Contextual challenges in recognizing refugees
The Refugee Convention articulates that for any person to be qualified to be a refugee that person must have been outside from the country of his nationality due to the fact of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, member of a particular social group or for having a particular political opinion. However, the Convention also in its stand approves that any person who has already been considered as a refugee under any treaty arrangements prior to this Convention would also be considered as refugees. The definition provided in the Convention is comprehensive, in a way that considers the cultural changes, and the interpretation includes the fear of persecution not only by the state actors but also by non-state actors.
However, there are also a number of restrictions, such as if a person voluntarily re-availed him or herself of the protection of his/her country of nationality, or has voluntarily reacquired the nationality of their state, the definition of refugees would not be applicable. Further, if the state ceased to exist under the ‘cessation’ clauses, although according to the UNHCR, such clause required to be invoked sparingly, there is a possibility where the person may not fit within the definition provided by the Convention. Nonetheless, the provision in the Convention so far has been interpreted broadly, in a way that the refugee status will not be considered to be ceased as long as the situation in the state of origin remains a danger.
Irrespective of these restrictions, the Convention remains as the central pillar, customarily interpreted in reflecting its objective and purpose of it – protecting individuals in need. Although in cases the general instability was found as a factor which is inconsistent to the prevent cessation of status, particularly due to the effect of persecution, it has also been considered as a viable internal alternative, which demonstrates that the customary interpretation of the Convention is limited. In other cases, the general instability was found as a ground for subsidiary protection that said, although the Convention fails to provide the required protection, still the state is obliged to grant such protection. Further, the Convention contemplates that irrespective of the condition of persecution remains a qualification, an individual could still qualify as a refugee given the fact there are compelling reasons arising from the previous persecution, commonly referred as ‘exemption from cessation.’ This exception applies only to the ‘statutory’ refugees, i.e. individuals who are eligible as refugees under the Article 1A (1) of the Convention: who were prior to the Convention were recognized as refugees. Further, the state practice is also contributing in extending the ‘exemption from cessation’ in protecting Convention refugees, irrespective of the fact, that the UNHCR noted clearly that such interpretation is not required by the Convention.
Nonetheless, the extent of the state practice creates now the customary norm, requiring this application, to be a purposive one. However, limitation applies under the exclusion clauses from the protection of non-refoulment to anyone qualify as a refugee under the serious reasons for consideration for have committed a crime against peace, war crime or crime against humanity or poses a compelling threat to national security or public order to the security of the country of refuge, where the individual who has already qualified as a refugee would subsequently lose the status. Note, however the exclusion clauses themselves have exceptions, such as child soldiers, decided in the case of AG v Zaoui by the Supreme Court of New Zealand, reflected on refoulment that goes hand and hand with the jus cogens status on preventing torture, noted that “[t]he prohibition on refoulment to torture has the status of a peremptory norm or jus cogens with the consequence that article 33.2 [of the Refugee Convention] would now be void to the extent that it allows for [refoulment in such circumstances].” This implication of flexible application of the Convention was not only followed throughout the judicial decisions but also by legislative actions such as by the Council of Europe on the Recommendation 773, which recommended the European Union members to apply the definition of refugee liberally as amended by the Protocol of the Convention.
Evolution of a definition under the customary international law
As discussed above although the Convention has not amended explicitly in revising the definition of refugees, it has been customarily broadly interpreted as to justify the object and purpose. Although there has been an argument that the definition of refugees does not appear under the customary international law, but under treaty law, authors alike Hailbronner believes that the international obligation to grant protection to the victim is a ‘wishful legal thinking’, thus reflection through the state practice is a viable option. The American Society of International Law also produced that the human rights instruments are required to be read as a whole, thus protection prescribed in the Convention could be applicable to persons who enjoy any sort of non-refoulment. Thus, non-refoulment is a general principle, which Bazo also agrees that any individual who has the right to be protected under the international law must be covered by the definition of refugees. However, these arguments would be only valid if there are an extensive state practice and opinio juris to support the argument.
