The UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) advised last February that the UK was in unlawful occupation of the islands and demanded their return to Mauritius, which sold them to Britain in 1965, as quickly as possible. The UN general assembly endorsed the opinion last May and set a deadline for implementation of 22 November 2019 which was ignored. The UK ownership of the archipelago and forced eviction of inhabitants to make way for the US airbase on Diego Garcia remains the subject of escalating legal challenges.
And David Snoxell, a former British high commissioner to Mauritius from whom Britain purchased the Chagos Islands in 1965, believes their could be a heavy price to pay for ignoring the ruling.
He told The Observer: “It must be in the UK’s interest to be seen to abide by international law, especially now the UK is in search of a new role in the world, following withdrawal from the EU and the uncertainty of our special relationship with the US.
“To continue in breach of human rights and the rule of law will have implications for the UK’s reputation and permanent seat on the security council, as happened in November 2017 when for the first time the UK judge on the ICJ failed to be re-elected.
“It would relegate the UK to a minor part on the international stage if we lost our seat on the security council.”
Mauritian prime minister Pravind Jugnauth last month told the BBC he was considering bringing charges of crimes against humanity against individual British officials at the International Criminal Court as a result of the UK’s failure to act.
He said: “It is a violation of the basic principle of human rights.
“I fail to understand why Britain, this Government, is being so stubborn.”
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Mr Snoxell said: “If the Government fails to negotiate a settlement with Mauritius there is a possibility of former Foreign Office ministers and British Indian Ocean Territory commissioners finding themselves before the International Criminal Court, charged with crimes against humanity.
“This is an alarming prospect and deeply humiliating for all that the UK has always stood for.
“It goes against all our principles from Nuremberg onwards. Under Article 7 of the Rome Statute deportation or forcible transfer of a population is defined as a crime against humanity.”