UN court rules against UK sovereignty over Chagos islands following the Mauritius & Maldives maritime dispute

One of the Chagos Islands - Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia is one of the Chagos Islands. It is also the home to a US military base. Photo: Science Photo Library.

United Nations – The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has ruled that Britain has no sovereignty over the Chagos Islands.

This ruling came after the legal dispute between Mauritius and Maldives maritime border. The sea area that is being disputed by the two countries is between the southernmost atoll of Maldives and the Chagos Archipelago which is approximately 500 kilometers from Addu City.

On December 18 of 2019, an issue was presented to ITLOS requesting to find a solution as the territorial water of Mauritius is being overlapped by the EEZ of Maldives. Maldives argued that the boundary dispute could not be resolved while sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago remained in dispute.

It saddens me that Mauritius decided to settle the territorial disputed between UK and Mauritius by presenting the issues with Maldives to the tribunal. Maldives has been dragged into a matter that does not concern with it.

Maldives Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath
The ITLOS Ruling

The ITLOS judges rejected that argument and explicitly criticised the UK’s failure to hand the territory over to its former colony, Mauritius, by December 2019, as earlier demanded by a near-unanimous vote at the UN’s General Assembly.

In reaction to the ITLOS ruling the UK insisted that the BIOT was their territory while the Mauritius approved of the decision by ITLOS in the country’s favour.

“The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the BIOT and the UK does not recognise its claim,” stated a spokesperson of the British Foreign Office.

“The judgement… is clear and unequivocal. Mauritius is sovereign over the Chagos Archipelago,” stated Mauritius’s Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth to the BBC

AG Riffath has previously stated that a clear decision from the ITLOS will allow the Maldives to negotiate a maritime boundary with complete clarity as to which is the coastal State for the purposes of UNCLOS.

The growing international consensus is that the UK should complete the decolonization process.

Dispute between the United Kingdom and Mauritius 

In the 18th century, Mauritius claimed a group of seven islands in the Indian Ocean called the Chagos Archipelago. However, on the 20th century, the British Empire cut off Chagos from Mauritius and claimed their rights on the Chagos islands. In return, the UK decided to give a total of three million pounds to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).