Britain’s ‘isolation in the world’ was highlighted by global law experts yesterday in a discussion about the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Islands.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in February Britain had not completed its decolonisation of Mauritius, and that its continuing occupation of the Chagos Islands, or British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), was unlawful and should be brought to an end.
Panellists at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) yesterday pondered the ramifications of the ICJ’s advisory opinion for British prestige, the international balance of power, and the right to self-determination.
Professor Philippe Sands QC, who was in The Hague for the verdict, said: “The UK is fantastically isolated right now.
“We’re seeing here the first price of a toxic combination of Brexit, Iraq, Chagos, reflected in the loss of its judge at the International Court, reflected in the loss of the resolution of the general assembly, reflected in the loss of this advisory opinion.“
The ICJ passed the motion in support of Mauritius by a majority of 13 to one.
The UK’s only ally was the United States, who have a military base in the BIOT at Diego Garcia.
A similar UN general assembly vote in 2017 saw Mauritius backed by a margin of 94 to 15, with Canada and many EU member states abstaining – highlighting British isolation.
The UK detached the Chagos Islands from Mauritius prior to granting it independence in 1968, after which the native population were forcibly removed to accommodate the US military.
Dr Stephen Allen said: “Detachment of the Chagos Islands was to be the price of independence.”
Dr Allen said the verdict raised questions about the relationship between a territory and self-determination, referencing the right of the Chagossians themselves to self-determination.
Many of the Chagossian diaspora live in the UK and some have been denied British citizenship, or have suffered hardship in Mauritius itself.
Also on the panel was Nicola Peart, who represented Vanuatu at the hearings.
Ms Peart said the verdict gave hope to Vanuatu, who had islands similarly severed from their control upon independence and incorporated into French New Caledonia.
There was a general consensus that the ruling represented a break with the old-world order, and demonstrated a coming-of-age for developing nations on the international stage.
Professor Sands said: “This is the first time in history, the entire African continent spoke with a single voice in getting the resolution to go through.
“55 African states all singing to the same tune, it is a remarkable thing to perceive.”
Mauritius has maintained that it would allow the United States to keep its military base at Diego Garcia, although the UK-US treaty may be an issue in ensuring the British adhere to the ruling.
Panellists all agreed this is something the UK cannot ignore and something the world will take notice of.