The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice, and Courage

The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice, and Courage by Philippe Sands is a legal account of the forced eviction of the citizens of Diego Garcia and the surrounding Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean in 1973. Sands is a lawyer specializing in international law and took an active role in representing the Chagossians’ fight to return home. The subject matter was of great interest to me, and when this book come across the returns desk I knew exactly what the title and subtitle referred to, without having gained any specificity by the postage stamp reproduced on the cover. Although this book was heavy on legal talk and was overrun with names of lawyers and their various related cases, surprisingly for me I did not find it a yawner, and raced through it.

Sands is sympathetic to the plight of the Chagossians and the right of the Mauritian government to reclaim the Chagos archipelago. What a difference in perspective, as when I read African Islands and Enclaves, the author made it sound as if the Mauritian government was complicit in severing these islands from its territory and ceding them back to the UK.

The author covered the international court cases and UN resolutions pertaining to Chagos. We learned about individual judges and their biases. In 2019 the International Court of Justice ruled that Chagos was part of Mauritius, and that the UK must end its occupation, which it found to be illegal. In 2022 Chagossians were finally allowed to visit their islands without a British escort.

So far the US airbase is still located on Diego Garcia, and I don’t ever see the Americans abandoning it. However in late 2022 the British government announced that it would enter into negotiations with Mauritius over the sovereignty of Chagos. Five decades after the illegal expulsion of the Chagossians I hope that those who wish will be allowed finally to return home.

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