UK agrees negotiate with Mauritius on handover of Chagos Islands

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

UK has expressed their intention to negotiate with Mauritius regarding handover of the the disputed territory of Chagos Islands.

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.

UK, which had severed the Chagos Islands from Mauritius before independence, claiming it to be a part of British-Indian Ocean Territory in the Indian Ocean, had forcibly deported over thousands of inhabitants of Diego Garcia, the largest of the 60 small islands in the archipelago, so that they could lease the island to the United States for a military base.

UK has refused to comply with decisions by international bodies urging the handover of Chagos Islands to Mauritius – deeming the British occupation of the islands illegal. This included the 2019 decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ highest court.

This decision was ignored by the UK on the grounds that it was advisory, as the ICJ lacked jurisdiction enforce their decision.

In 2021, Hamburg-based international tribunal for the law of the sea ruled that the British claim to the archipelago was illegal – another ruling which the UK refused to accept.

A statement by UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the aim was to reach a settlement with Mauritius early next year.

“Through negotiations, taking into account relevant legal proceedings, it is our intention to secure an agreement on the basis of international law to resolve all outstanding issues, including those relating to the former inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago,” the statement read.

Maldives is involved in this dispute as the country's exclusive economic zone overlaps with that of Chagos.

Mauritius lodged the case with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (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 in late October, 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.

They also stressed that Maldives’ interests were properly defended in accordance with international conventions and legal principles and decisions before the ITLOS.