Sovereignty of Chagos islands has been with Mauritius, India tells ICJ

The Hague : Backing Mauritius in its legal battle for Chagos Islands, India on Wednesday told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that historical facts and legal aspects confirm that sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago has been with Mauritius.

Mauritius has challenged United Kingdom’s claim on the Chagos Archipelago, saying more than 50 years after the country got its Independence from the British, the process of decolonisation has remained incomplete as a part of it is still under its control.

Mauritius has cited UN resolution 1514 that prohibits breaking up of the territory of a colony. One of the largest islands of the archipelago – Diego Garcia – has important military setups of the United States of America that had taken the island on lease from UK. Over 1500 islanders were forced to vacate the area and never allowed to return.

Mauritius had approached United Nations where a resolution was adopted to seek ICJ’s opinion in the matter. The ICJ is seeking opinion from 22 countries and the African Union on this issue. India has been supporting Mauritius in its battle for sovereignty at the international foras.
Presenting India’s position in the Oral Proceedings before the ICJ on the Request for an Advisory Opinion by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in the matter concerning “The Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965,” India’s Ambassador in The Netherlands, Venu Rajamony, said the historical survey of facts concerning colonization and the process of decolonization indicates that the Chagos Archipelago throughout the pre and post-colonial era has been part of the Mauritian territory.

He added that these islands came under the colonial administration of the United Kingdom as part of Mauritian territory. “The understanding reached in November 1965 between Mauritius and the United Kingdom for the retention of Chagos by the United Kingdom for defence purposes and return thereof to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence purposes, is also in itself evidence that Mauritius has been and continues to be the sovereign nation for the Chagos Archipelago,” the ambassador said. India asserted that the historical aspects of the matter in question do clearly establish the Chagos Archipelago being part of the Mauritian territory to the exclusion of the sovereignty of any other State.

“The legal aspects should root themselves in the historical facts, behaviour of the nations concerned, and the consideration of the issue by relevant administrative and judicial institutions,” Ambassador Rajamony added.

India said that before the independence of Mauritius, the UN, in December 1960, recognizing the ardent desire of the peoples of the world to end colonialism; believing in the need of ending all practices of segregation and discrimination associated with the colonialism; convinced of the right of all peoples to full freedom and of the integrity of their national territory, solemnly proclaimed the necessity of a speedy and unconditional end of colonialism in all its forms and manifestations in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV). This resolution declared any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country, as incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

However, detachment of the Chagos Archipelago still took place in November 1965. The United Nations reacted in December 1965 to the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago by adopting resolution 2066 (XX) entitled “Question of Mauritius”, calling on the United Kingdom to fully implement Resolution 1514 (XV). The resolution obligated the United Kingdom to complete the decolonization of Mauritius and report the same to the General Assembly, the envoy added.

He further said that the Arbitral Tribunal constituted by agreement between Mauritius and UK in its Award dated 18 March 2015, ruled that the undertakings of the United Kingdom with respect to: the fishing rights of Mauritius in the waters of Chagos Archipelago; the eventual return of the Archipelago to Mauritius and; the benefit of mineral and oil resources in and near the Archipelago, are legally binding undertakings. Further, by declaring as legally binding the undertaking of the United Kingdom to return the Archipelago to Mauritius, the Award has determined the legal obligation of the United Kingdom to return the Archipelago to Mauritius.

Ambassador Venu Rajamony said the process of decolonization of Mauritius remains incomplete both technically and in substance as long as the Chagos Archipelago continues to be under colonial control.

On the request of UNGA, the ICJ is hearing the matter in order to provide an advisory opinion on two questions — 1) Was the process of decolonization of Mauritius lawfully completed when Mauritius was granted Independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and having regard to international law? And 2) What are the consequences under international law, including obligations reflected in the resolutions, arising from the continued administration by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of the Chagos Archipelago, including with respect to the inability of Mauritius to implement a programme for the resettlement on the Chagos Archipelago of its nationals, in particular those of Chagossian origin?