Maldives responds in the Mauritius-Maldives maritime boundary dispute

Chagos Archipelago, an atoll in the Indian Ocean located 310 miles off the coast of Addu City. (File Photo)

Maldives has responded in the Mauritius-Maldives maritime boundary dispute filed at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

Mauritius filed the dispute regarding the overlap the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with Mauritian waters in 2019. ITLOS decided that they had the jurisdiction to review the case and declare delimitation in January 28, 2021.

In a statement released by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) last night, they noted that Mauritius had submitted documents regarding their claims in May 6, following the Tribunal’s decision – to which Maldives has now responded to.

They further detailed the response was formulated with safeguarding the Maldivian Government’s most pertinent interests in mind – in light of the information gather by relevant government authorities, after discussions with cabinet ministers.

In addition to this, they said that the government has appointed a team of expert lawyers with education and experience in the such disputes and experts in the field of hydrography and geology to represent Maldives in this case at the Tribunal.

AGO also said that hearings regarding the dispute is expected to start sometime next year.

In the case, the Tribunal will declare delimitation of the boundary of Maldivian territorial waters with reference to international laws and the United Nations’ Convention of the Law of the Sea.

The disputed territory is the waters between Addu City and Chagos archipelago – which lies to the south, overlapping the EEZs of both countries.

Mauritius had claimed Chagos archipelago as its sovereign territory since the 18th century. However, the British Empire, in 1965, excised Chagos from Mauritius, and claimed sovereignty over Chagos in exchange for three million pounds to form the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

Chagos was excised from Mauritius three years before it gained independence from British rule.

The British Empire, from 1967-1973, commenced to relocate its citizens at Chagos to Mauritius, Seychelles and the UK in order to establish a military base at Diego Garcia in collaboration with the US.

The lease for the military base was extended to 2036 in 2016.

International Court of Justice, on 25 February 2019, ruled that UK was in violation of United Nations resolutions banning the dismemberment of colonial territories before independence, and instructed it to end its administration of Chagos as soon as possible.

Diego Garcia is mentioned throughout Maldivian history. French navigator François Pyrard de Laval makes mention of Maldivian citizens being sent to Diego Garcia during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Kalaafaanu – prior to inhabitation of the island by Mauritians.

The dispute over the territory led to Maldives voting against the UN resolution which called on the UK to cede the Chagos to Mauritius on May 22, 2019.

The dispute over the territory led to Maldives voting against the UN resolution which called on the UK to cede the Chagos to Mauritius on May 22, 2019.

The Foreign Ministry, in its statement over the decision to vote against the UN resolution, said that the Maldivian government could not support any proposal that diminishes the country’s territory as laid out in the 2008 constitution and domestic law.

119 member countries had voted in favor of the resolution, and only Maldives, UK, US, Hungary, Australia and Israel had sided against it.