The International Court of Justice has ruled that it can hear a case challenging the UK's decision to establish a marine protected area around the Chagos Islands. The process could also require the UK to justify its decisions to lease one of the islands to the United States for military purposes, and to remove and re-settle the Chagossians from the territory.
Initially dependencies of Mauritius, which was a British colony until 1968, the Islands were detached three years prior to that to become part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. In 1966, the UK leased Diego Garcia, the largest of the Islands, to the United States, and the territory has been governed since then by UK/US Agreements regulating its use for defence purposes.
In 1967, the UK bought out the Islands plantation owners, shut down the plantations and stopped regular ship supply. The Chagossians, numbering some 2,000 at the time, were evacuated and re-settled in Mauritius and the Seychelles over a period of six years.
Advocacy groups maintain that Chagossians were not consulted during this process, nor properly compensated or re-settled. There are several reports - including by the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples - documenting discrimination, abuse and poverty suffered by Chagossians in Mauritius and the Seychelles.
Following publicity of their situation in the 1990s, the UK permitted Chagossians to return to parts of the territory in 2000. This decision was overturned in 2004 as Diego Garcia assumed new strategic importance. Since then, Chagossians have been pursuing their right to return through a series of legal challenges. Successive reports by UN human rights mechanisms and by parliamentary committees have recommended that this right be upheld.
In 2009, the situation was further complicated by the UK's decision to establish a 'marine protected area' around the Chagos Islands. While many MPAs are inhabited, the designation of this particular area as a 'no-take' reserve would several curtail human activity, from fishing to construction of houses.
UNA-UK wrote to the UK government in May 2010, asking it to reconsider its position on the MPA: