ICJ says UK “does not own” Chagos islands

By Monitoring Desk
Tuesday – February 26, 2019
THE HAGUE (Netherlands): The international court of justice (ICJ), on Monday, announced its verdict that the United Kingdom (UK) has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago (or Chagos islands) as rapidly as possible, and that all member states must co-operate with the United Nations (UN) to complete the decolonisation of Mauritius.

According to detail, ICJ - the principal judicial organ of the UN - is of the opinion that, having regard to international law, the process of decolonisation of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago.

ICJ believes that the continued administration constitutes a wrongful act entailing the international responsibility of that State. It concludes from this that since respect for the right to self-determination is an obligation, all states have a legal interest in protecting that right.

The ICJ considers that, while it is for the UN general assembly to pronounce on the modalities required to ensure the completion of the decolonisation of Mauritius, all member states must co-operate with the UN to put those modalities into effect.

As regards the resettlement on the Chagos Archipelago of Mauritian nationals, including those of Chagossian origin, this is an issue relating to the protection of the human rights of those concerned, which should be addressed by the UN general assembly during the completion of the decolonisation of Mauritius.

Prior to the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius, there were formal discussions between the UK and the United States (US) and between the government of the UK and the representatives of the colony of Mauritius.

During the talks between the UK and the US, which were held from February 1964 onwards, the US expressed an interest in establishing a military communication facility on Diego Garcia, the principal island of the Chagos Archipelago.

The discussions held in 1965 between the government of the UK and the representatives of the colony of Mauritius, for their part, concerned the question of the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius.

They led to the conclusion, on 23 September 1965, of the Lancaster house agreement, by virtue of which the representatives of Mauritius agreed in principle to the detachment in exchange for, among other things, a sum of £3 million and the return of the archipelago to Mauritius when the need for the military facilities on the islands disappeared.

On 8 November 1965, a colony, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), and consisting inter alia of the Chagos Archipelago, detached from Mauritius, was established by the UK.

In 1966, an agreement was concluded between the US and the UK for the establishment of a military base by the US on the Chagos Archipelago.

Between 1967 and 1973, the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago who had left the islands were prevented from returning. The other inhabitants were forcibly removed and prevented from returning.

On 16 April 1971, the BIOT commissioner enacted an immigration ordinance, which made it unlawful for any person to enter or remain in the Chagos Archipelago without a permit.

By virtue of an agreement concluded between Mauritius and the UK on 4 September 1972, Mauritius accepted payment of the sum of £650,000 in full and final discharge of the UK’s undertaking given in 1965 to meet the cost of resettlement of persons displaced from the Chagos Archipelago.

On 7 July 1982, an agreement was concluded between the governments of Mauritius and the UK, for the payment by the UK of the sum of £4 million on an ex gratia basis, with no admission of liability on the part of the UK, in full and final settlement of all claims whatsoever of the kind referred to in the agreement against the UK by or on behalf of the Ilois.

That agreement also required Mauritius to procure from each member of the Ilois community in Mauritius a signed renunciation of the claims.

Two feasibility studies were conducted by the UK to determine whether a resettlement of the islanders was possible and, if so, under what terms. It was concluded that although resettlement was possible, it would pose significant challenges.

To date, the Chagossians remain dispersed in several countries, including the UK, Mauritius and Seychelles.

By virtue of UK law and judicial decisions of that country, they are not allowed to return to the Chagos Archipelago.