General Assembly Adopts Resolution Seeking International Court’s Advisory Opinion on Pre-independence Separation of Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius
Minister Cites Need to Complete Decolonization Process as United Kingdom Says It Will Cede Territory When No Longer Needed for Defence
The General Assembly requested today that the International Court of Justice render an advisory opinion on the legal consequences arising from the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius before that Indian Ocean island nation’s independence in the 1960s.
By a recorded vote of 94 in favour to 15 against, with 65 abstentions, the Assembly adopted the text contained in document A/71/L.73, recalling its 1965 resolution in which it asked the United Kingdom not to dismember the territory of Mauritius ahead of its independence in 1968. It asked the Court whether the decolonization of Mauritius had been carried out in a lawful manner, given the Archipelago’s subsequent separation.
Also by the text, the Assembly asked the Court to advise on the consequences arising from the United Kingdom’s continuing administration of the Chagos Archipelago under international law, including the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. It pointed, in particular, to Mauritius’ inability to resettle its nationals, including those of Chagossian origin, on the islands.
Speaking before the action, Anerood Jugnauth, Mauritius’ Minister Mentor and Minister for Defence and Rodrigues – also a former Prime Minister and President – said “a vote for the draft resolution […] is a vote in support of completing the process of decolonization, respect for international law and the rule of law”. Recalling that that he had been accompanied by Chagossians forcibly evicted from their islands following the separation, he emphasized that his country had never accepted the situation, and had not been in a position to consent before gaining statehood, even if the United Kingdom claimed that compensation had been given for its consent.
Describing the Chagos Archipelago as part of his country since at least the eighteenth century, when France had governed it, he said the entire territory had been ceded to the United Kingdom in 1810, and kept intact until the unlawful excision of the Chagos Archipelago on 8 November 1965. He added that information had come to light about British efforts to manipulate the international community at the time, and to present the United Nations with a fait accompli regarding the separation. Those facts alone should warrant a fresh look at the situation, he emphasized.
The United Kingdom’s representative called for withdrawal of the draft resolution in order to keep a more constructive path open. Emphasizing that his country would not consent to having a bilateral dispute submitted for judicial settlement, he recalled that, in recent talks, the United Kingdom’s offers had clearly signalled acknowledgement of Mauritius’ long-term interest in the Archipelago, offering a framework for joint management of all its islands except Diego Garcia, the site of a military base.
He went on to state that United Kingdom had decided against resettling the Chagossians on the grounds of feasibility, cost, defence and security interests. However, it was implementing a $50 million support package designed to improve their livelihoods. The focus of Mauritius throughout recent talks had not been on the Chagossians, but rather on transferring sovereignty, he said. However, since the territory had been created for defence purposes in a joint agreement with the United States, sovereignty would revert to Mauritius when the territory was no longer required for that purpose.
Other speakers voiced respect for the principles of self-determination of peoples, the sovereignty of States and international law. Those opposing the resolution underlined the need for a consensual bilateral approach to resolving disputes between States, pointing out that the Court did not have mandatory jurisdiction in such issues. The representative of the United States said the Assembly’s action represented the circumvention of normal procedure, describing it as a “back-door” way to get the issue on the Court’s docket.
Many of those supporting the text prioritized the need to complete the decolonization process. India’s representative, while conceding his country’s security concerns relating to the Indian Ocean, said that, on balance, it was a matter of principle for India to uphold the decolonization process, as well as respect for the sovereignty of nations.
El Salvador’s representative called for broadening the Court’s jurisdiction, pointing out that his small country lacked large armies and nuclear weapons. “It is international law that protects us,” he pointed out.
On the budgetary implications of the resolution, a Secretariat official reported that it was not possible to determine an exact figure, but based on recent precedents, the cost of an advisory opinion concerning the Chagos Archipelago could range from $450,000 to $600,000.
Also speaking today were representatives of Congo, Venezuela (for the Non‑Aligned Movement), Angola (for the Southern African Development Community), Egypt, Kenya, United Republic of Tanzania, Chile, Croatia, France, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Uruguay, Germany, China, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, Portugal, Israel, Brazil, Myanmar and Indonesia.
Before the action on the resolution, the Assembly paid tribute to the late President Baldwin Lonsdale of Vanuatu. Following a minute of silence and a statement by the Assembly President, the following delegates delivered statements: Congo (on behalf of the Group of African States), Mongolia (on behalf of the Group of Asia-Pacific States), Romania (on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States), Honduras (on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States), Australia (on behalf of the Western European and other States), United States (the host country) and Vanuatu.