ITLOS Rejects UK claim to the Chagos Islands
(5 February 2021)
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has affirmed that The Chagos archipelago is part of Mauritius rather than the UK.
The Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Kumar Jugnauth has urged the UK to end its ““unlawful occupation” of the Chagos Islands after Britain’s claim to sovereignty over the strategically important islands in the Indian Ocean was comprehensively rejected by ITLOS.
“The judgment of the special chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) is clear and unequivocal: Mauritius is sovereign over the Chagos archipelago,” he said.
The UK retained possession of the Chagos archipelago after Mauritius gained its independence in 1968. In the early 70s, around 2,000 islanders were forcibly deported so that the largest island, Diego Garcia, could be leased to the US to use as an airbase. They have never been allowed to move back to the island. Mauritius has promised to let the US troops remain on a lengthy lease.
Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth reiterated:
“The UK must now bring itself into full compliance with international law – it must immediately terminate its unlawful occupation of the Chagos archipelago which the International Court of Justice, and now today ITLOS, have determined to fall exclusively within the sovereignty of Mauritius. The end of UK administration has no implications for the US military base at Diego Garcia, which Mauritius is committed to maintaining.”
In 2019, The International Court of Justice (ICJ) found the UK in breach of international law by seeking to maintain its claim to the archipelago. The UK ignored the ICJ and the UN opinions, dismissing them as advisory, which prompted Mauritius to go to ITLOS to press its claim by means of a request to delimit its maritime boundary with the Maldives.
ITLOS will now delimit the maritime boundary between Mauritius and Maldives, on the basis that the Chagos archipelago is Mauritius’s territory. The inclusion of the Chagos archipelago within Mauritius should, in turn, strengthen Mauritius’ claim regarding the location of the boundary between the two States.