Britain must end its control of the Chagos islands "as rapidly as possible," according to the UN's highest court. The International Court of Justice said Monday that Britain had unlawfully carved up Mauritius, which the Chagos were a part of, when it agreed to end colonial rule in the late 1960s. The UK government reacted to the ruling by saying that it will look "carefully" at it, while stressing that the court's view is "an advisory opinion, not a judgment." But it's one that carries weight since it came from the top UN court and could put significant pressure on London to act, reports the AP. The court said it concluded that even though Mauritius' government agreed to split off the Chagos islands shortly before the country's 1968 independence, "this detachment was not based on the free and genuine expression of the will of the people concerned."
Britain evicted about 2,000 people from the Chagos archipelago in the 1960s and 1970s so the US military could build an air base on one of its atolls, Diego Garcia. As NPR's Ari Shapiro put it, "They shipped the Chagossian people more than a thousand miles away to Mauritius, a former British colony, where the people lived in abject poverty." Many resettled in the UK and have fought in British courts to return to the islands, which the Financial Times calls Britain's "last colony in Africa." The BBC reports the UK has previously said it would return the islands to Mauritius once it didn't need them for defense, and the Foreign Office addressed that, saying they currently "help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organized crime, and piracy." Mauritius has previously said the US can retain its base even if the UK relinquishes control. (A territorial dispute over these islands has lasted decades.)