Episode 62 – Black and White, Chagos at the ICJ with Philippe Sands

Philippe Sands needs little introduction. The lawyer, law professor, and author comes onto the podcast to talk about his most recent book, The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice and Britain’s Colonial Legacy. The book looks at the way he and his team crafted the case of the Chagossian people before the International Court of Justice. Against the backdrop of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, there’s a renewed debate in former British colonies about cutting ties with the United Kingdom, making this book and the issues of decolonisation and self-determination resonate particularly vividly. 

The UK forcibly displaced the population of Chagos islands, the Indian Ocean archipelago, in the 1970s, so that it could be used as a US military base. Most of the Chagossians resettled in Mauritius. While the case went onto the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, in 2017 the country petitioned the United Nations to seek an advisory opinion for the Chagos people before the International Court of Justice. Two years later, the ICJ found that the UK administration of the Chagos archipelago was unlawful and the UN voted for the UK to leave the island. But the UK does not accept the ruling. 

In discussing how this case was litigated over the last 10 years, how it was designed and which legal strategy was implemented, Philippe Sands wants the readers to understand how international courts actually function and how the race and cultures of the different judges come into play.

Philippe also reflects on how the Chagos case is one part of how the UK’s reputation has changed in the world. And how it shows the balance of powers between small states and larger ones before international courts. 

We also – inevitably – discuss the crime of aggression in Ukraine, where Philippe was the first off the block to propose a new special international tribunal. 

Philippe has worked on countless papers, books, and podcasts himself – here are a few (beyond the ones everyone has read) we want to suggest: 

And as an avid listener reader and moviegoer himself, he shares plenty of suggestions:


This podcast has been produced as part of a partnership with JusticeInfo.net, an independent website in French and English covering justice initiatives in countries dealing with serious violence. It is a media outlet of Fondation Hirondelle, based in Lausanne, Switzerland.