Mauritius has taken to International Court of Justice, the top court of UN to contest the claim of Britain over the Indian Ocean Island chain, popularly known as the Chagos Islands. Mauritius has blamed that UK had unfairly pushed the country in 1965 to give up its jurisdiction over the Chagos Islands in return for independence.
United Nations General Assembly had asked for an advisory opinion of the ICJ on the authenticity of British claims on the Chagos Islands. Former President of Mauritius Anerood Jugnauth, told the Hague bench that the decolonisation of the country still remains unfinished even after more than 50 years of independence because of illegal detachment of a vital part of our territory on the eve of the independence of the nation.
The World Court will spend three more days to hear various representatives from as many as 22 countries and also the African Union, about the colonial history and the right of return of islanders who have been living in exile. A large number of the above nations oppose the British right of sovereignty over the island but it is expected that US, Australia and Israel will back UK. ICJ verdict is not binding on the parties but it has a great significance in International Law.
Many are viewing the situation as a testing case of legality of the colonial era deals which were made by stronger powers with weaker states in light of the power imbalance. In 1965, Britain had detached Chagos Islands from Mauritius. It further gave Diego Garcia island to US on lease in 1966, thus making it possible for US to build an airbase by forcing 1500 people. Latter have never been allowed to return to the islands. US has a major airbase on the island with over 4000 troops stationed there ever since.
Mauritius has laid its claims based on UN resolution 1514 which prohibited breakup of colonies before independence. UK has not registered any formal response but is expected to state that Mauritius is illegally roping in ICJ for a bilateral dispute. It will likely maintain the position that it has the right to make use of the island for military purposes and will not give any particular date of returning the same. People who were displaced have been fighting for their right to return since decades but UK extended the lease to US till 1936 thus declaring the exiled islanders will not be allowed to return.
A small group of Chagossians gathered outside the Court and also called for their right to self-determination while showing banners reading “ modern slavery”.