Regarding the state practice in expanding the definition of refugees, the reason for the primary expansion is because of civil wars, ethnic and communal conflicts and natural disasters, and of the acceptance that the international law can expand itself through custom. The Statue of the International Court of Justice prescribes that ‘evidence of a general practice accepted as law is law’ based on two elements: state practice which is described as a widespread and consistent practice of the states and opinio juris, the subjective belief of the state that engages in that practice, believing it as a requirement, not as an option. In this context, the statistics reveal that according to the UNHCR around 9 million individuals who have been identified as refugees, deserve protection, which from the state practice guidance provided in the case of North Sea Continental Shelf and of the history of the states to recognize and receive refugees to their respected nations represent the widespread practice, further be recognized not only through the subjective believe that it is the responsibility to protect refugees under the outgrown opinion juris, but also an international obligation under the treaty provisions such as Conventions Against Torture (CAT), and of the peremptory norm, jus cogens.
Defining Refugee through International Agreements
Although number of international instruments address the refugees in various stands, the Convention of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on Refugees expands the definition of refugees includes, the people who displace due to the ‘external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order.’ Although there have been arguments that the intention of the drafters of the Convention was reflecting the post-colonial context, the fact that the Convention was signed by a number of largest recipients of refugees including Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Zambia, Egypt and Tanzania makes the validity of the claim of the Convention in expanding the definition of refugees. In one step further, the states such as South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda adopted the Convention into their municipal laws impacts on the state practice, form a customary international law in expanding the scope of the definition of refugees. As such, the Bangkok Principles on the Asian -African Legal Consultive Organization also claims similar expansion in the definition of refugees, specially accepts the concept of refugees sur place, also claims the definition to cover any individual who was expelled from a state where his or her life or liberty is threatened for the reasons of race, colour, nationality, ethnic origins, etc.
The Cartagena Declaration focused on the forced migrants in Central and South America noted that Article 1(2) of the OAU Convention as the starting point of defining refugees, the declaration was although not legally binding in nature, endorsed by the Organization of American States, the UNHCR Executive Committee, further cited in the Brasilia Declaration on the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons in the Americans. It was signed and ratified by most of the American states, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The Mercosur Rio de Janeiro Declaration further provided expanded definition includes not only to the individual whose life is threatened for the reasons of race, colour and nationality etc., as provided in the previously discussed declarations, but also the victims of a generalized violation of human rights. The declaration itself expresses the state practice by accepting the geographically diverse practice to support the existence of the customary international law.
The Refugee Convention, its Protocol of 1967, and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees 2001 attribute the expanded version of the definition of refugees, also affirms the important of the human rights and regional refugee protection instruments which by doing it expresses the obligation of the states to carry the burden for the stronger existence of opinio juris.
There has been also the subsidiary protection provided in the international agreements based on the context of persecution, often those individuals protected are referred as de facto refugees: the refugees who need are seen as legitimate, however, they would not qualify under the Convention. However, looking at the intention of the drafters of the Convention, it is expressed that the provisions of the Convention can be interpreted in a way to cover these expanded group of persons. However, there has been debate about this status, which was particularly addressed by the European Union in the context when considering the minimum standard of the directive failed to cover subsidiary protection. Although the directive models the Article 1(F) of the Convention, there has been no legal obligation to follow the terms, nor required to be supplemented by humanitarian assistance. Nonetheless, there are a number of international treaties calls for the subsidiary protection, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the CAT in particular, the Article 3 which prohibits refoulment of a person, ‘where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subject to torture.’
The European Convention on Human Rights and the American and African Charters make similar provisions on torture, establishes that the protection must be given to an individual when he is in ‘real risk.’ The EU Minimum Standards Directive 2004 particularly requires the member states to receive asylum application on the basis of the subsidiary protection who cannot go back to the country of origin because of serious harm, which includes death penalty or execution, torture and inhuman treatment or any other form of serious and individual threat to the civilian’s life by indiscriminate violence caused by the international or non- international armed conflict.
The state practice and the opinio juris have also been recognized in the context of refugees by the practice and mandate of the UNHCR that contributes to the formation of customary international law. It is because the organization embodies the state practice through being represented by the state delegates, or where the state cites the mandate of the organization being supervisory expresses opinio juris that the legal standards applied by the organization are accurate and the delegation by the states to the UNHCR could determine the status of refugees. In this context, the practice of the UNHCR cannot be dismissed, a representative opinio juris that is effective.
