UK Rejects International Court of Justice Opinion on the Chagos Islands 884

In parliament, Alan Duncan for the government has just rejected yesterday’s stunning result at the International Court of Justice, where British occupation of the Chagos Islands was found unlawful by a majority of 13 to 1, with all the judges from EU countries amongst those finding against the UK.

This represents a serious escalation in the UK’s rejection of multilateralism and international law and a move towards joining the US model of exceptionalism, standing outside the rule of international law. As such, it is arguably the most significant foreign policy development for generations. In the Iraq war, while Britain launched war without UN Security Council authority, it did so on a tenuous argument that it had Security Council authority from earlier resolutions. The UK was therefore not outright rejecting the international system. On Chagos it is now simply denying the authority of the International Court of Justice; this is utterly unprecedented.

Duncan put forward two arguments. Firstly that the ICJ opinion was “only” advisory to the General Assembly. Secondly, he argued that the ICJ had no jurisdiction as the case was a bilateral dispute with Mauritius (and thus could only go before the ICJ with UK consent, which is not given).

But here Duncan is – against all British precedent and past policy – defying a ruling of the ICJ. The British government argued strenuously in the present case against ICJ jurisdiction, on just the grounds Duncan cited. The ICJ considered the UK’s arguments, together with arguments from 32 other states and from the African Union. The ICJ ruled that it did have jurisdiction, because this was not a bilateral dispute but part of the UN ordained process of decolonisation.

The International Court of Justice’s ruling on this point is given at length in paras 83 to 91 of its Opinion. This is perhaps the key section:

88. The Court therefore concludes that the opinion has been requested on the matter of decolonization which is of particular concern to the United Nations. The issues raised by the request are located in the broader frame of reference of decolonization, including the General Assembly’s role therein, from which those issues are inseparable (Western Sahara, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1975, p. 26, para. 38; Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 2004 (I), p. 159, para. 50).
89. Moreover, the Court observes that there may be differences of views on legal questions in advisory proceedings (Legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (South West Africa) notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 276 (1970), Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1971, p. 24, para. 34). However, the fact that the Court may have to pronounce on legal issues on which divergent views have been expressed by Mauritius and the United Kingdom does not mean that, by replying to the request, the Court is dealing with a bilateral dispute.
90. In these circumstances, the Court does not consider that to give the opinion requested would have the effect of circumventing the principle of consent by a State to the judicial settlement of its dispute with another State. The Court therefore cannot, in the exercise of its discretion, decline to give the opinion on that ground.
91. In light of the foregoing, the Court concludes that there are no compelling reasons for it to decline to give the opinion requested by the General Assembly.

As stated at para 183, that the court did have jurisdiction was agreed unanimously, with even the US judge (the sole dissenter on the main question) in accord. For the British government to reject the ICJ’s unanimous ruling on jurisdiction, and quote that in parliament as the reason for not following the ICJ Opinion, is an astonishing abrogation of international law by the UK. It really is unprecedented. The repudiation of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention over Julian Assange pointed the direction the UK is drifting, but that body does not have the prestige of the International Court of Justice.

The International Court of Justice represents the absolute pinnacle of, and embodies the principle of, international law. In 176 decisions, such as Nigeria vs Cameroon or Malaysia vs Indonesia, potentially disastrous conflicts have been averted by the states’ agreement to abide by the rule of law. The UK’s current attack on the ICJ is a truly disastrous new development.

I have taken it for granted that you know that the reason the UK refuses to decolonise the Chagos Islands is to provide an airbase for the US military on Diego Garcia. If Brexit goes ahead, the Chagos Islands will also lead to a major foreign policy disagreement between the UK and US on one side, and the EU on the other. The EU will be truly shocked by British repudiation of the ICJ.

I have studied the entire and lengthy ICJ Opinion on the Chagos Islands, together with its associated papers, and I will write further on this shortly.


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884 thoughts on “UK Rejects International Court of Justice Opinion on the Chagos Islands

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  • N_

    I knew Anna Soubry was an ego nut who wears army boots, but I hadn’t realised she was semi-literate:

    “As a former criminal barrister gang/serious violence/knife crime is complicated & won’t be solved simply by recruiting more police but it’s part of the solution.”

    • Charles Bostock

      It could have been written better but the meaning seems clear enough, surely? She obviously doesn’t have someone to write her scripts for her….unlike some, eh, N_?

  • Republicofscotland

    Is this the real reasom for the PM’s Brexit extension? Bearing in mind the EU brought in new stricter tax laws at the beginning of this year, is this why some MP’s are pushing hard for a no deal?

    “The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has come in for severe criticism after cancelling a crucial vote on a key piece of Brexit legislation after it became clear that a cross-party amendment – to essentially name and shame the bosses of tax avoiding companies – was going to succeed”

    Evolve Politics | Truly Independent Political News, Media & Opinion

    Home UK Conservatives Theresa May cancels key Brexit vote because amendment to name and shame…
    Theresa May cancels key Brexit vote because amendment to name and shame tax avoiders was going to pass
    By Tom D. Rogers – 4th March 2019

    Share Facebook Twitter ReddIt Email
    Theresa May cancels key Brexit vote because amendment to name and shame tax avoiders was going to pass
    The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has come in for severe criticism after cancelling a crucial vote on a key piece of Brexit legislation after it became clear that a cross-party amendment – to essentially name and shame the bosses of tax avoiding companies – was going to succeed.


    “A vote on the government’s Financial Services Bill – a key piece of legislation needed before the UK leaves the EU – had been scheduled for tonight.”

