Nowadays when we speak of colonialism it is implicitly assumed that it is a past phenomenon. However, the Chagos Islands remain colonized by the UK, who now uses the islands for defense purposes. On Monday the 25th of February The International Court of Justice stated that the UK Government is “under an obligation” to end its administration of the Chago Archipelago “as rapidly as possible.” According to the United Nations, the Advisory Opinion in which the statement was released called the continued administration of the Archipelago “unlawful” and “a wrongful act”. It goes against people’s right to self-determination, a human right which the UK must make the utmost effort to sustain. However, the UK has maintained its position and has made no effort to return the Chagos islands to Mauritian rule.
The Chagossians, who were forcibly removed from the island in the 1960s and have yet to be allowed back, have had this right consistently violated. Not only were they treated “very badly”, as solicitor general for the UK Robert Buckland himself stated, but those living in the UK have also recently faced the possibility of deportation. Yet, the verdict of the ICJ is a step in the right direction. Professor Philippe Sands QC stated that “the UK is a country which prides itself on respect for the rule of law. Our hope and expectation is that the UK will honour the ICJ’s findings and give effect to it as rapidly as possible”. David Snoxell, coordinator of the all-party parliamentary group in the Chagos, also stated that “the UK’s reputation and human rights record suffer.” This view was supported by another statement from Professor Sands, saying “Britain has fallen off its pedestal”.
However, it is arguable that UN regulations and ideals that member countries have to adhere to should have prevented this situation in the first place. Or, even better, that the Archipelago should have been returned to Mauritius when they gained their independence just a few years after Britain acquired the Chagos islands from France. As this issue has now been addressed and opened to public scrutiny, we may hope for increased accountability.
This dispute comes to light at a rather bad time for the UK, who is in the middle of Brexit negotiations. Afua Hirsch from the Guardian states that, “Britain wants to be seen as an oppressed EU colony.” He outlines the irony of this aim, with the debate around the Chago Archipelago being nothing if not indicative of neo-colonialism and reminiscent of Britain’s nostalgia for their once all powerful position as a coloniser. The right to self determination was non-existent during colonial times, but we have come a long way from then. Moreover, this is not the only time a democratic country, who claims to adhere to UN regulations, has violated this right in modern day. Debates around Catalonia, Gibraltar, and the Falkland islands showcase just how relevant and important this fundamental human right is.
This verdict by the ICJ and the reaction from the UK reveals just how prevalent neocolonialism is. This often neglected concept refers to the continued power of former colonial states over their colonies, which is often deliberately exercised in order to maintain the hegemony of certain former colonial states. Its ubiquitousness makes it intrinsically vital to discussions surrounding human rights violations, particularly that of self-determination. In order to preserve this right all countries must be fully decolonized, we can only hope this occurs in the Chago Archipelago.