By Natasha Harrington, pupil barrister (Essex Court Chambers, London)

Mauritius has brought a claim under UNCLOS to stop the U.K. from pulling the rug out from under its long-standing claim to sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. The proceedings are likely to start with a fierce jurisdictional battle that presents an opportunity to clarify the role and scope of jurisdiction of specialist tribunals.

Background

On 20th December 2010 Mauritius filed a notification, statement of claim and grounds for ad hoc arbitration against the U.K under article 287 and annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, available here, under International Environmental Law Group, Public Documents).

The Mauritian claim follows what has been described as ‘a shockingly recent act of imperial arrogance’ (see the Chagos Support Association Website). In 1965, the U.K. included the Chagos Archipelago in a new British Indian Ocean Territory. The Chagos Islands were removed from the colony of Mauritius at a price of £3 million by an agreement between the U.K. and Mauritius that provided for the return of the islands when they are no longer required for defence purposes. Between 1967 and 1973 the U.K. forcibly expelled all 2,000 residents of the Chagos Archipelago and established a naval base on its largest island, Diego Garcia, which was leased to the U.S.A. Mauritius has claimed sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago since its independence in 1968. Chagossians have recently challenged prohibitions on return to their former homeland in the courts of the U.S.A. and the U.K., one such challenge is currently before the E.Ct.H.R. (Chagos Islanders v U.K.).

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