    “However, after MPs put forward an amendment to make British-controlled tax havens more transparent, the bill has now completely disappeared from today’s House of Commons Order of Business.”

  • Sharp Ears

    Yet again, Hodge and co are still attacking Jeremy Corbyn, a member of his staff and one of his appointments, Lord Falconer of all people.* Why is Falconer being trusted now?

    Jeremy Corbyn attacked over interventions in antisemitism complaints
    Dame Margaret Hodge has complained about “political interference” from one of Jeremy Corbyn’s staff in a disciplinary procedure.

    * Sixteen years ago in July, Falconer was setting up the Hutton Inquiry in lieu of an inquest for Dr David Kelly.

    An inquest was suspended by then Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, who ruled that Lord Hutton’s inquiry could take its place. But in the event, the inquiry focused more on the question of how the BBC report came to be broadcast than on the medical explanation for Dr Kelly’s death

    • Vivian O'Blivion

      The whole saga is becoming tiresome. Sadly, Corbyn cannot win the next GE, the TIGers put payed to that. In these circumstances Corbyn must ask himself what he can achieve in the medium term. The answer to my way of thinking is to take steps that will force a split in the party. Socialists will remain with Labour. Hodge, Watson et all can bugger off the the TIGers and from there to the LibDems. Given that 9 out of 11 LibDem MPs are in the party FoI group, Hodge and co will fit right in. The damage to Labour will be short term in a cycle where power was never within its grasp. Labour can rebuild its Parliamentary position by selection of candidates from its newly, reinvigorated grass roots in a similar way to the SNP post 2014.

      • Dungroanin


        Labour are certain to win any GE called now or in the future.

        That is why it hasn’t been called yet.

        The max 80-odd rump PLooPers are gathering the Labour treasures/ lists of members and wrecking the kit and offices as they prepare the great march to THEIR promised land, promised to them by their god, the Funny Tinged Eden.

        The challenge is for the CLPs to have the prospective LOCAL candidates ready to hit the ground running – as the election will follow the exodus.

        The challenge is to get new members as a few go off with the very funny tingers.

        The challenge is to get the voters to remain loyal to Labours original social democratic demands.

        As the funny tings get into bed with May to deliver the tory brexit – it is a fight for the future generations against the usual aristos and new rich and global financiers.

        It is not an easy task – but it is achievable.

        • Ian

          Corbyn has tried, and did a decent job last election, but all the evidence is that he has failed to build on that. It is quite sad to see the worst, most incompetent and fraudulent government in living memory and Labour toothless and ineffective in combatting it, with no sign it is picking up the support it needs. Whatever his merits, he is just not convincing to the non-aligned.

          • Dungroanin

            What will be too late?

            You are not being logical – you say he can’t win an election because…? You say it will be too late too win an election?

            But you know that Labour can’t call a election, right?

            You know that the Tories won’t vote against May in a no- confidence vote don’t you? Because they have been told and believe Labour would win.

            You know that don’t you?

        • Vivian O'Blivion

          The TIGers are secretly funded and presumably flash with cash. If 80 pseudo Labour MPs went over to the TIGers, they would presumably stand at the next GE under whatever fab new logo the expensive advertising gurus employed by the TIGers feel has the most traction with their target audience. Election materials can be delivered by the Post Office in the absence of party activists (the LibDems in East Dumbartonshire are proof that elections can be bought in this country). The individual candidates will have face recognition and attract some misplaced loyalty from the public. In short, Hodge, Watson and co., may not get elected but they can divert off enough votes to allow Tory gains from Labour. The numbers just don’t add up I’m afraid.

          • Dungroanin

            That is the challenge.

            It is not a foregone conclusion.

            The digging up and dressing in the putrid body of SDP1 and attempting to achieve the same outcome is deluded, desperate and wishful because the starting conditions are completely different.

        • Sharp Ears

          Hodge is on Sky News with creepy crawly Kay Burley feeding her with the right questions for her responses, addressing her as ‘Dame Margaret”.

          Hodge is SO sincere and so INJURED. She definitely doth protest too much.

          Sick of it.

    • Jo1

      It’s not remotely funny, obviously, but I did laugh yesterday seeing a headline in the Guardian saying something like, “Falconer denies he cannot act independently in Complaints Process”. This was apparently the latest attack tactic. Yet what had Watson proposed? He wants people to refer complaints about anti-Semitism to HIM! Yeh, that’s REALLY independent!

  • Republicofscotland

    The Great Satan and its nefarious Saudi ally slapdown the EU.

    “The United States and key ally Saudi Arabia saw their lobbying efforts pay off on Friday after the European Commission’s proposed dirty money blacklist—which included the oil-rich kingdom and several American territories—fizzled.”

    “The Americans fell on us like a tonne of bricks,” an anonymous Brussels official told the Financial Times.”

    “The effort “to protect the integrity of the E.U. financial system,” the commission said last month, included blacklisting 23 territories that had “strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks.” They included American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico as well as Saudi Arabia.”

    “However, as the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, “European governments, under pressure from Washington and Riyadh, have refused to endorse” the list.”

  • Republicofscotland

    John Bolton one of the Great Satan’s mouthpieces has threatened Cuba with sanctions if it continues to support the democratically elected President of Venezuela Maduro.

    Meanwhile as the Great Satan’s Obama lookalike puppet returns to Venezuela at the airport in Caracas, ambassadors from Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and several other countries which gathered at the arrival gate to huddle around him like a high-profile human shield.

    The Great Satan’s minions doing his bidding.

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