Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Justice for the Chagosians?

In 1965 the UK forced its colony Mauritius to hand over the Chagos Archipelago, a cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean. They then ethnicly cleansed it to make space for a US military base. Now, the International Court of Justice has ruled that those actions violated international law and that the islands must be returned:

The UK has been ordered to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius “as rapidly as possible” after the United Nations’ highest court ruled that continued British occupation of the remote Indian Ocean archipelago is illegal.

Although the majority decision by the international court of justice in The Hague is only advisory, the unambiguous clarity of the judges’ pronouncement is a humiliating blow to Britain’s prestige on the world stage.


Delivering judgment, the president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the detachment of the Chagos archipelago in 1965 from Mauritius had not been based on a “free and genuine expression of the people concerned”.

“This continued administration constitutes a wrongful act,” he added. “The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible and that all member states must co-operate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius.”

That duty of cooperation is binding upon the US, who are the current occupiers of the islands.

Its a victory for justice, and a solid statement of the principles of international law. Unfortunately, it is only an advisory opinion, with shame and the desire to be seen as good international citizens as the only enforcement mechanisms. But the UK makes a lot of noise about its commitment to international law and its desire for a proper international legal order (even saying that post-Brexit they will be more willing to use military force to enforce that order). So, they have a choice about whether to obey the principles they profess, or be international criminals.

Sadly, I think we all know what they will choose.