Bye, Bye BIOT?

Those who have read the recent philatelic trade press (and The Guardian) may have seen articles questioning the future of stamps from the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

The ruling council of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) has now recommended that BIOT stamps should now cease to be recognised. This arises from a long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands which make up the whole territory. BIOT was created in the mid-1960s when Britain took the islands from Mauritius prior to granting independence to that island in 1968. The Chagos islands are comprised of just 23 square miles of land.

One of the islands, Diego Garcia, was subsequently developed into a military base and then leased to the United States. In creating the base, the native population of Chagossians – about 2,000 – were expelled and replaced by around 3,000 military staff and associated contractors.

However, the original islanders continued to campaign for their right to return to the islands and in 2019, the International Court of Justice found that in maintaining its claim, Britain was in breach of international law and that sovereignty should pass to Mauritius. This verdict was upheld by the United Nations Maritime Court earlier this year and in response the UPU Council has now made its recommendation. Paradoxically, the US has said it has no objections to the islanders returning.

The UPU Congress meets in the Ivory Coast in August and will then vote on its Council’s recommendation. If upheld the, “distribution and forwarding of any and all postage stamps issued by the territory,” will cease. Effectively, the stamps would then be internationally invalid. Could this be bye, bye to BIOT?  

June 2021

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