During the summer I wrote a short blog advising that the governing council of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) had recommended that the stamps of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) should no longer be recognised. (See: “Bye, bye BIOT?”) From a report in the latest edition of Stamp Magazine, I now understand that at their August Congress held in the Ivory Coast the recommendation was adopted almost unanimously.
Acceptance of the recommendation has not come as a surprise. Earlier in the year, the United Nations (UN) had ruled that Britain’s administration of the Chagos Islands, including Diego Garcia – which forms the substantive part of the territory – was in breach of international law. The UPU is a specialised agency of the UN.
The upshot is that the UPU will now formally cease to register and distribute stamps and postage from the territory, and that the islands must now carry the stamps and postcodes of Mauritius which has long laid claim to the islands.
At the time of writing it is unclear what the official British government response to the ruling will be. The post office in the territories is managed by the British foreign office but operated on a day-to-day basis by a private company. It is also unclear what impact this may have on the wider philatelic world. Is BIOT now just another, “dead country”?
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?