Stamps issued by the British Indian Ocean Territory could soon be rendered invalid after the United Nations’ Universal Postal Union (UPU) council recommended they no longer be recognised, in the latest step rejecting the UK’s claim to the Chagos Islands.
The move by the UPU, the second oldest international organisation, is in recognition of Mauritian sovereignty over the strategically important islands in the Indian Ocean and is the first of what is likely to be many by UN specialised agencies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Monetary Fund.
In January, in line with an International Court of Justice advisory opinion, the UN’s special international maritime court ruled that Mauritius was right to claim the Chagos Islands. The UK retained possession of what it refers to as British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT after Mauritius gained independence in 1968, effectively paying Mauritius more than £4m for the islands.
Referencing the court decisions, the UPU council of administration recommended that its 192 member countries “cease the registration, distribution and forwarding of any and all postage stamps issued by the territory formerly known as the ‘British Indian Ocean Territory’. Its congress will vote on the matter this summer.
Prof Philippe Sands QC, counsel for Mauritius, said: “It is a significant decision that gives effect of the ICJ ruling, one further step in the removal of BIOT from international maps and consciousness. Mauritius, the African Union and many other countries are taking active steps to give effect to Mauritian sovereignty, ensuring that no international organisation recognises Britain’s illegal occupation: from fishing to transport, stamps and coins, even the .io domain name, change is in the air.”
In February, the BIOT issued a new set of stamps titled: “Sea Slugs of the British Indian Ocean Territory.” A series of 50p coins, featuring one of six different sea creatures on one side and the Queen’s head on the other, was also recently issued in defiance of the courts’ rulings.
In 2014, the head of a British company called Internet Computer Bureau, which was assigned the .io sale rights, claimed it split the profits from sale of the popular domain names with the UK government but this was denied by the government.
In the early 70s, between 1,500 and 2,000 Chagos islanders were forcibly deported so that the largest island, Diego Garcia, could be leased to the US to use as an airbase. They have never been allowed to return.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was approached for comment.