Illegally Occupied Islands

During its East Asia tour the German frigate Bayern will make a port call at Diego Garcia. The island is the site of a US military base and is, according to UN courts, illegally occupied by Great Britain.

BERLIN/LONDON/WASHINGTON (Own report) - The frigate Bayern, which set sail for East Asia yesterday, will soon make a port call at Diego Garcia, an island under occupation, in violation of international law, and serving military purposes. It is the main island of the Chagos Archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean and the site of a strategically important US military base. The Chagos Archipelago is an old British colonial possession that had once belonged to Mauritius. It was detached, in violation of international law, during the decolonization of Mauritius, to allow the United States to construct a military base. The population was deported to impoverished regions on Mauritius. In the meantime, several international court rulings have been handed down and a UN General Assembly resolution has been passed on this issue - all concluding that Mauritius has sovereignty over Diego Garcia and calling on the United Kingdom to hand back the illegally occupied Chagos Archipelago. To this day, London and Washington refuse to comply. This does not bother Berlin.

"Advocates of a Rules-Based Order"

Officially, Berlin justifies the frigate Bayern's deployment to East Asia with its intention to promote the implementation of international law. This pertains particularly to conflicts over numerous islands and atolls in the South China Sea that are contested by the riparians and where China claims 28 of them and uses some militarily, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). According to CSIS, the Philippines control nine, Malaysia, five and Taiwan, one island, whereas Vietnam has established around 50 outposts of various sorts. All four countries also have a military presence on some of the islands and atolls they are occupying.[1] Of course, the German Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer only refers to China, when she stated yesterday that currently attempts are being made to "enforce territorial claims in accordance with the principle of might makes right." "As advocates of a rules-based order, we are not indifferent when existing law is ignored and facts are created in violation of international law."[2] German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also claims that Germany is particularly committed to "upholding international law" in "the Indo-Pacific."[3]

Colony with Slaves

Irrespective of the disputes in the South Chiba Sea, Berlin's claims would formally be at least a bit more credible, if, according to the German defense ministry, one of the frigate Bayern's first port calls were not Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean.[4] The Chagos Islands are part of the old European colonial possessions. France had seized them in 1783 and immediately imported slaves from Madagascar and Mozambique to toil on coconut plantations. In 1814, Great Britain took over the Archipelago. Until 1965, it had been under the administration of the British island colony of Mauritius, located east of Madagascar, when London, in violation of international law, amputated the Chagos Islands from Mauritius, naming them the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Mauritius, at the time, was preparing for its decolonization (achieved in 1968). The reason for the amputation: the United States planned the construction of a naval and air base on Diego Garcia. This is why the Archipelago was not granted its independence along with Mauritius. At the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the entire population - about 2000 people - were deported to impoverished regions on Mauritius and the Seychelles.[5]

Wars of Aggression and Interrogations under Torture

The United States has used its Diego Garcia military base not least of all for the purpose of launching air strikes in numerous wars, including blatant wars of aggression, in violation of international law, as well as for the 2003 attack on Iraq. Even now, the base is of the utmost strategic importance to the US armed forces. Experts qualify it as "the key US strategic outpost in the Indian Ocean."[6] It also proved useful for the CIA's abductions of suspects to torture chambers in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff from 2002 to 2005, confirmed in early 2015, that Diego Garcia had served the CIA as a "transit site." The CIA had brought suspects to the base "when perhaps other places were full or other places were deemed too dangerous or insecure, or unavailable at the moment."[7] In such cases the abducted were flown out to Diego Garcia and "housed, let us say, and interrogated from time to time." The procedures used at the time have still not been fully elucidated. Those responsible for the abductions and crimes of torture have never been punished.

The UN's Verdict

Nevertheless, British colonial rule over Chagos - which lays the foundation for the US military base - has been under sharp international attack for years. In November 2000, the former inhabitants initially succeeded in having their deportation officially ruled an injustice by the British High Court. They are still fighting for their right of return. On February 25, 2019, Mauritius won its suit before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague against the illegal amputation of the Chagos Islands in 1965. The ICJ 13 - 1 ruling stipulates that Great Britain must return the archipelago to Mauritius. US Justice Joan E. Donoghue was the sole dissenting vote in the ruling. On May 22, 2019, the UN General Assembly - in a vote of 116 in favor and 6 opposed - called on the United Kingdom to comply with the ICJ's verdict and return the islands within six months. London and Washington are ignoring the UN vote as well as the ICJ verdict. Finally, on January 28, 2021, the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg concurred with the ICJ's ruling and stated that sovereignty over the Chagos Islands remains unadulterated with Mauritius.[8] Therefore, Great Britain and the USA are illegally occupying Diego Garcia - for military purposes.

Berlin's Morality

According to Germany's Ministry of Defense, the frigate Bayern, which set sail yesterday from the port of Wilhelmshaven, will first come to the Mediterranean Sea, where it will participate in NATO's Sea Guardian Operation; continuing through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, it will then join the EU's Operation Atalanta at the Horn of Africa. Subsequently, it plans to make a call at Pakistan's port city Karachi, before continuing across the Indian Ocean to pay a call at Diego Garcia. In reference to Diego Garcia, Berlin raises no criticism to "territorial claims in accordance with the principle of might makes right" (Kramp-Karrenbauer) nor to a constant refusal to "uphold international law" (Maas).


[1] Occupation and Island Building.

[2] Rede der Ministerin anlässlich des Auslaufens der Fregatte "Bayern". 02.08.2021.

[3] Außenminister Maas zur Abfahrt der Fregatte "Bayern" nach Asien. Pressemitteilung des Auswärtigen Amts. 02.08.2021.

[4] Die Route der "Bayern". 02.08.2021.

[5] Eine umfassende Darstellung der Geschichte der US-Militärbasis auf Diego Garcia bietet: David Vine: Island of Shame. The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. Princeton/Oxford 2009.

[6] Blake Herzinger: The power of example: America's presence in Diego Garcia. 15.02.2021.

[7] Ian Cobain: CIA interrogated suspects on Diego Garcia, says Colin Powell aide. 30.01.2015.

[8] Michael Vosatka: Seegerichtshof spricht Chagos-Inseln samt US-Basis "Diego Garcia" Mauritius zu. 29.01.2021.