The Council of Europe through its Recommendation 18 of 2001 and by case laws such as in the case of Elgafaji v. Staatssecretaris van Justitie, Case C-465/07, 2009 E.C.R., argues for the qualification for the subsidiary protection which does not require to be a specifically targeted for harsh treatment, but as far is it fulfill ‘serious and individual treat’ due to the indiscriminate violence. It is to note that the EU did not broaden the definition of refugees, but provides legal standings for subsidiary protection, an expression of the opinio juris for the subsidiary protection.
Normative restrictions on the definition of refugees
Although the above discussion expresses that the definition of refugees has been expanded in a way to cover individuals, not just those facing the risk of persecution, there are also the existence of the negative impact of the customary international law that narrows the definition, particularly when there is a treaty provision which contrasts to the intention of the customary international law in this matter in particular.
One method the states adopted in narrowing the scope of the application of refugee law is by interpreting the territorial application of the Convention, which affects the determination of when an individual is outside his country of nationality. For an example, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Convention is not applicable outside the territory of the United States, whereas Russia interpreted in the same manner, along with interpreting the definition of territory.
The second method is by providing alternative relocation. Courts found when there is a possibility for the individual to relocate within the state of nationality, the application for refugee status can be rejected. However, in this context states found it from two approaches. First is to see whether there is genuine access to the areas of domestic protection, where the state can ensure the protection is meaningful, and the protection is not unpredictable. The second approach is comparing the situation of the area where the individual currently situated and the characteristic of the proposed area of protection, which is the approach the UK finds through the case laws since the first approach does not go along with the EU Council Directive 2004/83/EC.
The third method of the states enforce is applying the third country or safe country of origin tests to refuse the claims for asylum, in the basis that if the individual is coming from a country that has been deemed safe, then there is no requirement to provide asylum.
The fourth method is enforcing prohibitions on applying for recognition of refugee status through regulations under certain circumstances. Although it in first hand appears as it does not narrow the definition of refugees, but the fact the burden of proof is placed on the applicant that he has no disqualifying act or condition such as in the cases of terrorist suspects, such as in the case of Bundesrepublik Deutschland v. B, Case C- 57/09, 1990 E.C.R. and Bundesrepublik Deutschland v. D., Case C-101/09, 2010, severely affects the scope of being defined as a legitimate refugee. Further, broadly interpreting the acceptable criteria that the Convention spells out for refusing the refugee status, have certainly undermined the scope of the Convention, that indirectly impact in the definition and scope of refugees.
The fifth method is providing diplomatic assurances while refusing to accept the refugees, which is still remaining controversial. It was argued against by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture as an ineffective approach has been used by states. The MOU signed by the UK with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon to provide blanket assurance is a clear example of it, which the Council of European Commissioner for Human Rights argued that “[t]he weakness inherent in the practice of diplomatic assurances lies in the fact that where there is a need for such assurances, there is clearly an acknowledged risk of torture or ill-treatment.”
In these contexts, this essay concludes that although normatively the definition of refugees has extended, the governments have been using different mechanisms in restricting the scope of it by not willfully restrict the definition, or contrast the customary international law, but by going around the definition, that has substantially weakened the entire legal scope of the extension of the definition so far has been built up by the customary international law.
“The Rights of the Nations, National and Ethnic Minorities for Self- Determination”
The new article of the Charter of the UN “The rights of the nations, national and ethnic minorities for self-determination”, will allow, by vote of the population of regions of the countries under control of the UN, to gain independence for not gained independence nations at the level of the sovereign state, and for the gained independence nations at the level of autonomous regions – states, at the international organization UN.
As show events on time in the world, two options for achievement of level of the national self-determination are noted, in my opinion:
the first option – democratic and peace, by vote of the population with their compact accommodation in the concrete region of the country with participation of the UN, and
the second option – authoritative and aggressive that allows emergence in the states to separatism of nationalistically oriented citizens of the population with their compact accommodation in regions at the level of the open or hidden connivance of external interested countries to these regions.
