Former president and current MRM president Maumoon Abdul Qayoom and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih meets in Dubai on 28 October 2021. Photo/Twitter

MRM demands government disclose reasons for Chagos policy change

MRM said the party felt it was important to reveal what had happened as the people will question the government's failure to disclose the reason for the change.

29 October 2022

By Ahmed Mizyal

Maldives Reform Movement (MRM), a member of the ruling coalition, on Friday called on the government to explain to the public the reason for stance-change after the government had previously denied that Chagos was a part of Mauritius and to reverse the decision if it violates any sovereign right.

While MRM called for an explanation for the change of policy, the foreign ministry has already stated that the Maldives decided to vote in favour of Mauritius at the United Nations tribunal for the betterment of Maldives-Mauritius relationship and to stick to the anti-colonial policy that Maldives has maintained at the UN since independence. The government also said that it would not compromise the economic zone available to the country.

Since Britain removed Chagos from Mauritius in 1965, Mauritius has been claiming that the Chagos islands belong under Mauritian sovereignty.

  • In 2019, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), recommended that the Chagos islands were under Mauritius sovereignty after seeking prior advice from the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

  • In the same year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on The United Kingdom to hand over The Chagos to Mauritius within six months

  • When Mauritius approached ITLOS in 2019 for sea demarcation, the tribunal ruled in 2021 that Mauritius would be considered as the country to be investigated in a case related to the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) near Chagos.

While the Maldives had voted against the UN resolution before the decision, its stand was changed to support Mauritius in August 2022.

Expressing concern over the issue, MRM said in a statement that Maldives has always voted against slavery (colonisation) of nations and this policy is not a policy of this government alone.

"The reason why the Maldives refused to acknowledge Chagos as a part of Mauritius was that when Mauritius was liberated from the British, Chagos was not marked as a part of Mauritius, and that if Chagos did come under Mauritius, Maldives economic area would be diminished and the natural resources available to the Maldives from the economic zone would also be infringed", the statement read.

ITLOS declared Chagos belongs to Mauritius in 2021, a year-and-a-half after the UN had voted to split the disputed area.

MRM pointed out:

  • According to the Maldives Maritime Zones Act, 200 miles from the country's baseline is granted as a special economic zone.

  • The State has never signed an agreement in the past to undermine the region.

Despite what MRM said:

  • After the clause in the Maldives Oceans Act, deliberating the 200-mile baseline, the next clause stipulates that the government can proceed with demarcation of disputed areas under an agreement signed between the respective country and the government of the Maldives in case of a breach in the EEZ.

  • Under the World Oceans Act, a treaty that the Maldives follows, 200 miles from the coast to any country with a coast is designated as its EEZ; but if the EEZ of two countries is breached, then the procedure to be followed is to divide the disputed area between the two countries. 

  • In 1992, MRM leader and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's administration agreed to divide the disputed maritime territory between Maldives and the United Kingdom.

  • In 2010, Mauritius and Maldives held talks regarding the separation of Maldives and Chagos under former President Mohamed Nasheed.

After the current government came under fire for its decision to change the country's stand at the UN, economic minister Fayyaz Ismail questioned the manner in which previous governments had acted in the case.

MRM said the party felt it was important to reveal what had happened as the people will question the government's failure to disclose the reason for the change in policy after it voted against Mauritius's sovereignty in 2019.

The MRM statement also pointed out that "as a party in the coalition, the government had not shared any information with MRM either", before deciding to change the country's stance on the issue.

Other concerns raised by MRM include:

  • Government had not tabled the issue in parliament 

  • Parliament was not consulted on the matter 

  • Although foreign advocates represent the country at the tribunal, the government has not consulted local experts

"Therefore, the party urges the government to share accurate information with the public at the earliest," it said.

"MRM will not support any decision that would infringe upon the sovereignty rights of the country. If any such decision has been taken by the government, MRM demands that it be reversed".

Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath said at the ITLOS hearing:

  • Maldives had changed its stance on the Mauritius-Maldives dispute due to the foremost appeal Mauritius had made with the ICJ and the hindrances that rose from it as the Maldives had approached the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in 2010 to increase the country's continental shelf to more than 200 nautical miles, and ITLOS will decide on the disputed Chagos area. 

  • Maldives hopes Mauritius will withdraw its objection to CLSC once Maldives has changed its stance.

  • Changing the stand reflects Maldives' consistent stance against colonialism.

  • In reply to President Solih's letter dated September 23, 2022, the Prime Minister of Mauritius informed that he had decided to withdraw the case against the Maldives for recovering the cost of Mauritius led survey of the area for the case at ITLOS.