UN court rejects UK’s claim of sovereignty over Chagos Islands [The Guardian, Monday 25.02.2019, BBC, 25.02.2019, South Morning China Post, 26.02.2019, Aljazeera, 25.02.2019, CNN, 26.02.2019]
The UK has been ordered to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius “as rapidly as possible” after the United Nations’ highest court ruled that continued British occupation of the remote Indian Ocean archipelago is illegal.
The case was referred to the court, which hears legal submissions over international boundary disputes, after an overwhelming vote in 2017 in the UN assembly in the face of fierce opposition from a largely isolated UK.
Delivering judgment, the president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the detachment of the Chagos archipelago in 1965 from Mauritius had not been based on a “free and genuine expression of the people concerned”.
“This continued administration constitutes a wrongful act,” he added. “The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible and that all member states must co-operate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius.”
A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said: “This is an advisory opinion, not a judgment. Of course, we will look at the detail of it carefully. The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.”
Welcoming the ruling, the Mauritian government said it was a “historic moment in efforts to bring colonialism to an end, and to promote human rights, self-determination and the international rule of law”.
Damian Gonzalez-Salzberg of Sheffield University’s Centre for International and European Law, said: “With the sole dissent of Judge Donoghue [from the US], the court confirmed the stance supported by the majority of states that intervened in the proceedings: the right to self-determination was part of customary law already in 1960.”
[Effect on U.S.]
US military base Diego Garcia is located on the islands. For years, the US base has been vital to the military, serving as a landing spot for bombers that fly missions across Asia, including over the South China Sea. The UN ruling raises questions about its future. [CNN]
[Customary Status of Right to Self-Determination]
ICJ Advisory Opinion para. 16: Both State practice and opinio juris at the relevant time confirm the customary law character of the right to territorial integrity of a non-self-governing territory as a corollary of the right to self -determination… The Court considers that the peoples of non-self-governing territories are entitled to exercise their right to self-determination in relation to their territory as a whole, the integrity of which must be respected by the administering Power. It follows that any detachment by the administering Power of part of a non-self-governing territory, unless based on the freely expressed and genuine will of the people of the territory concerned, is contrary to the right to self-determination.