Remarks before a UN General Assembly Vote on Item 87 to request an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
June 22, 2017

AS DELIVERED

Mr. President, the resolution before us today seeks to place before the International Court of Justice a bilateral territorial dispute concerning sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, which the United Kingdom administers as the British Indian Ocean Territory. By pursuing this resolution, Mauritius seeks to invoke the Court’s advisory opinion jurisdiction not for its intended purpose, but rather to circumvent the Court’s lack of contentious jurisdiction over this purely bilateral matter.

The United States has consistently recognized United Kingdom sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. For nearly four decades, the United States and the United Kingdom have operated a military base on Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago, which contributes considerably to regional and international security.

The General Assembly’s power to request advisory opinions is an important one; it allows the General Assembly to seek assistance from the ICJ in carrying out its functions under the UN Charter. However, we must be cautious not to allow this important power to be misused for political gain of individual states. While Mauritius is attempting to frame this as an issue of decolonization relevant to the international community, at its heart, it is a bilateral territorial dispute, and the UK has not consented to the jurisdiction of the ICJ. Were Mauritius’ request to proceed, it would undermine the Court’s advisory function and circumvent the right of states to determine for themselves the means by which to peacefully settle their disputes.

Any state currently engaged in efforts to resolve a bilateral dispute should vote against this resolution in recognition of the risk that supporting it suggests that any such dispute could be referred

to the Court in this manner, without a state’s consent, when the other party does not like how talks are proceeding. Establishing such a precedent is dangerous for all UN Member States. It could lead to normalization of litigating bilateral disputes through General Assembly advisory opinion requests, even when a state directly involved has not consented to the jurisdiction of the ICJ.

If, despite these serious concerns, this resolution is adopted, the ICJ would need to consider whether it would be appropriate for it to respond to this request. In our view, it would not. The advisory function of the ICJ was not intended to settle disputes between states.

A decision to refer this dispute to the ICJ would also interfere with ongoing efforts to achieve a solution through bilateral channels. As our UK colleague has discussed, the UK has engaged in extensive and ongoing dialogue with Mauritius in an effort to address Mauritius’ stated reasons for pursuing sovereignty and has made reasonable offers to Mauritius. We regret that Mauritius has chosen to circumvent these bilateral talks, and we continue to believe that this issue can only be addressed through efforts from both sides to negotiate a solution in good faith.

For the foregoing reasons, the United States will vote against this resolution, and encourages all Member States to do the same.  "Letter to Permanent Representatives of the United Nations"

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