Decolonising the Chagos Islands?

2 Nigerian Yearbook of International Law, 2019

11 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2020

See all articles by John Reynolds

John Reynolds

National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Date Written: November 1, 2019


The story of the Chagos archipelago is a familiar one in the history of international law. It is indicative of international law’s complicity in European oppression and dispossession of colonized peoples and places. Yet while much of the machinations of colonial rule were spannered – at least nominally in the form of sovereignty-as-independence – by the national liberation movements of the 20th century, the Chagos travesty persists into our 21st century colonial present. Britain’s refusal to let go of the small group of faraway islands serves as a contradictory symbol of both its self-deluding pretensions of empire on one hand, and its self-abasing servitude to United States imperialism on the other. It reminds us that colonialism is still very much with us, and that self-determination remains contingent. International law’s ode to sovereign equality and territorial integrity is as much about concealing its own colonial foundations as it is about delivering on a promise of liberation. This essay reflects on these themes in light of the 2019 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the Chagos Archipelago, engaging with critical questions of international law as well as with the insights of Third World thinkers including Kwame Nkrumah, Amílcar Cabral and Eduardo Galeano.

Keywords: Chagos Islands, International Law, Decolonization, International Court of Justice, Third World

Suggested Citation

Reynolds, John, Decolonising the Chagos Islands? (November 1, 2019). 2 Nigerian Yearbook of International Law, 2019, Available at SSRN: or

John Reynolds (Contact Author)

National University of Ireland, Maynooth ( email )

Maynooth, County Kildare

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