On 1 April 2010, the UK declared the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos Archipelago. The Archipelago is one of 14 remaining British overseas territories, administered by the UK as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). In contrast to other British overseas territories such as the Falklands/Malvinas and Gibraltar, BIOT is not on the UN list of non-self-governing territories. There is currently no permanent local population because the UK cleared the archipelago of the Chagossians between 1968 and 1973.
Mauritius and the UK both claim sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. The largest island of the Chagos Archipelago – Diego Garcia – has since the late 1960s housed the most important US military base in the Indian Ocean. The UK leased the island for defense purposes to the US in 1966, prior to Mauritian independence in 1968. The 50-year lease of Diego Garcia is due to be renewed in 2016.
In the Matter of the Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v. UK), a tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) issued its award on 18 March 2015. The tribunal found that the UK’s declaration of the MPA disregarded Mauritius’ rights, rendering the MPA unlawful. The award raises the prospect that the renewal of the lease in 2016 will require the UK to meaningfully consult Mauritius.
Mauritius made four submissions to the tribunal:
First: The UK was not entitled to declare a MPA because it was not a coastal state under UNCLOS (the ‘sovereignty claim’, according to the UK)
Second: The UK was prevented from unilaterally declaring the MPA due to Mauritius’ rights as a coastal state under UNCLOS
Third: The UK may not take any steps to prevent the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf from making recommendations to Mauritius in respect of any full submission to the Commission that Mauritius may make
Fourth: The UK’s declaration of the MPA was incompatible with substantive and procedural obligations under UNCLOS
The jurisdictional part of the award is centered on whether the four submissions concern the ‘interpretation or application of UNCLOS’ under Article 288 UNCLOS. This blog entry concentrates on the merits as regards the Fourth Submission. Read the rest of this entry…