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Mauritius accuses UK of ‘crimes against humanity’ over Chagos Islands

Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, has accused the UK of committing "crimes against humanity" for refusing to allow people to return to their former homes on the Chagos Islands.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Jugnauth said that he is considering bringing charges of crimes against humanity against individual British officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"It is a violation of the basic principle of human rights. I fail to understand why Britain, this government, is being so stubborn. Britain has been professing, for years, respect for the rule of law, respect for international law… but it is a pity the UK does not act fairly and reasonably and in accordance with international law on the issue of the Chagos archipelago," said Mr Jugnauth.

Earlier this year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the Chagos Islands was to be handed over to Mauritius to complete its “decolonisation". Following this, The United Nations General Assembly voted on a six-month deadline for Britain to comply, to which they refused. 

In a statement, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said:

"The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help protect people in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats and piracy. We stand by our commitment to cede sovereignty of the territory to Mauritius when it's no longer required fro defence purposes."

The UK retained sovereignty over the Islands after Mauritius gained its independence from Britain in 1968. Between 1967 and 1973, the entire Chagossian population was forcibly removed from the territory. The islands, referred to as the British Indian Ocean Territory by the UK, have since been used for defence purposes by the UK and the US.

The UK began to take smaller groups of Chagossians back to the archipelago for brief “heritage” visits, which has been perceived as attempts to “divide and rule” the Chagos community. 

Oliver Bancoult, head of the Chagos Refugees Group told the BBC: "I boycott those trips. The British are trying to buy our silence. That's why we say our dignity is not for sale."

The graves of many Chagossians in Port Louis, have headstones inscripted with messages grieving their inability to return to the islands. Mr Bancoult’s mother’s headstone reads: "I fear my wish will not come true before I die - to see my motherland again.”