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International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give Chagos verdict 25 February


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has confirmed it will deliver its verdict on a case brought by Mauritius against the United Kingdom concerning the Chagos Islands on Monday 25 February.

The fact that court has decided to issue a judgement is significant in itself, as UK representatives had urged the court not to do so. They had argued that the court was in "no position" to deliver a verdict, as the matter was a bi-lateral dispute between Mauritius and the UK.

The government of Mauritius won the backing of the UN General Assembly to bring the long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands to the court last year.

The Mauritian claim contends the separation of the Chagos Islands from the newly independent Mauritius by the UK in 1965 (the former colonial power) was illegal under international law. The UK government disputes this, as well as arguing the court does not have the proper authority to make a judgement.

In late 1960s and early 1970s, all Chagossians were removed from the Chagos Islands under UK-orders. They were deported either to Mauritius or the Seychelles, with no compensation or support arriving for several years. All those removed to the Seychelles never received any compensation, whilst many in Mauritius report receiving significantly reduced amounts.

Officially the case is known as the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 and full details are available on the court's website. The court's decision will be an "Advisory Judgement" and so not binding on any party, but are considered by the ICJ to carry "great legal weight and moral authority."

Hearings took place in September last year, with judges hearing submissions from a number of nations including Mauritius and the UK. Other nations also made submissions, the majority backing Mauritius. Our report of the hearings can be read in full here.

What does this mean for Chagossians?

During proceedings, Mauritian representatives argued that owing to continued UK control of the Chagos Islands their ambitions to support the return of "Mauritian citizens of Chagossian origin" were being frustrated. UK representatives argued Mauritius was using a "guise of concern" for Chagossians to advance their sovereignty claim to the Chagos Islands.

Several Chagossians did attend proceedings as part of the Mauritian delegation, including leading members of the Chagos Refugees Group. The Chagos Islanders Movement community group also protested outside the court, "urging both governments to consult the community."

One Chagossian survivor of the deportation, Madame Elyse, spoke as part of the Mauritian submission to the court. She described powerfully her experience of exile, and the terrible consequences it had for her family. Her full speech can be read here.

Whatever the verdict of the ICJ, it's vital that the wishes of the people of the Chagos Islands are given paramount importance in any future decisions about their homeland. Within the community there are a range of opinions on the future sovereignty of the islands and all parties should respect and engage with these.

Justice for the Chagossian people needs to be the priority for all involved in this case.

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