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Knock Out Blow for UK-USA on Chagos Issue – ITLOS judgment


Sometimes a knock-out comes from a glancing blow or kalot flite

This is what has happened in the apparently low-stakes dispute between Mauritius and Maldives over the delimitation of their maritime boundary. 

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) under the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea on 28 January found, on a preliminary issue raised by Maldives, that Britain has no claim on Chagos. Not even “a claim”. 

The issue, ITLOS says, has been resolved by the UN’s top court, the ICJ. Britain has no more than “assertions” it makes! Britain’s position is, to all intents and purposes, to use the 19th Century vulgar expression, “wind and piss”. The unjustifiable nature of the British State's domination over part of Mauritius is now further exposed.

The judgment thus lands a legal knock-out through a mere glancing blow against a Great Britain that is not even being a party to the case.

UK-USA Low Moral Ground Exposed

Being a knock-out against Britain, the judgment is also a severe blow to the USA, what with the USA’s militarism being the reason behind Britain’s outrageous continued occupation of part of Mauritius, namely the Chagos archipelago: the USA has set up a vile and filthy military base on part of Chagos, Diego Garcia. From where it has sent B-52s to bomb civilians, inter alia, in Iraq and Afghanistan. On which it houses nuclear material and services nuclear submarines, thus ruining the pristine ocean. On which it rendered and tortured, amongst others, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and his pregnant wife. It is a “dark site” of the UK-US empire. Now becoming visible.

The Biden-led USA will be increasingly embarrassed by the low moral ground that Britain and the US have been occupying for over 60 years on this issue, now that the truth is no longer hidden in plain sight by “might is right”, as it has been from 1965 or so until very recently. 

Mauritian Government Obsequious

Now, unfortunately, the Mauritian government’s obsequious stance over the military base will again be exposed, as we move forward. Instead of calling for a time-table for base closure, the Mauritian State wants rent money from the USA for the military base. This stance then flies in the face of the Pelindaba Treaty for Nuclear Arms Free Africa, however much Mauritius might seek a fig leaf in the small print of the Treaty. 

Long struggle

LALIT has, together with Chagossians, maintained a struggle to get the wrongs of Chagos and Diego Garcia righted – by means of petitions, communiqués, street demonstrations, forums, international conferences, hunger strikes, court cases, leaflets, posters, books, newspaper articles, candle-light vigils – for over 40 years. While organizing with Chagossians, with women world-wide, with the anti-war and anti-base movement world-wide, with environmentalists world-wide, with unions and left parties, we have at the same time put constant pressure on a reluctant and subservient Mauritian State to put in international legal claims against the UK. 

Succeed in forcing Mauritian State to Act

First, Ramgoolam’s Labour Government put in the UNCLOS case that led to a judgment declaring the Britain’s trick of setting up a “Marine Protected Area” around Chagos and a polluted nuclear military base to be illegal. Wikileaks telegrams showed how environmentalist groups including Greenpeace had been hoodwinked into supporting the UK’s colonial maneuver. 

Then, the Jugnauth Government put in the ICJ case. This top UN tribunal decided that Britain’s continued occupation of Chagos including Diego Garcia was illegal, that Mauritius’ decolonization should proceed and that all States in the UN have an obligation to help get Britain out of Chagos. Now, ITLOS, has come and given a glancing blow that literally knocks the UK out.

Now the ITLOS Case

ITLOS re-iterates that as the ICJ found “the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago was unlawful and that the United Kingdom’s continued administration of the Chagos Archipelago constitutes an unlawful act of a continuing character” and that “the decolonization and sovereignty of Mauritius, including the Chagos Archipelago, are inseparably related.” 

ITLOS also decides, if anyone was in doubt, on the issue of the status of the ICJ “Advisory Opinion” that “judicial determinations made in advisory opinions carry no less weight and authority than those in judgments because they are made with the same rigor and scrutiny by the ‘principal judicial organ’ of the United Nations with competence in matters of international law.” It goes further, and says determinations by the ICJ “in the Chagos advisory opinion, inter alia, that the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago, and that the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible ... do have legal effect.”

