UN tribunal rejects UK rule of Chagos Islands

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled Jan. 28 that the United Kingdom does not hold sovereignty over the Chagos Islands, allowing the dispute between Mauritius and Maldives in regards to the delimitation of their boundaries to proceed. The ruling follows a preliminary objection from the Maldives government, which claimed that the tribunal could not decide the matter due to the existing dispute between Mauritius and the United Kingdom regarding the sovereignty of the archipelago. The tribunal rejected the objection.

The judges’ 8-1 decision further confirms the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2019. In that opinion, the ICJ determined that the United Kingdom had unlawfully detached the archipelago from Mauritius when it incorporated the islands into the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in 1965, during the decolonization of Mauritius. While the ruling is not binding, it puts further pressure on the United Kingdom to complete the process of decolonization by handing back the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritian control.

The UK has consistently rejected calls for returning the islands to Mauritius, holding that it is committed to "cede sovereignty of the territory to Mauritius when it is no longer required for defence purposes." The Chagos Archipelago, which hosts a US military base on the island of Diego Garcia, is considered as strategic to the security interests of the UK, due to existing agreements with the US on joint defence use.

From Jurist, Jan. 30. Used with permission.