UN postal body rejects UK stamps from disputed Chagos Islands

Indian Ocean territory is home to military base used by US forces

2B00MW5 BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory): Diego Garcia Base.

The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) or Chagos Islands (formerly the Oil Islands) is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom situated in the Indian Ocean, halfway between Africa and Indonesia. The territory comprises a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 individual islands, situated some 500 kilometres (310 mi) due south of the Maldives archipelago. The largest island is Diego Garcia (area 44 km squared), the site of a joint military facility of the United Kingdom and the United States.

The UN’s postal agency is recommending that stamps from the British Indian Ocean Territory should no longer be recognised, in a symbolic victory for Mauritius’s claim over the disputed Chagos Islands.

Uninhabited except for a military base, the archipelago is administered by Britain, which evicted thousands of Chagossian people from the islands in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mauritius rejects the UK's claim to the territory and the UN General Assembly in 2019 called for Britain to withdraw its "colonial administration".

The latest development is a recommendation by the Universal Postal Union, a UN agency with 192 members, that stamps issued by the British administration on the islands should no longer be registered, distributed or forwarded.

The British authorities released a set of stamps as recently as February which bore Queen Elizabeth II’s head and depicted sea slugs in the Indian Ocean.

Under a proposal to be put to the UPU’s full congress later this year, the body would formally acknowledge that the islands are part of Mauritius.

References to the British Indian Ocean Territory would be removed from UPU documentation.

The National understands that the UPU took its lead from the UN General Assembly motion and a finding in favour of Mauritius by the International Court of Justice.

Mauritius gained independence from Britain in 1968 but the ICJ ruled that the decolonisation process had not been lawfully completed because the Chagos Islands remained under UK control.

Judges at the world court said in 2019 that Britain was obliged to end its administration of the islands as soon as possible.

The UN General Assembly subsequently backed Mauritius’s claim and gave Britain a six-month deadline to withdraw from the territory.

But the deadline passed in November 2019 with the UK government maintaining that it had rightful sovereignty over the islands.

UK rejects Mauritius's claim to island territory

Britain has controlled the territory since 1814 and maintains that the islands have never belonged to Mauritius.

It says it will hand the Chagos Islands over to Mauritius when they are no longer needed for defence purposes.

However, Britain has a treaty with the US, which uses the military base on the island of Diego Garcia, to maintain its presence there until at least 2036.

The US naval support facility is home to about 360 military personnel, including some from Britain.

It served as a staging area for US aircraft and equipment during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The UK runs occasional “heritage visits” for Chagossians born on the islands who were removed from their homelands in the 1960s and 1970s.

When the UN voted in 2019, UK ambassador Karen Pierce offered Britain’s “sincere regret about the manner in which Chagossians were removed”.

The UK and US were among six countries to vote against the General Assembly motion, along with Australia, Hungary, Israel and the Maldives.