UN refers UK to International Court of Justice over Chagos
The UN General Assembly has voted to refer the UK to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with regards to the validity of the nation's sovereignty claim over the Chagos Islands. The motion to refer the UK to the ICJ was proposed by Mauritius, which also holds a sovereignty claim over the Chagos Islands.
Speaking prior to the vote, veteran Mauritian politician and Minister for Defence and Rodrigues Sir Anerood Jugnauth noted that he had spoken with Chagossians about the motion, and said one of the consequences of the UK controlling the Chagos Archipelago was that the Mauritian government could not implement the resettlement of Chagossians, described by the former Prime Minister as Mauritian nationals of Chagossian origin.
His speech also referenced the removal of Chagossians from their homeland in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a move he stated the Mauritian government had "never accepted."
The wider point of the motion was to claim that the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius when the latter was given its independence from the UK was illegal under international law. In referring the case to the International Court of Justice, Mauritius is in effect seeking a non-binding but influential judgement on its sovereignty claim over the Chagos Islands.
The UK's UN representative, Matthew Rycroft, condemned the motion, saying that the welfare of Chagossians was of real concern to the United Kingdom. He claimed that in previous talks Mauritian officials had not focused on Chagossian issues, but only argued their sovereignty claim over the Chagos Archipelago.
Mr Rycroft also pointed to the £40m support package announced last year by the UK government to improve the lives of Chagossians where they live now. This package was announced as part of the UK government's decision not to back a Chagossian resettlement programme.
UK Chagos Support Association does not take any position on the future sovereignty of the Chagos Islands. We only emphasise that Chagossians must be the key decision makers in any decision about their homeland, sovereignty included.
UK Chagos Support Association Vice-Chair Stefan Donnelly stated that "It's clearly time for the UK government to deliver a much belated measure of justice to the Chagossian people they have neglected for decades since their brutal deportation. Whatever happens at the International Court of Justice, the priority for all of us, UK and Mauritian politicians included, must be justice for Chagossians as soon as possible."
"This is certainly the right to return to their homeland, but it also involves reform of immigration law and other practical measures to relieve the suffering caused by the deportation. Let's hope this travesty finally reaching the floor of the UN General Assembly will lead to greater active international support for the Chagossian people. It's never too late to do the right thing. "
The Coordinator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands David Snoxell (a former High Commissioner to Mauritius) commented on the decision, saying "the resolution was a means of bringing to the attention of the UN general assembly the travesty of the UK’s treatment of the Chagossian people since 1965." He added that it was a "brilliant result for Chagossians."
The UK government's official response to the vote was to say it was a "disappointing outcome. Sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory [Chagos Islands] is clearly a matter for the UK and Mauritius to resolve ourselves."
The historic UN debate has also been covered extensively in the UK media and abroad. Reports in the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC and the Independent have already appeared in the UK. Further afield, reports can be read in the New York Times, a range of Mauritian news outlets including Lexpress.mu, and The Indian Express.
Further reaction from lawyer Philippe Sands, who has previously represented Mauritius in legal disputes, and Mauritian Minister and former PM Sir Anerood Juganuth, can be found here in Le.Express (French language article). The British government has also issued a statement on the vote.