UK government rejects International Court of Justice verdict on Chagos Islands

The UK government has confirmed that it does not agree with the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) verdict in the recent Chagos Islands case, brought by the Mauritian government.

In a written statement issued to Parliament on 30 April, Foreign Office Ministers Sir Alan Duncan and Lord Ahmed told the House of Commons and House of Lords respectively that Ministers "do not recognise" Mauritius' sovereignty claim over the Chagos Islands. The Ministers emphasised again that the ruling was an "advisory opinion" and "not binding."

The statement suggests no intention to implement the ICJ's advisory judgement on the part of the UK government. The judgement advised that control of the Chagos Islands was ceded to Mauritius and that a multi-lateral initiative was begun in the UN General Assembly to support Chagossians' to return to their homeland.

The ICJ had advised in February that the UK's creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory in the 1960s, through which it retained control of the Chagos Islands while granting Mauritius independence, was illegal under international law.

The Mauritian government had pledged to support the resettlement of "Mauritian citizens of Chagossian origin" to the Chagos Islands when it gained administrative control of the Chagos Islands. The UK meanwhile reiterated an existing pledge to cede control of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence purposes.

Global Reaction

Reacting to the statement a Mauritian government spokesperson stated that they are "extremely disappointed" with the response of the UK government.

The Mauritian government spokesperson added that "the UK will stand against the resettlement of Mauritians, especially those of Chagossian origin, in the Chagos Archipelago, which will perpetuate a historically wrongful act vis-à-vis the forcibly evicted inhabitants of those islands."

The US government meanwhile has supported the UK's position, in a short statement published on the US government website this week.

Chagossian community reaction

Olivier Bancoult, leader of Chagos Refugees Group, expressed his disappointment with the UK government's position, saying to Mauritian media outlet Le Express:

"'It is shameful of them. It is heartbreaking that a country that claims to be the champion of human rights and wants to set an example everywhere, has no respect for an institution like the ICJ and the United Nations."

Chagossian community group Chagos Islanders Movement also reacted with disappointment on Twitter bemoaning that "colonialism did not end" with this decision, and arguing for Chagossians to have the final say on the future of their homeland.

Stefan Donnelly, Vice-Chair of UK Chagos Support Association, agreed this the UK government had missed another opportunity to deliver some justice for Chagossians.

"Although we as a support group for the Chagossian community take no view on the future sovereignty of the Chagos Islands - other than it should be chiefly a matter for the Chagossian people - the reaction of the UK government is deeply disappointing. The Chagossian people are mentioned only as a one-sentence aside at the very end of a dry geopolitical statement, despite their past, present and future being an integral part of the ICJ opinion."

"It is particularly galling to see the government cite a £40m support package, which 2 and half years after it has been set up, has given little to no benefit to the Chagossian community."

"We'd urge the UK government to seriously reconsider it's response here, and to actually engage with the Chagossian community around the future they wish to see for their islands. And to commit to support a resettlement programme as the ICJ verdict suggested, while delivering on it's existing promises to Chagossians - namely the £40m 'Support Package' promised in 2016."

"This is - yet another - missed opportunity for the UK government to finally deliver a measure of justice for the Chagossian people."

Political reaction

Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn has written to the Prime Minister to object to the government's statement. Mr Corbyn - also honorary President of the Chagos Islands All-Party Group and a long-term supporter of Chagossian right to return - states in his letter that the Prime Minister is ignoring International Law.

Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Coordinator David Snoxell also told the Guardian that this represented the government "riding roughshod over parliament." Parliament had not been given the opportunity to discuss the details of the ICJ verdict.

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