So, in my opinion, the new article “The Rights of the nations, national and ethnic minorities on self-determination ” of the Charter of the UN has to consist of three parts for national self-determination of the population of the countries of the world:
the first part of article is for the nations, national and ethnic minorities which historically live compactly in certain regions of foreign sovereign states, without having at the same time national self-determination at the level of the sovereign state in the world and as a part of the UN;
the second part of article is for national and ethnic minorities which historically live compactly in regions of foreign sovereign states, but having at the same time in the world, outside not adjacent borders of the country of the accommodation, the nation sovereign state as a part of the UN and
the third part of article is for the nations which for centuries live compactly in historical lawful territories in adjacent borders of two-three sovereign states, but at the same time historically were the divided adjacent borders of the countries on two-three parts.
Development the new article of the Charter of the UN from legal side belongs to foreign affairs specialists-lawyers of the UN, which have to define fundamental sensible decisions about mention the rights on the basis of rules of international law. At the same time, lawyers of the UN, on the one hand, should not rely on the interests of conflicting parties in the region. On the other hand, lawyers also have to exclude in the new article of the Carter of the UN the geopolitical and geostrategic interests of major powers and countries in these regions and beyond their limits. Whether the UN as historically vital step of the international organization will go to it, it is already other party of a medal. As axiom, it is explained that new article in the Charter of the UN will remake territorially borders of all countries of the world without exception. And it, in turn, will exclude imperial manners of powers and countries of the world with emergence of world wars. And therefore, participation of all member countries of the UN in vote of the new article, but not members of the UNSC with their veto, as a rule, for this discussion is necessary.
In the first part of article – the UN develops all principles of creation of the new, but not repeating, national states with their democratic structures for the nations, nationals and ethnic minorities which are compactly living for centuries in the region on the historically lawful lands, but not having at the same time national self-determination at the level of the state in the world. At the same time peace process of emergence of the new national state has to take place step by step in the following ways on a basis:
1. universal ballot under control of the UN of all population living in this region of the country, but not separately taken its nation, for national self-determination at the level of the only state for this nation in borders of the historical territory of their accommodation;
2. build in the region of democratic structures and institutes with human rights and rule of the uniform Law, and
3. for the purpose of achievement of painless process of their exit of management of this sovereign state and not a rupture of the connection established them in market economy about the country to provide to regions time in 5-10 years for a smooth exit to the level of self-government of the sovereign state.
Kurds in Iraq, Tibetans in the Tibetan autonomous region of China, Basra in Spain, Chechens, Bashkirs, Tatars in Russia and others can be examples of the nations for this case. And what earlier, in the spirit of the times, there will be this democratically peace process, thereby, on the one hand, will win more those states in the territory of which there is this process at their close market interlacing.
On the other hand, will win all mankind with emergence on the world scene of the new, not repeating nation states with the rich national traditions, stories, culture, customs and religions. But the most important the fact that process of peaceful formation of the new states in regions of the countries will eliminate regional wars and the criminally centers on an international basis in territories of their accommodation. And it will exclude bloodshed of the people of these regions at emergence of the new state.
Striking examples told are emergence of 15 new states from former imperial the USSR and also the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the republics of the former Yugoslavia. However, they arose spontaneously, as led to a rupture of their market on the basis of their vertical structure. As result – full collapse of their economy with emergent of the new states.
Today some regions of the countries of the world also wish to gain independence at the level of the new national state in which basis either their rich economic budget, or religious motive lies.
Rich regions of such countries as Great Britain, the USA, Spain, Italy, Russia and other advanced countries can be examples. Regions of the countries of the Middle East and Africa can be examples of religious motive.
The second part of the article “The Rights of the Nations for Self-determination” of the Charter of the UN develops rules of uniform approach for national and ethnic minorities which at will of fate of historical events in the past live compactly in regions of others countries, however at the same time have no adjacent borders with their family in the world gained independence national states at the level of the UN.
For example, Jews, Chinese, Armenians, Mexicans and others in the USA; Armenians in France, in Russia, Azerbaijan and so on. In this case, for the purpose of maintaining territorial integrity of borders of the sovereign states fixed UN on which certain part of the territory these minorities compactly live the UN develops the principles of creation of self-government for them at the level of autonomies, as in Denmark, or the state, like in the USA, within territories of their compact accommodation. Besides, process happens according to universal ballot of the population of the region for further accommodation in the territory of this sovereign state which sheltered them and without revision of its borders. At the same time their equal constitutional rights with citizens of this state are created. But for cases of unwillingness of further accommodation in this territory on the basis of results of their vote, the UN is provided rules and conditions of their painless moving from these territories of foreign national states in the territory of the existing their nation states or other countries. It can occur due to monetary compensation to the leaving persons by sides of their states interested in destiny, according to the market of sale and a purchase of the earth and real estate. A striking example is eviction of Jews from the occupied Palestinian earth of Gaza on their home ground of the nation State of Israel with granting housing to them or at will departure to any country of the world.
