The sovereignty of the Chagos islands has been a matter of dispute between Mauritius and the UK since the 1980s. Britain has claimed that the islands have been British since 1814, that the connection to Mauritius was one of administrative convenience and that the colonial Government of Mauritius agreed to abandon its claim to the islands in 1965 when it accepted £3 million and other concessions from the UK ahead of its independence in 1968. Mauritius has since claimed that it was pressured into making the agreement and that the whole colony of Mauritius, which included Chagos and other Indian Ocean dependencies, should have never been broken up. Mauritius has claimed that this detachment of part of the colonial territory of Mauritius was against customary international law as recorded in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples of 14 December 1960. This stated that “Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations”.
Mauritius succeeded with the support of the African Union and the UN General Assembly in bringing a case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague in 2019 to determine if the decolonisation of Mauritius had been lawfully completed in 1965 when the UK created a new colony – the British Indian Ocean Territory – by separating the Chagos Archipelago from the rest of the colony and expelling the whole population.. The non-binding advisory opinion ruled that the decolonisation of Mauritius had not been lawfully completed and that the islands should be ceded to Mauritius.
To someone looking at this from the outside as an abstract case of law this may all seem quite reasonable. However, for Chagossians -who view this from long and raw experience- this advisory opinion is just the latest in a series of injustices where their rights and interests have been violated and their story of exile has been exploited for someone else’s advantage. The case at the ICJ dealt only with the rights of self-determination of Mauritians and the question to the court avoided any reference to the Chagossians as a people with rights – except as Mauritians. The question even describes Chagossians as “Mauritians of Chagossian origin” a term most Chagossians find completely unacceptable. Let’s examine why so many Chagossians object to the outcome at the court.
Firstly Chagossians see themselves as a distinct people living on islands 2000 km distant from Mauritius. They had (and have) a unique way of life, a language and a culture. They are the ‘belongers’ on the islands and have lived on the islands since before the arrival of the British in 1814 and long before the creation of the Republic of Mauritius in 1968.
Secondly it has always suited those in power to ignore or overlook their rights as the natives of the islands. The Chagossians were not consulted over the creation of BIOT in 1965, about their exile or about the independence of Mauritius. The case came to the ICJ in 2019 without their knowledge or their consent. A handful of selected Chagossians were present at the court as part of the Mauritian delegation, but they had no independent voice – the only Chagossian contribution being one short, pre-recorded video testimony about enforced exile. Many Chagossians feel that Mauritius exploited their story to its own advantage, that the Chagossians were the aggrieved party, but Mauritius the sole beneficiary.
Thirdly it must be remembered that Mauritius is a Hindu majority country with most of its population of Indian origin and with the political class and government mainly from that community. The Chagossians are a Creole people of African origin who experienced considerable discrimination and disadvantage in exile in Mauritius. The idea that Mauritius will be settling whoever it likes on their islands does not sit well with Chagossians who were certainly not made to feel “at home” when they arrived in Mauritius. Many Chagossians feel that Mauritius has betrayed the Chagossians twice over their islands. Firstly, when they ‘sold’ them for independence and now at the ICJ, where they have not only been denied representation but also been told that their islands belong to Mauritians.
The response of the UK was initially to ignore the advisory opinion, but unexpectedly they announced bilateral negotiations with Mauritius over the sovereignty of the islands which began in November 2022. Chagossians have once again been excluded from the negotiations, being only invited to engagement meetings where the UK Government representatives ‘listen’. Chagossians have no meaningful role in the talks.
Chagossian Voices is campaigning for the following:
- Full indigenous rights for the Chagossian people
- A right of self-determination for the Chagossian people
- A decisive role for Chagossians in the sovereignty negotiations concerning Chagos
- A right to return to the islands for all Chagossians, wherever they now live and whatever their current citizenship and a right to restore and maintain their chosen way of life.
- Full reparations for Chagossians from all concerned parties for their enforced exile and the consequent suffering and harm they have experienced.
The following documents explain our positions in more detail:
- Our briefing on Chagossian self-determination for UK Parliamentarians, ministers and civil servants (Jan 2023)
- Our statement to the UK Government on the sovereignty negotiations (Nov 2022) and the Government reply
- Our joint statement to the UK Government about the engagement events associated with the Sovereignty negotiations (March 2023) and the Government reply
- Our 12 statements at the United Nations in New York (UNPFII) and Geneva (EMRIP)
- Our statement to the Pre-session of the Universal Periodic Review of Mauritius (UN Geneva Nov 2023)