Chagos Islanders: ‘a historic and landmark judgment’
Zerbanoo and Richard Gifford have worked long and hard on this issue – see one of several references on this website.
A Moseley reader recently sent a link leading to the good news that the UK’s claim of sovereignty over the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice at the Hague (above), the United Nations’ highest court, which ordered Britain to hand them back as soon as possible. The full article may be read here.
The case was referred to the court, which hears rival legal submissions over international boundaries, after an overwhelming vote in 2017 in the UN assembly in the face of fierce opposition from a largely isolated UK.
Delivering the lengthy judgment, the president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the detachment of the Chagos archipelago in 1965 from Mauritius had not been based on a “free and genuine expression of the people concerned”.
He added: “The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible.”
The UK retained possession of the Chagos archipelago, which includes the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia, after Mauritius gained its independence in 1968, effectively paying Mauritius more than £4m for the islands.
About 1,500 native islanders were deported so the largest island could be leased to the US for the airbase in 1971. They have never been allowed to return home.
In its submission to the ICJ last year, Mauritius argued it was coerced into giving up the Chagos Islands. That separation was in breach of UN resolution 1514, passed in 1960, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies before independence, lawyers for Mauritius said.
Prof Philippe Sands QC, who represented Mauritius at The Hague, said: “The court has given a crystal-clear verdict, which upholds the rule of law. This a historic and landmark judgment. It will be for Mauritius and the UK to sit down and implement this advisory opinion. It will be for Mauritius now to decide on the resettlement of the islanders. There’s no veto at the UN general assembly. It will decide how to go forward with the matter”.
David Snoxell, coordinator of the all-party parliamentary group in the Chagos Islands, said: “Opinion in the UN and the Commonwealth is highly critical of our policy towards Chagos. The UK’s reputation and human rights record suffer. Litigation costs to the taxpayer multiply. Her Majesty’s government should seize the opportunity to engage in serious discussions with Mauritius for an overall settlement. There is no defence, security, political or legal reason to delay it any longer.”