U.N. Asks International Court to Weigh In on Britain-Mauritius Dispute

On Thursday, Britain lost the first battle. In a vote in the General Assembly, 94 countries voted to ask the International Court of Justice to render an opinion on which country has sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. Fifteen countries sided with Britain and voted against the resolution, and 65 countries abstained, effectively sending the case to the court.


Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the United Nations.

Jason Szenes/European Pressphoto Agency

The court will be asked to weigh in with an advisory opinion that is not enforceable.

Britain holds a permanent seat on the powerful Security Council, and British diplomats contend that even though the country intends to withdraw from the European Union, it is not withdrawing from Europe or its role in the world.

In part, the British defeat in the General Assembly refects, as Richard Gowan, a British expert on the United Nations at the European Council on Foreign Relations, put it, an opportunity for countries to “bash their old colonial masters.” Indeed, the vast majority of former British colonies sided with Mauritius.

“Yet the vote also reflects Brexit Britain’s perilous diplomatic position,” Mr. Gowan said. “The fact that most E.U. members abstained rather than backing the U.K. highlights its isolation.”

Most European countries, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, abstained. So did China.

Britain, once the most powerful European colonial power, held territory stretching from Cape Town to Calcutta to the Caribbean. Its colonies began to win independence, sometimes through armed rebellion, after the two world wars, leaving London with only a handful of territories.

Among them is the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, roughly between the Maldives and Mauritius.

Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the United Nations, made the case to the General Assembly that…

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