In a non-binding judgement, the International Court of Justice has advised that the UK must return Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), seated at the Peace Palace in The Hague, has observed that the United Kingdom must end their administration of the Chagos Archipelago at the earliest.
In non-binding ruling, ICJ said, “The United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring an end to its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible, thereby enabling Mauritius to complete the decolonization of its territory in a manner consistent with the right of peoples to self-determination.”
The decades old territorial dispute between United Kingdom and Mauritius was referred to the principal judicial organ of United Nations, on 27 June 2017, to get a clarification on the legal status of the archipelago. The United Nations General Assembly approved the motion of referral with 95 countries voting in favour and only 15 countries voting against. However, the legal advisory battle was not only keeping Mauritius and the UK on alert, but also the United States of America. Certainly, this is a convoluted tri-nation dispute with the US having major stakes.
After Mauritian independence in 1965, Britain carved off Chagos Archipelago from the country and included it in the newly formed British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Following various incidents of forced migration, the UK along with the US worked towards building an American military base in this strategically significant region of Indian Ocean. The United States, till date, runs a well-established military base in the Diego Garcia as one of the two critical bases in the Asia Pacific Region. The other operational US military base in the region is the Andersen Air Force Base, Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
The ICJ, in a majority ruling including a favourable vote from Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India, observed that decolonisation of Mauritius “was not lawfully complete.” In Britain’s absence from the ICJ bench after it withdrew Judge Christopher Greenwood’s nomination last year, American Judge Joan E. Donoghue was the only dissenter in the ruling.
More than 50 countries from all around the world, including India, submitted their written statements during ICJ trail. From India, Legal Adviser of the External Affairs Ministry Vishnu Dutt Sharma submitted India’s statement supporting Mauritius’s right to complete decolonisation. Even at the time of foundation, India had opposed the establishment of US military base in Diego Garcia, which is mere 2,000 km away from Indian Territory.
The UN top court ruling received appreciation from UK opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as well. Corbyn tweeted: “Over 40 years ago the Chagos Islanders were disgracefully forced from their homes by the UK government – to make way for a US military base. It’s fantastic to see the @CIJ_ICJ take crucial steps to correct this injustice and uphold the right of the Chagossians to return home.”
Since the ICJ advisory is not legally binding on the United Kingdom, even though the country has a history of obeying such rulings, uncertainty looms over the future of Chagos Archipelago and Diego Garcia.