Professors Philippe Sands and James Crawford, U.K.-based international lawyers, joined Foley Hoag partners Paul Reichler and Andrew Loewenstein in winning an arbitration for the island nation of Mauritius against the United Kingdom over rights in the waters of the Indian Ocean surrounding the disputed Chagos Archipelago in a judgment announced last night by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
The unanimous decision by a distinguished Arbitral Tribunal convened under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea upheld Mauritius’ rights to fishing and minerals in the waters around the strategically located islands, which include the U.S. military base on Diego Garcia. The judgment further held that the U.K.’s undertaking to return the islands to Mauritius when they are no longer required for defense purposes was a binding obligation under international law.
In so deciding, the tribunal unanimously struck down a so-called Marine Protected Area adopted by the U.K. in 2010 that, it ruled, violated Mauritius’ rights under the Law of the Sea Convention.
The tribunal was headed by Professor Ivan Shearer of Australia, and included four international judges: Rudiger Wolfrum (Germany), James Kateka (Tanzania) and Albert Hoffman (South Africa) of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and Christopher Greenwood (United Kingdom) of the International Court of Justice.
Speaking on behalf of the legal team, Reichler praised the judgment: “The legal scholarship and erudition reflected throughout the opinion are extremely impressive. It will be required reading in any course on Law of the Sea, and probably in most courses on general international law. The result is an important affirmation of the value of international arbitration to resolve difficult and longstanding disputes between states.”
Professor Crawford of Mauritius’ legal team was elected judge of the International Court of Justice in November 2014, after the case was argued, and formally assumed his position on the bench in February.