Antonios Tzanakopoulos, Law Fellow of St Anne’s College and Associate Professor of Public International Law in the Law Faculty, acted for the Republic of Cyprus in the International Court of Justice. Cyprus submitted both written and oral pleadings in the Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965. The oral hearings took place at the seat of the Court, the Peace Palace in The Hague, in September 2018. The Court’s opinion is expected in 2019.
In 1965 the Chagos islands were excised from the territory of Mauritius, while Mauritius was still a British colony. Mauritius thus gained its independence in 1968 without the Chagos archipelago as part of its territory. The excised archipelago became a new colony and later overseas territory of the UK now called the British Indian Ocean Territory. The UK forcibly removed all inhabitants from the islands and allowed the construction of a large US Air Force base on the largest of the Chagos islands, Diego Garcia.
Many claims have been made by Chagossians forcibly removed from their homes in domestic courts and in the European Court of Human Rights, while Mauritius itself has brought claims in the past against the UK for its declaration of a Marine Protected Area around the archipelago which excluded locals from fishing in those waters. In 2017, the UN General Assembly decided to ask the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations for an advisory opinion on whether the process of decolonisation of Mauritius had been lawfully concluded, given that part of its territory was excised before independence was granted by the colonial power, and on what are the legal consequences of the continued administration of the Chagos archipelago by the UK, including with respect to the inability of the Chagossians to return to their homes in the Chagos islands for resettlement (the UK has decided against allowing resettlement to the islands).
The International Court of Justice is called thus to respond to the legal questions put to it by the General Assembly. In this process, all member states of UN are called to present argument, written and oral, before the Court. Many decided to do so. States appearing before the ICJ is a solemn affair, and many states do not rely solely on their legal departments but seek to retain outside specialist counsel. Antonios was retained by the Republic of Cyprus and acted for it both in the written and the oral part of the proceedings.
Find out more on the Court’s website: https://www.icj-cij.org/en/case/169