UK slammed for failing to comply with archipelago order
Publish date: 02 December 2019
Issue Number: 852
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
The UK Government has failed to comply with a UN deadline to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius. As previously reported in Legalbrief Today, the UK in 1968 separated the Indian Ocean island chain from Mauritius prior to its independence. It subsequently evicted about 2 000 people from in order to set up a joint military base with the US. In an advisory opinion on the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands published in February 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found the separation of islands was in contravention of international law. It urged the UK to end its administration ‘as rapidly as possible’. Despite Britain’s rejection of the ruling, an overwhelming majority of UN member states voted in favour of a non-binding resolution that urged the UK to withdraw its ‘colonial’ administration within six months. The deadline passed last week.
In an analysis in The Conversation, Miriam Bak McKenna says the UK’s stance on the matter evokes echoes of a colonial attitude that continues to rear its head in parts of the international community. ‘The UK’s refusal to acknowledge the Chagossians’ right to self-determination, even as it continues to defend the right of the Falkland Islanders, is linked to the strategic importance of the defence facility on the island of Diego Garcia. But this justification seems to be wearing thin, given that the Mauritian government has repeatedly stated it would allow the military base to continue to operate once it controlled the islands. The imposition of UN sanctions on the UK over the issue is unlikely. So Mauritius and the broader international community have no other legal recourse available and little else in their arsenal but to continue to apply international political pressure.'