The UK has been warned it may face losing its permanent seat on the UN Security Council if it continues to defy the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the UN’s highest court ruling on the future of the Chagos Islands.
The claim has been made by David Snoxell, the former British high commissioner to Mauritius from whom Britain purchased the islands in 1965. The Chagos Islands are an archipelago in the Indian Ocean whose largest island, Diego Garcia, is a US military base.
The UK’s claim to the islands – and the following eviction of its inhabitants to establish a military base in the area – is a deeply contentious issue and has been the subject of escalating legal challenges.
Last February the ICJ issued an advisory opinion that found the UK was unlawful in its occupation of the islands and demanded they be returned to Mauritius as quickly as possible. This opinion was then endorsed by the UN General Assembly in May, setting a deadline for implementation of 22 November 2019, which the UK ignored.
Snoxell warned that defying the principle judicial body of the UN may put Britain’s place at the international top table in jeopardy, stating:
“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.”
Snoxell’s comments portrayed his concern for UK’s human rights record globally:
“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.”
The warning follows comments made last month by Pravind Jugnauth, the prime minister of Mauritius who told the BBC he was considering bringing charges against humanity toward individual British officials at the ICJ as a result of the UK’s failure to act.
“It is a violation of the basic principle of human rights. I fail to understand why Britain, this government, is being so stubborn,” Mr Jugnauth said.
Snoxell, who is the coordinator of the Chagos Islands all-party parliamentary group, said the UK’s position regarding the Chagos Islands had left it with few allies and jeopardized its place on the security council alongside the other permanent members: China, Russia, the US and France.
The UK’s diminished world standing and its flouting of UN deadlines might pave the way for another state – such as India which covet’s membership – lobbying to assume it’s permanent position on the council. Snoxell also suggests that, unlike Britain, France enjoys the support of the EU and the other three permanent members are too powerful to remove.
However, a spokesperson for the Foreign Office has refuted the warning, saying:
“It’s ridiculous to draw a parallel between the election of a judge for nine years and our seat on the UN security council, which as the label says is permanent and where we continue to be an active, valued and respected member.
“It’s also important to remember that the defense facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world.”