PRETORIA– South Africa is participating in the oral hearings being conducted by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of Britain’s claim to the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, says the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO).

The United Nations General Assembly requested the ICJ to render an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos from Mauritius in 1965 by the United Kingdom.

Chagos was separated from Mauritian territory before Mauritius achieved independence in 1968 in contravention of the principle that requires the territorial integrity of a former colony to be respected upon achieving self-determination and independence, and the total population was tragically forcibly removed from Chagos between 1967 and 1973.

Chagos remains under the administration of London at present and also hosts a major military airbase at Diego Garcia that is occupied by the United States. The erstwhile population and their descendants are prevented from resettling and rebuilding their homes on Chagos and Mauritius is unable to exercise its sovereign rights over Chagos.

After the ICJ requested UN member States to furnish information to the ICJ on the matter, South Africa submitted a written statement in March and also decided to participate in the oral hearings on the matter scheduled. The hearings began Monday and continue until Friday.

“South Africa deems participation important as it is seen as a duty of every Member State of the UN to leave no stone unturned to assist the general assembly to remove the last vestiges of colonialism and for all peoples to achieve self-determination and freedom,” DIRCO said in a statement here Tuesday.

South Africa is expected to address the ICJ in The Hague after Mauritius and the United Kingdom have addressed the ICJ. A total of 22 states and the African Union (AU) are participating in the oral proceedings before the court.

These are Argentina, Australia, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Cyprus, Germany, Guatemala, India, Israel, Kenya, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Serbia, South Africa, Thailand, Britain, the United States, Vanuatu and Zambia.

The oral proceedings will continue throughout the week. Thereafter, the ICJ is expected to consider two questions — whether the process of decolonization of Mauritius was lawfully completed in light of the separation of Chagos, and what the consequences under international law are that arise from the continued administration of Chagos by Britain.