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BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORY

Statement made on 26 June 2017

Statement UIN HCWS10

Statement

On 22 June, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution at the instigation of Mauritius seeking an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago, which the UK administers as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Fewer than half of the General Assembly’s 193 members voted in favour of the resolution (94 countries); 15 voted against it, 65 abstained and 19 did not vote. We are disappointed that this bilateral dispute is being taken to the International Court of Justice. This is an inappropriate use of the ICJ advisory mechanism because it is an attempt to circumvent the principle that no State should be compelled to have its bilateral disputes submitted for judicial settlement without its consent, not least on matters of sovereignty. This is a matter for the UK and Mauritius to resolve bilaterally.

We have no doubt about our sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the Archipelago and we do not recognise its claim. We have, however, made a long-standing commitment to cede sovereignty of the territory to Mauritius when it is no longer required for defence purposes. We stand by that commitment.

We created BIOT for defence purposes and, in 1966, concluded with the United States of America an agreement for joint defence use of the territory. Our current agreement lasts until 2036. We cannot now predict what our defence purposes will require beyond that point. BIOT plays an active role in regional and global security and defence, to the considerable benefit of the UK, US, other allies and regional partners.

We have engaged in good faith in discussions to try to resolve the issue bilaterally. The UK Government has made significant proposals to Mauritius which respect and recognise their long term interest in the archipelago. We have offered, without prejudice to our sovereignty, a framework for the joint management, in environment and scientific study, of all the islands of the territory except for Diego Garcia, and we have offered enhanced bilateral security cooperation. These offers were relevant to the dispute and were seriously made. We are disappointed that the Government of Mauritius chose to reject them and to walk away from bilateral talks and instead decided to use multilateral mechanisms.

The UN Resolution also mentions the very important matter of the Chagossians. We are currently designing an approximately £40m support package, to improve Chagossian livelihoods in the communities where they now live: in Mauritius, the Seychelles and the UK.

The UK will continue to defend robustly our sovereignty over BIOT.