International Court of Justice Chagos hearing concludes
After four days of public hearings, beginning on 3 rd September at The International Court of
Justice (ICJ), in The Hague, the judges are currently deliberating the case of Mauritius’s dispute
with the UK over sovereignty of the Chagos islands.
The Court heard testimonies from representatives of 22 countries, plus those from the African Union, arguing the legality of the colonial-era deal and the rights of the displaced Chagos Islanders to resettle. The ICJ’s judgement is advisory only, with no legal binding but, it is keenly awaited, with 17 countries supporting Mauritius.
In a press conference given on 12th September, Sir Aneerood Jugnauth (SAJ), Minister Mentor and speaker at the ICJ hearing, claimed: “he’s awaiting a favourable decision,” adding: “the UK has found itself isolated.”
In an often explosive hearing testimony, SAJ gave details of how he was part of a Mauritian
delegation attending a conference in London, in 1965, where they were informed independence
relied on the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius. Several meetings took place
between high-ranking officials, including a private one involving both countries’ prime ministers,
Sirs Seewoosagar Ramgoolam and Harold Wilson.
SAJ stated: ‘… we were faced with was no choice at all: it was independence on condition of
‘agreement’ to detachment, or no independence, with detachment anyway.’ He talked about
deals made under “immense pressure and duress” and “threats” in the discussions that led to
the “dismemberment of Mauritius”.
SAJ also talked about the forced removal of the entire Chagossian population, using words such
as: “shameful eviction” and “ongoing breaches of their fundamental human rights”, to highlight
their plight and so far unsuccessful fight to return to their homeland, 50 years after eviction.
He also added: ‘Mauritius fully supports their immediate right of return to the Chagos
Archipelago, to their homes. But as long as our decolonization is not complete, we are not able
to implement a programme for resettlement.’
Chagossian-born Liseby Elyse gave an emotional statement via a video link, talking about how
her and her fellow countrymen were forcibly removed from their homeland, at night, “like
animals”. She mentioned how they were told to leave and “take only a few items of clothes” and
talked of “people dying of sadness on that ship”. A full transcript of her speech is available on this site.
Britain apologised for the “shameful” way it evicted Chagossians from their homeland but were
unhappy the sovereignty case is being heard at the United Nation’s main court. Representative
Robert Buckland, UK solicitor general, stated the two countries signed a treaty that reached “full
and final settlement” of Mauritian claims to the archipelago, a deal since recognised by the
European Court of Human Rights.
He also mentioned the UK’s recent £40m resettlement programme to help the displaced
Chagossians, further proposing the ICJ “should decline to issue any opinion on the matter” as it’s
better suited for bilateral negotiations.
Mauritius, with support from the majority of countries present at the hearing, expect The Hague
to give its opinion, especially as it’s always done so previously in similar cases brought by the UN.
Several Chagossians attended the hearing in support of the Mauritian delegation: Olivier Louis Bancoult (Chagos Refugee Group leader), Rosemonde Bertin, Louis Rosemond Samynaden, Roger Alexis, Marie Liseby Elyse, Marie Mimose Furcy, Marie Suzelle Baptiste , Marie Nella Gaspard and Marie Janine Sadrien.
A further group of Chagossians attempted to enter the courtroom to observe the case but were denied permission by officials. Their experience is related by Chagos Islanders Movement leader Isabelle Charlot, who helped organise the trip, in this audio interview.
Chagos Refugees Group leader Oliver Bancoult gave a short interview in The Hague in which he reflected positively on proceedings.
Chagos Islanders Movement Chair Isabelle Charlot also spoke with the media, stating it was a “good thing” the case was drawing attention to how Chagossians have been “neglected” over decades.
Pierre Prosper, Chair of Seychelles Chagossian Association, spoke of his concern on how any judgement would impact Chagossians living in the Seychelles.
Tom Guha, Chair of UK Chagos Support Association, stated that “UK Chagos Support Association takes no view on the issue of the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands, other than to say the views of the Chagos Islanders themselves must be the central consideration.”
“We do though hope the attention the Chagos Islands get at the International Court of Justice will at the very least serve as a reminder for the world of the great injustices suffered by the Chagossian people over the last half century.”