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.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Mauritius on Aug. 29 over the government's handling of a recent shipwreck that spilled 1,000 tons of oil into the seas around the island nation. In what appears to be the latest toll in the incident, dolphins and whales have beached close to where the Japanese-owned MV Wakashio freighter ran aground and broke up. Thirty-nine of the mammals have beached in the week leading up to Aug. 28. Social media is awash with photos of the stranded animals, including mothers and calves. At a press conference Sudheer Maudhoo, the Mauritian minister of fisheries and marine resources, called the beachings a "sad coincidence." Though a link between the deaths and oil contamination has yet to be established, disaffection has swelled in the aftermath of the spill. Protesters in the streets of the capital, Port Louis, wielded an inflatable dolphin with "INACTION" written on it.
The UN General Assembly on May 22 passed a resolution demanding the United Kingdom return control of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius within six months. There were 116 votes for the motion, with more than 50 abstentions, and just six votes against—the UK, United States, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives. The non-binding resolution follows an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in February, finding that the UK is "under an obligation" to end its administration of the islands "as rapidly as possible." The UK retained control over the islands after Mauritius gained its independence from Britain in 1968, following a supposed compensation deal between the two states. Mauritius now rejects the deal as having been imposed unilaterally.
The International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion Feb. 26 outlining the legal consequences of separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965. The UK and Mauritius, by virtue of the Lancaster House agreement, detached the Chagos Archipelago form Mauritius and established the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The British subsequently allowed the United States to establish a military base on the island Diego Garcia, with many inhabitants forcibly removed, and those who left voluntarily prevented from returning. The ICJ opinion, which is nonbinding, says the UK did not lawfully decolonize the islands through the Lancaster House agreement. The court urged the UK to end its continued administration over Chagos Archipelago: "[T]he United Kingdom has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible." The opinion states that "all Member States must cooperate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius."
The government of the island nation of Mauritius presented its claim Sept. 3 to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the British government forced the transfer of the Chagos Islands as a condition of independence in 1965. The UK leased the island of Diego Garcia within the Chagos archipelago to the US in 1966, which was used to build a military base that required the forced removal of around 1,500 people. The population has yet to be allowed to return home. The former prime minister of Mauritius and current parliamentarian Anerood Jugnauth told the ICJ, “The choice we were faced with was no choice at all: it was independence with detachment [of the Chagos archipelago] or no independence with detachment anyway.” The location of the Chagos Islands in the central Indian Ocean is seen as geopolitically strategic for policing the Persian Gulf. In 2016 the US lease for the base was extended until 2036.