Mauritius Challenges Britain’s Claim to Chagos Islands

Mauritius, a nation of islands in the Indian Ocean, is taking the United Kingdom to the International Court of Justice to challenge their claim to the Chagos islands.

The Chagos Islands, also known as the Chagos Archipelago, are a group of about 60 individual tropical islands that reside in the Indian Ocean. In the early 1960s, the Chagos Islands were a British colony of Mauritius. During the early 1960s, there started to be negotiations for Mauritius to gain its independence from the British Empire. In 1968, Mauritius gain its independence through a United Nation Resolution, which dissolved British rule over the island. The United Nations Resolution 1514, also known as The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, granted colonial countries and people the right to independence.

As the United Kingdom started to pull out of the area and decolonize in the ’60s, the United States saw one of the islands, Diego Garcia, as a perfect spot for a military base. This lead to the United States pressuring the United Kingdom to keep its presence in the islands to establish a United States’ military base. With this goal in the back of the United Kingdom’s mind, they started to separate the Chagos Islands from “its then-colony of Mauritius in 1965, three years prior to offering it independence, but continued to keep the sparsely-populated archipelago part of the British overseas territories.” In 1966 the United States leased Diego Garcia from the United kingdom and started to build the air base.

Five decades after supposedly gaining independence, the islands are still under British control. According to Oumar Ba, an assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgie, said, “After independence in 1968, most of the 1,500 islanders [that resided in Diego Garcia] were deported so that the largest island…could be leased to the US for a strategic airbase in 1971. The islanders have never been allowed to return home.”

Last year, Mauritius went in front of the United Nations General Assembly to get a referral to take the United Kingdom to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to challenge their legitimacy to the islands and to get redress for the displacement of the native Chagossians. The resolution passed the General Assembly with an overwhelming 95 to 15 vote. Those that voted against the resolution were the United States, Israel, France, and other Western allies that thought that this dispute should be considered a bilateral issue dealt with accordingly.

With the passage of the resolution, Mauritius has moved forward to the ICJ. They have had their first hearing for the case in the early part of September 2018. According to the Guardian, “The court will consider two key questions: the first is whether the decolonisation of Mauritius was completed lawfully when it was granted independence in 1968 following its separation from the Chagos archipelago; the second concerns the ability of Mauritius to resettle its nationals, who were originally deported from the archipelago, back on the islands.”

This case is a major development with international law and how we view sovereignty. It also brings up the underlying sources of tension of the colonized standing up to their colonizer. This unprecedented attempt by the islands of Mauritius is showcasing to the international community that there is a need to remedy the violence cause by the United Kingdom.

At the end of the day, there are still over a thousand Chagossians displaced from their native land to allow the United Kingdom to economically advance and the United States to fulfill their need for military advancement. Until their concerns are addressed accordingly, there will be no peace for these people.