Britain's colonial-era decision to sever an Indian Ocean archipelago from Mauritius and turn it into a US military base will have to be justified before an international tribunal – a process that could lead to the return of the islands' exiled inhabitants.
The unexpected ruling this month by the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague that it can hear the case is a challenge to the UK's unilateral declaration in 2009 of a marine protected area around the Chagos Islands.
Decisions by the tribunal, which arbitrates in disputes over the United Nations law of the sea, are binding on the UK. At the preliminary hearing the UK's attempt to challenge the court's jurisdiction was defeated. Britain is now obliged to explain highly sensitive political decisions dating back to 1965.
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