The Dispute Over the Chagos Islands
The International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest court, on Monday ruled that the UK’s rule over the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean is unlawful. This ruling comes as a victory for the displaced islanders who were forced out of their native land almost five decades ago.
A majority of 13 to one voted for the UK to end its control of the Chagos Archipelago promptly. Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, the court’s incumbent president, declared that Mauritius should be allowed to complete its decolonization and has asked the international community to assist the island in the process.
The case, an enduring dispute between Mauritius and the UK, was most recently taken up in the UN General Assembly in 2017 where a Mauritian-backed resolution won the support of 94 countries to bring the dispute over Chagos to the Hague. The UK opposed the decision, stating that the Chagos issue should be resolved through bilateral and direct negotiations between Mauritius and the UK. But the UN’s strong resolve to end colonialism aided the Chagossians’ cause and won them the right to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice.
The UK’s treatment of the Chagossians has been described as a travesty. In 1967, the totality of the 2000 islanders were evicted without notice and were shipped off to Mauritius and the Seychelles, forced to abandon their homes and belongings. In 1971, the UK leased the largest island, Diego Garcia, to the US, which turned it into a strategic airbase. The Chagossians were never allowed to return.
Mauritius asserts that it was forced to give up the Chagos islands in 1965 in order to gain its independence, which it achieved in 1968. The International Court of Justice concluded that the agreement between Mauritius and the UK was not based on the “free and genuine expression of the will” of the Chagossians and thus did not comply with the basic human right of self-determination.
The news has been met with great happiness and relief by the Chagossians who can finally return home.