British Indian Ocean Territory

Introduction Established as a territory of the UK in 1965, a number of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) islands were transferred to the Seychelles when it attained independence in 1976. Subsequently, BIOT has consisted only of the six main island groups comprising the Chagos Archipelago. The largest and most southerly of the islands, Diego Garcia, contains a joint UK-US naval support facility. All of the remaining islands are uninhabited. Former agricultural workers, earlier residents in the islands, were relocated primarily to Mauritius but also to the Seychelles, between 1967 and 1973. In 2000, a British High Court ruling invalidated the local immigration order that had excluded them from the archipelago, but upheld the special military status of Diego Garcia.

The Islands of Chagos Archipelago were discovered by Vasco da Gama in the early sixteenth century, then claimed in the eighteenth century by France as a possession of Mauritius. However, in 1810, Mauritius was captured by the United Kingdom, and France ceded the territory in the Treaty of Paris. Agricultural workers migrated to the Islands in the late nineteenth century, settling on the main island of Diego Garcia and establishing copra plantations.

In 1965, the United Kingdom split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius, and the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches (Des Roches) from the Seychelles to form the British Indian Ocean Territory. The purpose was to allow the construction of military facilities for the mutual benefit of the United Kingdom and the United States. The islands were formally established as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom on November 8, 1965. On June 23, 1976, Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches were returned to Seychelles as a result of it attaining independence. Subsequently, BIOT has consisted only of the six main island groups comprising the Chagos Archipelago.

The creation of BIOT has been subject to legal controversy, as some legal opinions from international law experts[citation needed] say that the decision to separate the BIOT from Mauritius was illegal because international law does not allow the dismembering of a country before independence. However the decision was taken with the full agreement of the Mauritius Council of Ministers.

In 1966, the British Government purchased the privately owned copra plantations, and closed them down, and removed the entire population (known as the Chagossians, or Ilois) of Diego Garcia to Mauritius. In 1971, the United Kingdom and the United States signed a treaty, leasing the island of Diego Garcia to the American military for the purposes of building a large air and naval base on the Island. The deal was important to the United Kingdom, as the United States agreed to give them a substantial discount on the purchase of Polaris nuclear missiles in return for the lease[citation needed]. The strategic location of the Island was also significant at the centre of the Indian Ocean, and to counter any Soviet threat in the region.

Work on the military base commenced in 1971, with a large airbase with several long range runways constructed, as well as a harbour suitable for large naval vessels. Although classed as a joint UK/US base, in practice it is mainly staffed by the American military, although a British garrison is maintained at all times, and Royal Air Force long range patrol aircraft are deployed there. The United States Air Force used the base during the 1991 Gulf War and the 2001 war in Afghanistan, as well as the 2003 Iraq War.

During the 1980s, the Mauritian Government asserted a claim to sovereignty for the territory, citing the 1965 separation as illegal under international law, despite their apparent agreement at the time. The Seychelles also launched a sovereignty claim on several of the Islands.

The islanders, who now reside in Mauritius and the Seychelles have continually asserted their right to return to Diego Garcia, winning important legal victories in the English High Court of Justice in 2000, 2002 and 2007. These judgements were appealed by the British Government, who subsequently lost the appeals.

On 11 May 2006 the High Court ruled that the Order-in-Council was unlawful, and consequently that the Chagossians were entitled to return to the Chagos Archipelago.[1][2] On 23 May 2007, this was confirmed by the Court of Appeal. The islanders were granted the right to visit Diego Garcia on April 3, 2006 for humanitarian purposes, including the tending of the graves of their ancestors.

Geography Location: archipelago in the Indian Ocean, south of India, about one-half the way from Africa to Indonesia
Geographic coordinates: 6 00 S, 71 30 E; note - Diego Garcia 7 20 S, 72 25 E
Map references: Political Map of the World
Area: total: 54,400 sq km
land: 60 sq km; Diego Garcia 44 sq km
water: 54,340 sq km
note: includes the entire Chagos Archipelago of 55 islands
Area - comparative: land area is about 0.3 times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 698 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 3 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical marine; hot, humid, moderated by trade winds
Terrain: flat and low (most areas do not exceed two meters in elevation)
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Diego Garcia 15 m
Natural resources: coconuts, fish, sugarcane
Land use: arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (2005)
Irrigated land: 0 sq km
Natural hazards: NA
Environment - current issues: NA
Geography - note: archipelago of 55 islands; Diego Garcia, largest and southernmost island, occupies strategic location in central Indian Ocean; island is site of joint US-UK military facility

As this is a territory of the United Kingdom, the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II. There is no Governor appointed to represent the Queen on the territory, as there are no native inhabitants. The head of government is the Commissioner, currently Leigh Turner (since July 2006, replacing Tony Crombie) and Administrator Tony Humphries (since February 2005, replacing Charles A. Hamilton), all of whom reside in the UK. The Commissioner's representative in the Territory is the officer commanding the detachment of British forces.

