Remarks at a UN General Assembly Debate on Mauritian BIOT Resolution

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
May 22, 2019


Thank you, Madame President.  The resolution before us today addresses the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice concerning sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago, which the United Kingdom administers as the British Indian Ocean Territory or BIOT.

As the United States and others cautioned two years ago, it was inappropriate to seek an advisory opinion with respect to this purely bilateral dispute, particularly without the consent of both parties.  The resolution presently under consideration makes clear that those concerns were warranted.

We share the views already expressed about the scope of the resolution and the dangerous precedent it sets for misuse of the ICJ’s advisory function, and the ability of states to decide for themselves how best to peacefully settle their bilateral disputes.

I’d like to briefly reiterate our views on this matter.

First, the United Kingdom remains sovereign over the BIOT – as it has been continuously since 1814.  The United States unequivocally supports UK sovereignty over the BIOT.  Its status as a U.K. territory is essential to the value of the joint U.S.-UK base on the BIOT.

That joint base is critical to our mutual security as well as broader efforts to ensure global security.  The strategic location of the shared base enables the United States, the United Kingdom, and our allies and partners to combat some of the most challenging threats to global peace and security.  It also allows us to remain ready to provide a rapid, powerful response in times of humanitarian crisis.

The specific arrangement involving the facilities on the BIOT is grounded in the uniquely close and active defense and security partnership between the United States and the United Kingdom.  It cannot be replicated.

Second, all States should be concerned by the overreaching of this resolution, especially those currently engaged in efforts to resolve their own bilateral disputes.  Even in its revised form, the text goes beyond the non-binding advisory opinion issued by the ICJ, and mischaracterizes the content and effect of that opinion in critical respects.

The Court did not say that Mauritius is today sovereign over the BIOT, or suggest that States or international organizations must recognize it as such.  Further, it rejected Mauritius’s argument that transfer of sovereignty must be immediate.

In sum, this resolution sets an unsettling precedent with potentially far-reaching implications.  And it undermines a fundamental principle of international law – one enshrined in the Statute of the ICJ – that States must consent to have their disputes adjudicated.

For these reasons, we oppose this resolution and we encourage all Member States to do the same.

I thank you for your attention.