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Composition of the Bench in ICJ Advisory Proceedings: Implications for the Chagos Islands case.

Published on July 10, 2017        Author:  and

In our previous post we discussed the prospects of the International Court of Justice giving an Advisory Opinion, as requested by the UN General Assembly, on the matter of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from the territory of Mauritius that was granted independence from the UK in 1968. We focused on whether the ICJ would be likely to refuse to render an Advisory Opinion because the request might be seen as seeking to circumvent the principle of consent. We explained how the ICJ has reinterpreted the principle of consent as it applies to advisory opinions and how the Court has stressed that as an organ of the UN it would not ordinarily refuse a request for an advisory opinion which the requesting organ deems of assistance for the proper exercise of its functions. In deciding whether to give the opinion, the Court will have to consider whether the proceedings relate to a purely bilateral dispute between two states.

Against this background, it is worth considering what the bench will look like if those proceedings touch on a legal question actually pending between two states. At least two questions arise here. First, may judges who have been involved in the related legal disputes between Mauritius and the UK sit in the advisory opinion? Second, may a state that is involved in a dispute that is related to the question put to the Court appoint a Judge ad hoc to the Bench? The first question arises because two of the current Judges of the Court took part, between 2010 and 2015, in an international arbitration under Annex VII of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea brought by Mauritius against the UK regarding the Chagos Archipelago (Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration). Judge Greenwood was appointed to the Tribunal by the UK (and was indeed challenged by Mauritius, see the Reasoned Decision on Challenge (2011)), while Judge Crawford was, before his election to the ICJ, Counsel for Mauritius in that case. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Can the International Court of Justice Decide on the Chagos Islands Advisory Proceedings without the UK’s Consent?

Published on June 27, 2017        Author:  and

As Marko has noted in this post, last week Thursday, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice provide an advisory opinion on the legality of the separation by the United Kingdom of the Chagos Archipelago from the colony of Mauritius prior to the grant of independence to Mauritius by the UK in 1968. Under Article 96 of the UN Charter, the General Assembly can request from the ICJ an advisory opinion on “any legal question.” However, in the process leading to the adoption of the General Assembly resolution, the UK argued that the question put to the Court is essentially about a bilateral dispute between States, and that it is inappropriate for the ICJ advisory opinion procedure to be used to obtain adjudication of a bilateral dispute between states that have not consented to ICJ jurisdiction over that dispute (see summary of debate here and UK statement here). As Marko noted in his post, the Assembly resolution is drafted so as to try to demonstrate that the matter is not (or not just) a bilateral dispute over sovereignty to the Islands but rather a question of self-determination within the remit of the General Assembly. Undoubtedly, the question of the Court’s competence to render the opinion, and of the appropriateness of doing so will be raised again before the Court. This post focuses on the role of state consent in the Court’s advisory jurisdiction, and explores the previous jurisprudence of the Court on whether it can render an advisory opinion which requires it to pronounce on the obligations of states and in particular to pronounce of disputes between states. A key preliminary question the Court will be faced with in the Chagos Islands advisory opinion is whether it (the ICJ) should, for the first time, exercise its discretion not to give an advisory opinion on the ground that the request offends against the principle requiring consent for international adjudication of inter-state disputes. If it does that, the Court would be following a decision of the Permanent Court of International Justice refusing to give an opinion on such grounds.

Read the rest of this entry…

 

ICJ Advisory Opinion Request on the Chagos Islands

Published on June 24, 2017        Author: 

Yesterday the UN General Assembly voted, by 94 to 15 with 65 states abstaining, to issue a request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the Chagos Islands. Readers will be familiar with the many legal disputes that have arisen from this leftover UK colonial possession in the Indian Ocean, ranging from the human tragedy of the Chagossians expelled en masse from the islands to make room for what is now a US military base of enormous size and importance, to the role that the Diego Garcia base played in the war on terror, to the applicability of human rights law to these issues, the designation of real or pretextual maritime protection areas, and the actual sovereignty dispute with Mauritius. Here’s a useful news item from the Guardian, and here is GA resolution itself, A/RES/71/292.  This is the operative part, i.e. the request that the Court will have to address:

(a)     “Was the process of decolonization of Mauritius lawfully completed when Mauritius was granted independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and having regard to international law, including obligations reflected in General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, 2066 (XX) of 16 December 1965, 2232 (XXI) of 20 December 1966 and 2357 (XXII) of 19 December 1967?”;

(b)     “What are the consequences under international law, including obligations reflected in the above-mentioned resolutions, arising from the continued administration by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of the Chagos Archipelago, including with respect to the inability of Mauritius to implement a programme for the resettlement on the Chagos Archipelago of its nationals, in particular those of Chagossian origin?”.

The precise drafting of these questions can be enormously consequential, as shown most recently and most clearly with the Kosovo advisory opinion – I would refer interested readers in that regard to the volume edited by Michael Wood and myself on The Law and Politics of the Kosovo Advisory Opinion (OUP, 2015), particularly chapters 3, 6 and 7 which deal with various aspects of the ‘question question.’ At first glance, the drafting of the Chagos request is not only interesting, but also quite intelligent, especially regarding the (a) part.

Why? Well, one almost ritualistic aspect of these advisory opinions are the objections made to the jurisdiction of the Court and the propriety of its exercise by states who opposed the issuance of the AO request in the first place. These objections almost never work, but the good fight is nonetheless always fought. And there are cases, like the Kosovo one, in which a particular objection (there regarding the relationship between the UNSC and the UNGA) could find significantly more purchase than could otherwise be expected. In the Chagos case in particular, one could expect the UK to make the objection that the AO request is trying to circumvent the consent requirement for contentious ICJ jurisdiction, and is in effect litigating a bilateral dispute (see e.g. the Wall AO, para. 43-50). And in fact there clearly is a set of bilateral disputes on Chagos between Mauritius and the UK.

Note, however, the clever drafting of part (a) of the request: it doesn’t directly speak of whether Mauritius has sovereignty over the Islands, but asks whether the process of decolonization of Mauritius was lawfully completed because of the separation of the Chagos Islands from its territory. It also makes links to numerous GA resolutions, in order to reinforce the view that this is a multilateral issue, raising broader questions of principle which the GA has been dealing with for decades.

When it comes to part (b) of the request, what’s particularly notable is that it doesn’t simply ask what the consequences would be if the Court found that the UK acted unlawfully in part (a). Rather, the consequences are those arising from the UK’s continued administration of the Chagos Islands. This would allow the Court to deal with various questions that not directly related to sovereignty or any faults with the decolonization process, like the plight of the Chagossians. On the other hand, the drafting of part (b) is also such that it could allow the Court to ‘properly interpret’ it in such a way as to avoid some of the more controversial issues, as it in fact did in the Kosovo AO. We shall, of course, have to wait and see what happens – but watch this space.

 

Mauritius v. UK: Chagos Marine Protected Area Unlawful

Published on April 17, 2015        Author: 

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…

 
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