Israeli delegation weighs in on UK-Mauritius territorial dispute at top UN court

In what could be yet another low point in ties with UK, India on Wednesday supported Mauritius in International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the issue of decolonisation of the Chagos Archipelago, a part of Indian Ocean Region. 

India told the ICJ that historical facts and related legal positions confirm that sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago has been and continues to be with Mauritius.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) holds a public hearing as Ukraine launched legal proceedings against Russia at The Hague, on March 6, 2017

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) holds a public hearing as Ukraine launched legal proceedings against Russia at The Hague, on March 6, 2017

Bas Czerwinski (aiwa/AFP)
Israel has not participated in such proceedings for nearly six decades

For the first time in decades, Israel participated in a debate at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in an effort to diversify the international portfolio of the Jewish State.

Judges at the ICJ in The Hague were listening to arguments from various countries in a case brought by the United Nations over the future of the Indian Ocean archipelago called Chagos, which is claimed by Mauritius.

London split off the remote islands from Mauritius in 1965, three years before Port Louis gained independence. Their status has since been at the center of a bitter dispute spanning five decades.

Sabrina BLANCHARD (AFP/File)
Map locating the Chagos Islands 
Sabrina BLANCHARD (AFP/File)

Israeli officials told the Times of Israel it was important for their country to show the world it can participate in international legal issues unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Officials from Israel’s justice and foreign ministries debated with representatives of other nations regarding an ongoing territorial dispute between Britain and Mauritius.

Israel’s delegation to the oral proceedings, led by the Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser, Tal Becker, put forth two statements in a discussion of the ICJ’s jurisdiction to issue an advisory opinion.

In a diplomatic blow to Britain, the UN General Assembly last year adopted a resolution presented by Mauritius and backed by African countries asking the ICJ to offer legal advice on the island chain’s fate.

The judges are tasked to give an opinion whether the “process of decolonization of Mauritius was lawfully completed” after Chagos was split off.

They are also to give their view on the consequences of Britain’s continued administration of the islands — including the inability of thousands of Chagossians who were evicted in the 1970s, to return to their homes.

Israel ultimately took Britain’s side, arguing that the ICJ did not have jurisdiction to issue advisory opinions on the case, claiming it is a dispute to be solved by the parties directly involved.

22 states, including Israel, participated in the hearings.

Residents of of Diego Garcia Island, in the Indian Ocean Chagos Archipelago, receiving news ijn 1971 that they will all be deported 

“If I am not mistaken, the last time the State of Israel took part in oral proceedings for this court was almost six decades ago,” Becker told the hearing participants at The Hague on Wednesday.

“Israel attaches importance to the present advisory proceedings, as they touch upon matters that transcend the particular circumstances of this case and bear upon the specific settlement of international disputes, in more general terms,” he said. “My presence today here is also testimony to the importance that Israel attaches to international law more broadly.”

– Military base –

The African Union and 22 countries — which also includes the US, Germany and several Asian and Latin American nations — are making statements during the four-day hearing.

After the hearings, the ICJ is expected to hand down a non-binding advisory opinion, but the judges’ ruling may take several months or even years.

However, an opinion still carries weight and a finding in favor of Mauritius may strengthen its hand in future negotiations. It could also lay the foundation for an eventual formal claim before the ICJ — set up after World War II in 1946 to rule in disputes between countries.

Chagos Islanders protest in London in 2008 

Mauritius, which declared independence in 1968, argues that it was illegal for London to break up its territory while still under colonial rule.

Afterwards as the Cold War heated up, London established a combined military base with the US on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands.

Britain said it would give back the islands to Mauritius “when no longer required for defense purposes”.

Port Louis did acknowledge that Mauritius “recognizes the existence of the base and accepts its continued and future functioning in accordance with international law.”

The Diego Garcia base remains important for US strategic military operations, including serving as a staging ground for bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq and the fight against rampant piracy in the Indian Ocean.

The base “continues to play a critical role in the peace and security of the Indian Ocean region and beyond,” US representative Newstead said.

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