The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has demanded that the United Kingdom give up control of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean back to Mauritius within six months.

The non-binding UN resolution – with a 116 vote majority, 6 against and 56 abstentions – backed an earlier non-binding advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice which found that the UK acted unlawfully in the decolonisation process and that it should relinquish control.

The UK leased the Chagos archipelago’s biggest island – Diego Garcia – to the United States in 1966, paving the way for an airbase that resulted in the forced remove of some 2000 people – descendants of which have sought the right to return.

UK Ambassador Karen Pierce spoke after her country’s defeat in the UNGA.

” The join US-UK defense facility on the British Indian Ocean territory helps people in Britain and around the world safe from terrorism, organised crime and piracy. As the US government has made clear, the status of British Indian Ocean territory as a UK territory, is quote “essential to the value of the joint facility and our shared interest” – an arrangement that cannot be replicated.

“The UK is disappointed by the results in the GA today, but I would like to point out that the large number of abstentions and the fact that a number of states were absent underscores the fact that states have concerns about the precedent that this resolution is setting and about the fact that above all, this is a bilateral sovereignty dispute between two countries.”