Otherwise, a paradox of granting the states to these minorities of the rights, at existing in the world of their nation states, can the fact that only in one USA dozens of the states for Japanese, Latin Americans, Chinese, Jews and so on will arise will be. And Armenian ethnic minorities which are compactly living almost worldwide from hundred thousand to one million, for example in California in the USA, in France, in Russia, in Lebanon, in Turkey and in other countries, including also in Nagorno-Karabakh of Azerbaijan, and not having at the same time adjacent borders with their Armenia, will create as a result the largest state in the 21st century on ours to the Planet – the USA*, that is the United States Armenia is improbable. And it is a paradox on time for the three-million population of Armenia, given rise thanks to the October revolution of 1917 by Bolsheviks of Russia. Whereas the Palestinian nation cannot recreate blood of the people self-government at the level of the state since 1948 and is a source of a criminally problem not only in the Middle East, Africa, but already and around the world.
In the third part of the new article of the Charter of the UN, the rule for unity of the divided nation, two-three sovereign states living in adjacent borders on their historical home grounds is developed. In this case, the UN is necessary, on the basis of their universal ballot for association in the uniform nation, to develop ways and conditions of their peaceful painless association and merge of their territories of accommodation. 5-10 years for creation of the uniform nation state with democratic management with preservation of former economic are for this purpose allotted structures.
Examples of this association are already Vietnam, Yemen and there can be in the future reunification of Korea, Ireland, Azerbaijan, also Kosovo with Albania, as the uniform Albanian nation with adjacent borders, but taking into account interests and the rights of the Serbians who are compactly living there with Serbia. Other fresh example it is possible to bring association in the future of the Ossetia people Southern and Northern Ossetia into the uniform state Ossetia. In this case will win, on the one hand, the people uniting in the uniform nation, divided by adjacent borders because of historical events, and, on the other hand, and the states with accommodation of territorially divided nations.
In the absence of the new article the level of the international law from the UN, in my opinion, will be published in the Charter of the UN and the above-stated uniform approaches to these international problems as a paradox, the nations repeating for one and too dozens of the independent states.
And bloody long wars of people of the world, up to world, and existence of the criminally centers will be their investigation as shows time.
The author of article advises the authorities of the countries accepting numerous immigrants not to occupy them compactly on one nation, on the example of Chinese in the Siberian region of Russia that will bring in the future to their rights for repeated national self-government. As an example, Kosovo for Albanians in the presence of their Albania, and Nagorno-Karabakh of Azerbaijan for Armenians at Armenia.
Besides, compact accommodation of immigrants does not allow them on time to be integrated into life of society and into the culture of the hospitable country.
So, the mankind and the UN are faced by a dilemma: to be to the new article “About the Rights of the Nations for Self-determination” in the Charter of the UN for emergence peaceful manners of the new sovereign states, it is concrete for the nations which did not gain independence for today, at the level of disintegration of empires and countries, or to be to wars any level, up to nuclear world, for revival of ancient and modern empires with their colonial manners in the 21st century?
Trump’s Golan Heights Declaration: The Message to Azerbaijan
On March 21, 2019, United States President Trump tweeted, “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”
Regardless of one’s position within the spectrum of persuasions about whose sovereignty should be respected in the Golan Heights or the arguments used to justify its annexation to Israel, Trump’s declaration is unprecedented, post-WWII. Trump’s statement does not appear to be the official United States government policy yet. However, the die is cast. Trump has undermined the manifest inadmissibility of states acquiring territory by force. Lest we forget, the first Gulf war over the Iraqi attempt at annexing Kuwait by force.
