GIS - 23 March 2015: ‘The United Nations Arbitral Tribunal has unanimously held that the marine protected area (MPA) which the UK purported to declare around the Chagos Archipelago in April 2010 violates international law. This is a historic ruling for Mauritius. This victory is for Mauritius as a whole, including those of our fellow countrymen who are of Chagossian origin’, said the Prime Minister, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, on 20 March 2015 in reply to a Private Notice Question at the National Assembly.
The PNQ pertained to the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos Archipelago and the so-called ‘Chagos Marine Protected Area’ and the Ruling delivered on 18 March 2015 by the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.
The Prime Minister pointed out that it is the first time that the UK’s conduct with regard to the Chagos Archipelago has been considered and condemned by any international court or tribunal. He qualified the ruling as an important milestone in the relentless struggle, at the political, diplomatic and other levels, of successive Governments over the years for the effective exercise by Mauritius of its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago.
Sir Anerood Jugnauth moreover proposes to chair a committee which will consider the best way forward and formally invited the Leader of the Opposition, as well as a representative of each political party represented in Parliament, to form part of this committee.
The Findings of the Tribunal
The Tribunal has made a number of important findings: it considered in detail the undertakings given by the United Kingdom to the Mauritian Ministers at the Lancaster House talks in September 1965. The UK had argued that those undertakings were not binding and had no status in international law. The Tribunal firmly rejected that argument, holding that those undertakings became a binding international agreement upon the independence of Mauritius, and have bound the UK ever since.
It found that the UK’s commitments towards Mauritius in relation to fishing rights and oil and mineral rights in the Chagos Archipelago are legally binding.
The Tribunal also found that the United Kingdom’s undertaking to return the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence purposes is legally binding. This establishes that, in international law, Mauritius has real, firm and binding rights over the Chagos Archipelago, and that the United Kingdom must respect those rights.
The Tribunal went on to hold that the United Kingdom had not respected Mauritius’ binding legal rights over the Chagos Archipelago. It considered the events from February 2009 to April 2010, during which time the MPA proposal came into being and was then imposed on Mauritius.
Proceedings initiated against the UK under UNCLOS
It is recalled that in pursuance of our ongoing struggle for sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, Mauritius initiated on 20 December 2010 proceedings against the UK under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to challenge the legality of the MPA which the United Kingdom purported to declare around the Chagos Archipelago in April 2010.
Since Mauritius and the United Kingdom did not agree on the means for the settlement of the dispute, it was submitted to arbitration in accordance with Annex VII to UNCLOS.
After lengthy written pleadings by the Parties and a hearing from 22 April to 9 May 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey, the Arbitral Tribunal set up under Annex VII to UNCLOS gave its Award on 18 March 2015. The Award is final and without appeal, and is binding on both Parties. It has been made public on 20 March 2015.