The laws of the territory are based on the constitution, set out in the British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004, which gives the Commissioner full powers to make laws for the Territory.[4] Applicable treaties between the United Kingdom and the United States govern the use of the military base. The United States is required to ask permission of the United Kingdom to use the base for offensive military action.

The UK has an agreement with Mauritius to return the territory in the event that they are no longer required for defense purposes.

People Population: no indigenous inhabitants
note: approximately 1,200 former agricultural workers resident in the Chagos Archipelago, often referred to as Chagossians or Ilois, were relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles in the 1960s and 1970s; in November 2000 they were granted the right of return by a British High Court ruling, though no timetable has been set; in November 2004, there were approximately 4,000 UK and US military personnel and civilian contractors living on the island of Diego Garcia
Government Country name: conventional long form: British Indian Ocean Territory
conventional short form: none
abbreviation: BIOT
Dependency status: overseas territory of the UK; administered by a commissioner, resident in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London
Legal system: the laws of the UK, where applicable, apply
Executive branch: chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952)
head of government: Commissioner Leigh TURNER (since July 2006); Administrator Tony HUMPHRIES (since February 2005); note - both reside in the UK and are represented by the officer commanding British Forces on Diego Garcia
cabinet: NA
elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; commissioner and administrator appointed by the monarch
Diplomatic representation in the US: none (overseas territory of the UK)
Diplomatic representation from the US: none (overseas territory of the UK)
Flag description: white with six blue wavy horizontal stripes; the flag of the UK is in the upper hoist-side quadrant; the striped section bears a palm tree and yellow crown centered on the outer half of the flag
Economy overview

All economic activity is concentrated on Diego Garcia, where joint UK-US defence facilities are located. Approximately 2,000 native inhabitants, known as the Chagossians or Ilois, were relocated to Mauritius before construction of UK-US military facilities; in 1995, there were approximately 1700 UK and US military personnel and 1500 civilian contractors living on the island. Construction projects and various services needed to support the military installations are done by military and contract employees from the UK, Mauritius, the Philippines, and the US. There are no industrial or agricultural activities on the islands. The licensing of commercial fishing provides an annual income of about one million dollars for the Territory.[6] Separate telephone facilities for military and public needs are available, providing all standard commercial telephone services, including connection to the Internet. International telephone service is carried by satellite. The Territory has three radio broadcast stations, one AM and two FM, and one television broadcast station. Its Internet country code (top-level domain) is .io.

Postage stamps have been issued for British Indian Ocean Territory since 17 January 1968.

Economy Economy - overview: All economic activity is concentrated on the largest island of Diego Garcia, where a joint UK-US military facility is located. Construction projects and various services needed to support the military installation are performed by military and contract employees from the UK, Mauritius, the Philippines, and the US. There are no industrial or agricultural activities on the islands. When the native Ilois return, they plan to reestablish sugarcane production and fishing. The territory makes money by selling fishing licenses and postage stamps.
Electricity - production: NA kWh; note - electricity supplied by the US military
Electricity - consumption: NA kWh
Currency (code): both the British Pound (GBP) and the US Dollar (USD) are accepted
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: NA
Telephone system: general assessment: separate facilities for military and public needs are available
domestic: all commercial telephone services are available, including connection to the Internet
international: country code (Diego Garcia) - 246; international telephone service is carried by satellite (2000)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 2, shortwave 0 (1998)
Radios: NA
Television broadcast stations: 1 (1997)
Televisions: NA
Internet country code: .io
Internet hosts: 61 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000)
Transportation Airports: 1 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 1
over 3,047 m: 1 (2007)
Roadways: total: NA
paved: short section of paved road between port and airfield on Diego Garcia
Ports and terminals: Diego Garcia
Military Military - note: defense is the responsibility of the UK; the US lease on Diego Garcia expires in 2016
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: Mauritius and Seychelles claim the Chagos Archipelago including Diego Garcia; in 2001, the former inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago, evicted in 1967 and 1973 and now residing chiefly in Mauritius, were granted UK citizenship and the right to repatriation; in May 2006, the High Court of London reversed U.K. Government's 2004 orders of council that banned habitation on the islands; a small group of Chagossians visited Diego Garcia in April 2006; repatriation is complicated by the exclusive US military lease of Diego Garcia that restricts access to the largest viable island in the chain