Trump also dismisses United Nations Security Council Resolution 497, which states, “…the Israeli Golan Heights Law, which effectively annexed the Golan Heights, is “null and void and without international legal effect.” The same United Nations, with Resolution 181, mandating the partition of Palestine, recognized the State of Israeli. Rather than to expose yet another hypocritical move in international relations, what message is Israeli support for Trump’s unilateral declaration sending to conflicting sides in territorial conflicts? What about Indian-administered Kashmir? What about Azerbaijan’s territorial claim over the Armenian-administered region of Nagorno-Karabakh? Not a very good message for the interests of Azerbaijan.
A relative comparison of arguments used and issues raised concerning the Armenian-administered region of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights is seen here. Of more importance to Azerbaijan is how Trump has just trampled on the concept of internationally recognized borders. Syria had recognized borders until violated by Trump; the same Trump who wants a border wall of his own from Texas to San Diego. Azerbaijan’s articulated basis upon which they demand that the Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh relinquish it’s sovereignty to them is their claim of territorial integrity. The Azerbaijan press is full of article quoting states that reiterate the concept of territorial integrity.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group was established to help negotiate a peaceful settlement, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, of the still-simmering Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Its members include the United States, Russia, and France. Russia annexed Crimea, although with nearly no force, it acquired Georgian territory, and the United States president declared support for the inclusion of the Syrian Golan Heights into the State of Israel. From Baku’s viewpoint, the OSCE Minsk Group does not appear to represent neutral facilitators when two of its three members represent states that ignore both territorial integrity and selective United Nations resolutions. The OSCE’s Minsk Group is making itself less relevant to both Armenia or Azerbaijan.
Armenian negotiators could use Trump’s declaration to pull out of OSCE-sponsored negotiations and Armenia could directly annex the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, considering Nagorno-Karabakh “… is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of” [Armenia] “and Regional Stability!”. Azerbaijan would be outraged by such an Armenian move, but curiously official Baku appears rather silent about Trump’s Golan Heights declaration. Why?
Israel supports Azerbaijan’s public relations campaign against the Armenian lobbies and Armenian-administered Nagorno-Karabakh. This support is demonstrated in some of today’s Israeli and Jewish publications, and publicly stated during a September 2015 Israeli Knesset visit to Baku. Why would Israel even care about Azerbaijan? Israel buys half its crude oil from Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan has purchased on the order of $5B of advanced Israeli weapons over the past decade. This is a relationship of convenience and Azerbaijan has a border with Iran.
Will Turkey now annex northern Cyprus, which was also acquired by force? Turkish jets frequently buzz Greek islands also claimed by Ankara. If southwestern Syria is up for the taking, why not other parts. Since 1920 Turkey has eyed the northern Syrian landmass stretching from the Western Thrace to Mosul in Iraq. Conveniently, Turkey currently claims its soldiers are in northern Syria for security reasons.
There are consequences to what United States Presidents declare.
Chagos Islands: Has the Sun Finally Set on the British Empire?
Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Anastasia Glazova*
The fame of British Empire was once embellished around the corners of the world as the empire where sun never sets and its imperial majesty ruled the millions of lives regardless how they were brought under the colonial yoke. The end of two great wars saw eventually paved the path to dismantle British Empire yet the problems created by the colonial rule were unsolved and continued to undermine the decolonized states. The recent advisory opinion given by International Court of Justice over the status of Chagos islands in Indian Ocean generates number of questions in the realm of international law regarding the drawbacks created in decolonization process and the duplicity of the concept if self-determination in international law. In the historic context Chagos islands always have been an integral part of Mauritius but however three years prior to granting independence to Mauritius Britain detached Chagos islands from Mauritius and created it a part of the territory known as British Indian Ocean Territory.
Between 1967 and 1973 the inhabitants lived in Chagos islands were forcibly removed and thus far they have been impeded by British law to enter the territory. The issue on the sovereignty of Chagos islands has lasted for decades as an unsolved riddle of colonialism whereas Mauritius always insisted the Chagos islands a part of their sovereignty despite British were reluctant to relinquish it, even the initial efforts made by Mauritius to bring the case before ICJ was not successful in the 80 decade. Nevertheless after envisaging a serious of attempts along with the assistance of African Union, 2017 United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution referring the issue to the advisory opinion of ICJ. The two fundamental questions General Assembly put forward before were that whether the decolonization process of Mauritius was completed when it was granted independence in 1968 and secondly what are the consequences emerging from modern international law before the continues presence of Britain in Chagos islands.
