.
Asked by reporters on the campaign trail in Stoke-on-Trent whether he would accept the international court ruling on sovereignty, Corbyn said: "Yes, absolutely. I’ve been involved in the Chagos campaign for a very long time.
"What happened to the Chagos islanders was utterly disgraceful. (They were) forcibly removed from their own islands, unfortunately, by this country.
An advisory opinion by the international court of justice (ICJ), in The Hague, found earlier this year that the islands had been illegally severed from Mauritius in the 1960s. The president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, urged the UK and other member states to "complete the decolonization of Mauritius”.
The UK regards neither the ICJ judgment nor the UN motion as binding.
The UN vote in May, which underlined Britain’s diplomatic isolation in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, set a six-month deadline for UK withdrawal, which expired on Friday. The Chagos archipelago is the last African territory to be held by the UK.
About 1,500 islanders were forcibly deported between 1968 and 1973 so Diego Garcia could be leased to the U.S. for an airbase. They have never been allowed to return apart from a few short "heritage” visits.
Prof Philippe Sands QC, who represented Mauritius at The Hague, said: "The failure to give effect to the (ICJ) ruling and general assembly decision is lawless and deeply regrettable, a reflection of a continuing colonial mindset. It undermines the UK’s supposed commitment to the rule of law.”
Most of the islanders and their descendants live in Mauritius, the Seychelles or the UK, where there have been attempts to deport third-generation Chagossians on the grounds that even if their grandparents would have been entitled to UK residency they are not.