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On January 28, 2021, a Special Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) delivered a judgment in which it rejected preliminary objections raised by the Maldives in arbitral proceedings instituted by Mauritius, concerning the delimitation of the maritime boundary north of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
The separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, and its setting aside by the UK ‘for defence purposes’,1 was the precursor to a human tragedy. The covert expulsion of the Chagossians from their homeland in the years that followed has been described as ‘unhappy – indeed, in many respects, disgraceful’ (by one of the UK’s most senior judges),2 ‘sordid’ and ‘morally indefensible’ (by a former British Foreign Secretary)3 and ‘shameful and wrong’ (by counsel for the UK in the International Court of Justice (ICJ)).4
The 2019 Chagos Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice is a decision of profound legal and political significance. Presented with a rare opportunity to pronounce on the right to self-determination and the rules governing decolonization, the ICJ responded with remarkable directness. The contributions to this book examine the Court's reasoning, the importance of the decision for the international system, and its consequences for the situation in the Chagos Archipelago in particular. Apart from bringing the Chagossians closer to the prospect of returning to the islands from which they were covertly expelled half a century ago, the decision and its political context may be understood as part of a broader shift in North/South relations, in which formerly dominant powers like the UK must come to terms with their waning influence on the world stage, and in which voices from former colonies are increasingly shaping the institutional and normative landscape.