ITLOS then completes the knock-out blow, by defining the status of the UN General Assembly Resolution calling on Britain to complete its decolonizing of Mauritius, and of all States to act towards this. Here is what the Judges say: 

The “Resolution was adopted by the General Assembly after it received the Chagos advisory opinion. It should be noted in this regard that, in the advisory opinion, the ICJ emphasized the functions of the General Assembly with regard to decolonization, in particular the “crucial role” which it has played in the work of the United Nations on decolonization (reference). It should also be noted that the ICJ stated in that context that ‘[t]he modalities necessary for ensuring the completion of the decolonization of Mauritius fall within the remit of the United Nations General Assembly, in the exercise of its functions relating to decolonization’ (reference). The ICJ went on to state that, ‘while it is for the General Assembly to pronounce on the modalities required to ensure the completion of the decolonization of Mauritius, all Member States must co-operate with the United Nations to put those modalities into effect” (reference).

“The General Assembly has thus been entrusted to take necessary steps toward the completion of the decolonization of Mauritius. In light of the general functions of the General Assembly on decolonization and the specific task of the decolonization of Mauritius with which it was entrusted, the Special Chamber considers that the Resolution ... is relevant to assessing the legal status of the Chagos Archipelago.

“In the resolution, the General Assembly affirmed, ‘in accordance with the advisory opinion of the Court’, that: ‘[t]he Chagos Archipelago forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius’.” 

ITLOS “ considers that this affirmation is the General Assembly’s view of the advisory opinion. 

“In the resolution, the General Assembly demanded that the United Kingdom … withdraw its colonial administration from the Chagos Archipelago unconditionally within a period of no more than six months from the adoption of the present resolution, thereby enabling Mauritius to complete the decolonization of its territory as rapidly as possible. The Special Chamber notes that this demand was made as one of the ‘modalities’ for ensuring the completion of the decolonization of Mauritius pursuant to the advisory opinion.” 


Basically, the dispute between Maldives and Mauritius about their maritime boundaries has had the effect of a legal and political knockout blow against Britain, not even a party to the case.

But from the LALIT’s point of view la luta continua! For:

 - Complete Decolonization of the entire Chagos.

- A constituency for Chagos, and a democratically organized right to return for all Chagossians.

- The right to free movement in the whole of Mauritius, including Chagos for everyone, especially Chagossians.

- A new, strong, sustainable fishing fleet over the entire maritime extent of Mauritius, which can create jobs for the fishing community and contributes towards food security.

- The closing down the military base on Diego Garcia. In the meantime, IAEA inspections under Pelindaba.

- An environmental clean-up paid for by the British and US occupiers before they leave. 

- Closing all Mauritian ports to military ships – Port Louis, Port Mathurin, Agalega, Diego Garcia all included.

 The geo-political situation is getting tougher now. There is the new challenge of the UK-USA military alliance being re-enforced by Naraindra Modi’s India joining the alliance. Trump forged a close US-India alliance. It is not clear yet whether Biden will change this. And Boris Johnson, due to be in India this month but for the Covid-19 crisis, has nevertheless a planned meeting with Modi.

But, what a fantastic struggle this has been, and still is. What amazing internationalism from grassroots political and union and women’s organizations we have benefitted from for 45 years. What wonderful street demonstrations. What brave hunger strikes. What talented and determined journalists have contributed. What moving candle-light gatherings have been held. What tenacity from Chagossians, especially women, especially in the most difficult times. And all this forced the Mauritian State to take its courage, go put in cases in the UN system. And the Mauritian State, like David, has defeated Goliath. 

But in victories, there can be defeats if la luta does not continua. Legal victory, even a knock-out, is not the ultimate victory.

Our party’s name is not LALIT for nothing! Both “the struggle” and “beautiful”.

Lindsey Collen, for LALIT, 30 January 2021