International Court of Justice tells UK to "end administration" of Chagos Islands
On 25 February the International Court of Justice (ICJ) instructed the UK to "end it's administration" of the Chagos Islands (known by the UK government as the British Indian Ocean Territory) "as rapidly as possible."
The judgement is advisory and not legally binding, although judgements from the ICJ are widely considered to carry significant weight.
Speaking in the House of Lords today (26 February), UK government Minister Baroness Goldie emphasised that the judgement was "advisory." She added though there "would be a desire" to engage with Mauritius and restated the government's commitment to "cede sovereignty when no longer required to keep the territory for defence purposes."
The case was referred to the court following a 2018 vote in the United Nations General Assembly. The case was brought by Mauritius, who argued that the way in which the Chagos Islands were separated from Mauritius when the UK granted the nation independence was illegal under international law.
The treatment of Chagossians also featured heavily in the hearings on both sides. Mauritian representatives stated that the continued UK control of the islands prevented the Mauritian government supporting "Mauritian citizens of Chagossian origin" to resettle the islands.
UK representatives accused the Mauritian-side of using Chagossians to pursue a sovereignty claim.
The court agreed with the Mauritian contention, condemning the detachment of the Chagos Islands as a "unlawful act." The judges - who voted 13 to 1 in favour of Mauritius - also instructed the UN General Assembly to work on the practicalities of Chagossian resettlement, once the "decolonisation of Mauritius" had been fully completed (i.e. the UK ceases to administer the Chagos Islands).
What happens next?
As the judgement is not binding, much will depend on how the UK government chooses to react. The court also advised the United Nations General Assembly to prepare for implementing Chagossian return "during the completion of the decolonisation of Mauritius," and it is not clear yet how the UN General Assembly will approach this task.
We'll continue to monitor the situation and update as we learn more.
On a huge day in the history of the Chagos Islands, UK Chagos Support Association would like to emphasise the importance of listening to the needs, ambitions and decisions of the Chagossian people.
Speaking to the media, our Chair Tom Guha stated that:
"Regardless of the constitutional future of the Islands, it is imperative for both the UK and Mauritius to treat Chagossians with the rights and respect that they deserve."
"That includes proper compensation and access to British citizenship, as well as of course the right to return to their homeland."
"We hope that given the UN General Assembly has been advised to look at the process of allowing Chagossians to return, a consensus can quickly be reached that finally gives a measure of justice to Chagossians."
"Chagossians' right to determine their own future must be respected."
Naturally Chagossians have expressed a range of opinion on this judgement on the future of their islands. But the community has been united in their desire for immediate restoration of their right to live in their homeland and respect for their fundamental human rights.
We'll continue to share the reaction from the Chagossian community. One day after the judgement, the following comments have already been published.
Chagos Refugees Group leader Olivier Bancoult, who attended the hearings in The Hague as part of the Mauritian delegation, celebrated the verdict in this interview with ION news (in French).
A young Chagossian living in the UK, Emmanuel Ally, also gave a UK national TV interview with Channel Four news.
One week after the verdict, the UK government has yet to add substantially how they intend to respond to the verdict, stating only that Ministers are "considering the detail carefully."
Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth has issued the below statement in reaction to the verdict:
“This is a historic moment for Mauritius and all its people, including the Chagossians who were unconscionably removed from their homeland and prevented from returning for the last half century. Our territorial integrity will now be made complete, and when that occurs, the Chagossians and their descendants will finally be able to return home.”
Pravind Kumar Jugnauth
In the UK, Leader of the Opposition and President of the Chagos Islands All-Party Group Jeremy Corbyn stated that the verdict was "fantastic."
Fellow Chagos All-Party Group member, Conservative MP Henry Smith, also Tweeted on the case, stating that "Chagos islanders should have self-determination alone and not be dictated to by London, Washington, Port Louis or The Hague."
Coordinator of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group David Snoxell also commented on the case, speaking to a number of outlets in the UK and in Mauritius.
Mr Snoxell "welcomes" the verdict, and urges the UK government "to seize this opportunity to engage in serious discussions with Mauritius for an overall settlement." He adds that "Chagossians now have a far better chance of going back to Chagos under Mauritian rather than UK sovereignty."