MNP leader calls for probe to determine legitimacy of policy shift in Mauritius dispute

Dhangethi MP Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim. (Photo/People's Majlis)

Leader of Maldives National Party (MNP), Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim has submitted a resolution calling for a parliamentary inquiry to ascertain the legitimacy of the shift in the government’s policy in the territorial dispute with Mauritius, and to assess the possible losses and benefits from the decision.

The resolution was presented by the Dhangethi MP during the parliamentary sitting Tuesday morning.

The territorial dispute is over an area between the Maldives and Chagos Islands - a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 islands in the Indian Ocean about 500 kilometers south of the Maldives archipelago.

For decades, Mauritius and the United Kingdom have been in a dispute over ownership of the Chagos, after Mauritius claimed the Chagos archipelago as Mauritian territory when Mauritius gained independence from the UK in 1968. Maldives became involved in the dispute as the country's exclusive economic zone overlaps with that of Chagos.

Mauritius lodged the case with the ITLOS under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on August 23, 2019.

Maldives had voted against a 2019 resolution in the UN General Assembly calling for the UK to relinquish claim over Chagos and hand the islands over to Mauritius within six months, citing a formal protest filed by Mauritius protesting against a case lodged by Maldives with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in 2010, asking for Maldives’ continental shelf to be extended beyond 200 nautical miles.

During verbal proceedings in the case last week, Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath said Maldives had decided to vote in favor of the Chagos decolonization resolution in the UN General Assembly this year, and that the Maldivian president had informed his decision in a letter to the Mauritius prime minister.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) said that decisions regarding votes in the UN General Assembly are linked to Maldives’ foreign policy – and that such decisions lie in the purview of the president.

AGO also insists that the decision by Maldives to vote in favor of the Chagos decolonization resolution in the UN General Assembly and the ongoing dispute at the ITLOS are two separate issues and that the vote will have no effect on the dispute.

Presenting his resolution, Nazim said he finds the shift in a stand Maldives has stood by since 2010 suspicious.

Nazim said that Article 3 of the Constitution declares Maldives’ boundaries, and any changes to the limits of the boundary requires a majority vote of at least two-thirds of the Parliament.

He also said that instead of informing the Maldivian people of the change in Maldives’ policy in the dispute, the government instead informed the Mauritius prime minister, without disclosing the reason for the change or the details of the discussions that led to the decision.

He said the letter from the Maldivian president to Mauritius prime minister proves Maldives and Mauritius has reached a international convention.

Nazim referred to Article 93 (a) of the Constitution, which requires parliamentary approval for all international conventions Maldives is party to.

He said the government failed to perform its legal duty.

Nazim said the dispute over Chagos isn’t linked to foreign policy alone, but is also a legal and economic issue. He said there is no evidence the government engaged in discussion over the issue from a holistic perspective.

He accused the AGO of using foreign policy as a shield against questions from reporters over the issue.

Nazim also said that given rare-earth elements are found most often underwater, the loss of even a small part of the ocean is a loss that will affect generations to come.

He said that it also conflicts with the third target of Maldives’ foreign policy, listed as increasing the economic prosperity of Maldives.

Nazim said the disputed area is rich in fish, and that the loss of any area of the ocean will be a significant loss to Maldives’ fisheries sector.

Nazim asked for the selection of a special committee to identify the reasons surrounding the shift in government’s policy in the dispute over Chagos, and to ascertain the decision wasn’t influenced by political pressure or money.

The committee must ascertain the shift in policy was made within the bounds of the law, assess the potential losses and benefits from the decision, and inform it to the Maldivian people, he said.