Indian Ocean Power Competition

ICJ rejects UK’s claim of sovereignty over Chagos Archipelago


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Chagos Archipelago (map based)

Mains level: Decolonization of IOR


  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has said in an advisory opinion that Britain has an obligation to end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago.
  • The Chagos Islands are home to the U.S. military base of Diego Garcia, under lease from the United Kingdom since the 1960s.

Ending Decolonization

  • The ICJ concluded that the decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed, as a result of Britain’s continued administration of the Chagos Islands.
  • The continued administration of the territory by the U.K. amounted to a “wrongful act”, which was not consistent with the right to the people of self determination.
  • The judges concluded that any detachment of part of a colony had to be based on the freely expressed and genuine will of the people.

Why UK needs Chagos?

  • The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.
  • Britain says that the islands will be returned to Mauritius when they are no longer needed for defence purposes.

Why ICJ intervened?

  • In his statement, the judge also noted that the original agreement had not allowed for third party involvement in the territory.
  • The base’s construction led to the displacement of some 1,500 people, who have been unable to return to the islands.

1965 pact

  • Under an agreement struck in 1965, in return for compensation to Mauritius and fishing rights, Britain has maintained control of the islands.
  • It has continued to do so despite efforts by Mauritius to regain control, and UN resolutions requiring it to complete the decolonization of Mauritius.
  • The ICJ held public hearings in September 2018 in the case after Britain was defeated in its attempt to halt a UNGA resolution calling for the UN’s highest court to delivery an advisory opinion on the issue.
  • In June 2017, the UNGGA adopted a resolution calling on the ICJ to delivery an advisory opinion on whether the continued administration by UK was lawful.
  • The UNGA win by Mauritius against the U.K., and the U.S.  was seen as a major blow to Britain.

Questioning its legitimacy

  • The legacy of colonialism and whether the kind of agreements struck between colonial powers and their colonies in the final stages cannot be legitimate.
  • While Britain contended that Mauritius freely consented to the detachment of the archipelago, Mauritius maintained that the choice faced was no choice at all.
  • The leadership of its independence movement had been forced into agreeing to the 1965 separation of the islands, fearful that if they did not do so, independence would not be granted.

Indian Stance

  • India too supported Mauritius in its case, with India’s Ambassador to the Hague telling the court last year that a historical survey of facts placed the archipelago as part of Mauritian territory.
  • Regarding the process of decolonization of Mauritius, it remains incomplete both technically and in substance as long as the Chagos Archipelago continues to be under the colonial control.

Conclusion: On Advisory Opinions

  • The ICJ which last week heard from India and Pakistan on the contentious case of Kulbushan Jadhav, can also deliver advisory opinions.
  • Unlike the Jadhav case, which is binding and non-appealable, advisory opinions are not binding, though they do carry substantial legal weight and are mostly adhered to.
  • However, there have been several occasions in which they have not been: such as the 2003 advisory opinion which obligated Israel to stop building the wall in the occupied Palestinian territory.
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