From the anti-sea-sale alliance rally held on Friday, 2 june 2023. Photo/PPM

Reclaim Chagos and 'lost' sea or face lawsuit, opposition warns pres

Azima said the government could still make efforts to "recover the lost part" in the case.

3 June 2023

By Mohamed Muzayyin Nazim

A loose alliance of opposition parties has issued a warning on Friday, saying they would take President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to court over the government's stand in the delimitation of the sea between Maldives and Chagos if the "lost sea territory" is not reclaimed along with Chagos islands as part of Maldives.

The anti-government coalition formed by the opposition parties over the delimitation of the sea territory between the Maldives and Chagos held a rally at Male carnival area Friday evening.

Most of those who spoke at the rally made demands to the government. They also called on President Solih to step down if he failed to meet their demands.

Former Attorney General Mohamed Munawwar said that it was brought to the attention of the government in 2021 that a part of the Maldives would be lost in the case filed with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas (ITLOS). He, however, said the government had given it a "deaf ear" at that time.

"Later, when the matter was going on in the tribunal, when I again brought it to the notice of these people they told me that i was too late, that by the time I had woken up and reached them, the matter has been closed," said Munawwar, one of the few experts on maritime law in the Maldives.

He said there was still room for this to change. Munawwar said the country could still recover the "lost" part.

"If we can't get the country's territorial waters as we are demanding, then go home," said Munawwar, who has decided to contest the upcoming presidential elections.

Noting that he favoured decolonisation of Chagos, Munawwar said the unpopulated place was ruled by France in the 1600s. 

"[Chagos] was linked to our islands and was declared a part of us on maps at that time," said Munawwar, who had earlier said that Chagos was not a part of Maldives and it was not important for the country to claim it.

"So let's get back this lost part from the sea and try to get it [Chagos] well."

Apart from Munawwar, PNC president Abdul Raheem Abdulla, who is in charge of the opposition Progressive Congress Coalition, said there was evidence that Chagos was a part of Maldives and urged the government to reclaim it.

Maldives National Party (MNP) president and Dhangethi MP Mohamed Nazim, who spoke after Munawwar, also urged the president to claim Chagos.

Nazim, who has launched his campaign as Maldives National party (MNP)’s presidential candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, has been critical of Solih. He also called for the president's resignation.

According to Nazim:

  • President Solih has "no moral authority" to govern; that's because he acts outside the law

  • Mauritius leases their territory to other countries for trawl fishing; allowing Mauritius to have Chagos will be a huge loss to local fishermen

"In the secret letter sent [by the president to the prime minister of Mauritius], I can tell you that what we lost is an area of 47,000 square kilometres, the size of a country, almost the size of Switzerland," Nazim, who served as defence minister in former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's government, said.

"We will also sue the president in this regard."

All the politicians have abandoned their ideologies and come together, Nazim said, "to reclaim the lost territory".

"If we have to unite, we will be, we will collectively defeat this government," said Nazim, who had worked to get the government to power.

"This government has failed miserably. This is where this government has to be changed."

Former Attorney General Azima Shakoor said that so far no court has ruled that Chagos belongs to Mauritius. So far, Chagos has not been handed over to Mauritius, she said.

Even if Azima said otherwise, the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) preliminary opinion declared Chagos as part of Mauritius. Based on the recommendation, ITLOS also rejected the pre-trial submission made by the Maldives that Chagos was not part of Mauritius and held that Mauritius had sovereign authority over Chagos.

Azima said the government could still make efforts to "recover the lost part" in the case.

"Today, we can protest having to hand over an area of 44,700 square kilometres of our sea to a place that has no sovereignty. Why can't we ask that?" Azima said, pointing out that this is a question that Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath should raise in the interest of the country.

"And what is possible is that we can let ITLOS know that we do not accept the verdict. The president has no power to do so. It has to be done by the Attorney General."

Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain of Kendhoo constituency and Ungoofaaru MP Ibrahim Waheed, who belongs to The Democrats founded by MDP President Mohamed Nasheed, also spoke at the rally. In their speeches, they criticised the government's decisions on the issue.

Former home minister Umar Naseer also spoke on the issue.

In addition to MP Waheed, several of Nasheed’s close aides and former President Dr Mohamed Waheed sat at the front rows of the rally. 

The International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on April 28 sided with the Maldives in the dispute with Mauritius surrounding the delimitation of the maritime boundary of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of the Maldives and the Chagos archipelago, awarding a bigger portion to the Maldives.