The issue of decolonization seems to be the most interesting legal issue arising from the advisory opinion of ICJ due to the fact that court has viewed the decolonization of Mauritius was not complete as it was not in accordance of the right to self-determination of the Mauritius people. Bringing the idea of self-determination into further evaluation becomes a pertinent issues as the very idea of self-determination always been a double edged sword. Especially in the post-colonial context dialog between West and newly independent states in Global South regarding understanding self-determination always have been different and the notion of self-determination appreciated by Third World was based on preserving their external integrity without getting subjected to any foreign force. As a matter of fact it was a quite understandable position as many of Third World countries had emerged from years of colonial domination and it paved the way for them to concern about external self-determination as their prime concern. However in examining court’s approach to assess the scope of right to self-determination in its advisory opinion was akin to the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples adopted by the UNGA Resolution 1514(XV) in 1960 (Resolution 1514). The Resolution 1514 declares that the ‘subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights…’, and all such peoples ‘have the right to self-determination’ whereby ‘they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’.
The trivial question encountered in discussing the self-determination was whether it was a part of customary international law when the UK granted independence to Mauritius in 1968. However it is rather ironic that UK being the forefront colonizer in early 20thcentury had appeared for the right of self-determination of Sudanese people as their legal entitlement, in its effort to counter Egyptian claims on the Sudan in 1947. In its advisory opinion court seemed to have generally relied on the number of general assembly resolutions in deciding the scope of self-determination in international law. In fact the lethargic position adopted by Court without tracing the historical development of right to self-determination in opinojuris and state practice has diminished the magisterial jurisprudential value that many international law scholars expected to hear from this advisory opinion. However court confined its opinion regarding right to self-determination of Mauritius people to UNGA Resolution 2625 (XXV) of 1970, on Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the UN Charter and court confirmed its status in customary international law.
The court’s opinion on the incompletion of Mauritius decolonization should be taken into account as a monumental position shared by ICJ on the grim realities of colonialism which keeps haunting in 21st century. ICJ came to a conclusion that separation of Chagos Islands from Mauritius before the independence was an act done by British colonial rule without the genuine consent of Mauritius people. It seems to indicate that Court may have implicitly hinted that it would have been lawful if the separation was conducted after assessing the consent of people through something like a referendum. Court’s opinion was concluded by stating “the United Kingdom’s continued administration of the Chagos Archipelago constitutes a wrongful act entailing the international responsibility of that State”. This was the culmination of ICJ advisory opinion which brought a great triumph for Mauritius and a great blow upon the United Kingdom. In its concluding remarks Court invoked all UN member states have a responsibility to finalize the decolonization of Mauritius as right to self-determination stands as erga omnes obligation.
All in all the advisory opinion on Chagos islands brought some solace to the states eager to confront the colonial legacies and post-colonial burdens. As an example in its court proceedings Mauritius was heavily backed by African Union and India. One counsel appeared on behalf of African Union stated that “It is unthinkable that today, in the 21st century, there is a part of Africa that still remains subject to European colonial rule.” On the other hand the UK has been still adamant about their presence in Chagos island as they claimed that matter was resolved in 1982 in an agreement on compensation and also the UK has pointed out that right to self-determination was not applicable in international law till 1970’s , whereas the separation of Chagos island took place in 1968. The UK defense was rejected by majority of judges in ICJ and the only dissenting opinion was given by American judge Joan Donoghue and her contention was based on that this matter should not have been taken before ICJ as it stands as a bilateral dispute between Mauritius and the United Kingdom. It is evident that this advisory opinion has brought a severe pressure on the UK in the backdrop of ongoing Brexit hullaballoo. Even though the advisory opinions are not binding that it is hardly to assume the UK would completely disdain the opinion as it has already acknowledged that the manner of removing the inhabitants of Chagos islands was shameful. In that case the entire advisory opinion should be regarded as a significant victory for Chagossians and hall mark legacy in the international jurisprudence relating to concept of self-determination.
*Anasatasia Glazova is a PhD candidate in at Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia. She worked as state legal officer in Vologda prior joining HSE and her research areas include International Human Rights Law, Law of the Sea and International Maritime Law. She can be reached at: angla.1892[at]mail.ru
Partnering for Africa’s future: Exhibition on UNIDO-Japan cooperation
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