In a move that will no doubt be greeted favorably in Buenos Aires, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly demanded on Wednesday that Britain give up control over the Chagos Islands.
In 1966 Britain leased Diego Garcia, the biggest island in the Indian Ocean’s Chagos archipelago, to the United States. This paved the way for the construction of a military airbase that required the forced removal of some 2,000 people.
This expulsion of a population against its will has often been equated by Argentina with the supposed expulsion of an Argentine population from Port Louis in 1933, which forms the basis of their sovereignty claim over the Falklands.
The British ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, made it clear that her country will continue in the region and reiterated its traditional position, which indicates that Chagos has been under British sovereignty since 1814 and was never part of Mauritius, as International Cort Of Justice and UN’s General Assembly said. In the 1965 agreement, London undertook to cede the archipelago to Mauritius when it was not necessary for defense purposes.
Asked about the possible implications of this decision over Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, Pierce said she did not expect any change of position on the part of Spain and Argentina, two countries with which London maintains good relations. Both the Spanish and Argentine delegations voted on Wednesday in favor of demanding London's withdrawal from Chagos.
Nevertheless, with regard to possible consequences of the UN resolution to the Falklands, respected expert in international law, Stephen Potts, has written, “to equate the removal of a garrison and their families that had been present on the Falklands for three months in 1833 to the removal of the Chagos islanders in 1965 stretches the imagination. It is also reasonable to say that the international law on self-determination and UN Charter on territorial integrity cannot be applied retroactively to the 19th century.”
According to Falklands historians Peter Pepper and Graham Pascoe, the British did eject a small Argentine garrison (26 soldiers, with their 11 women and 8 children) that had been on the Falklands just less than three months. In fact, Britain wanted the tiny civilian population to remain and the majority of settlers decided to do so. Only four settlers ‘chose’ to leave with the garrison. (PN/MP)