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A Book Review: The Last Colony by Philippe Sands KC.

By Marc R. M. Hein SC, G.O.S.K

For Mauritians, Philippe Sands is more than an excellent legal practitioner of international public law and a prolific writer. Over the years he now has many friends around in Mauritius, specially members of the Chagossian community and more than all Mrs Liseby Élysée.

His latest book is The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice and Britain’s Colonial Legacy which spells out the history of the Chagos Archipelago, of geopolitics in the Indian Ocean and the creation of the British Indian Ocean territory (BIOT).

The book, which is on sale locally, came out in August 2022 and Philippe Sands will soon be on our island to launch it officially. The book is a must read for anyone interested with the evolution of the Chagos cases before the various international institutions and more specifically the International Court of Justice at The Hague, the United Nations in New York and more cases before the English Courts in London.

Philippe Sands explains how public international law evolves in time and is not at all a rigid body of rules since after all the judges or arbitrators who compose the International Courts or Tribunals are human beings subject themselves to the changing norms of the world and specially of post colonialism.

The Last Colony goes back to 1941 when Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had secretly met off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada on board the USS Augusta to make a joint statement styled as The Atlantic Charter which was to inspire decolonisation. The book is divided into seven chapters in chronological order dating from 1945 and all the way to the modern era and an epilogue with the Bleu de Nîmes, a ship which took a delegation of twenty-five persons from the Seychelles to the Chagos for a visit in February 2022.The author was part of the delegation.

One of the historical milestones was when the case was finally heard before the International Court of Justice in September 2018 and Mrs Liseby Élysée, a Chagossian lady who had been deported was a star witness for Mauritius together with Sir Aneerood Jugnauth QC, our former Prime Minister and then one of the last survivors of the 1965 Constitutional Conference held in London to decide of the future independence of Mauritius. Philippe Sands also gives credit to Dr Navin Ramgoolam whose Government had originally retained his services. Mrs Liseby Élysée inspires the author all along this powerful story of the Chagos episodes over the years and the fight and plight of the Chagossian people since their deportation from the islands.

The book is persuasive of the case of Mauritius in public international law and will persuade the reader of the noble cause of our fight. It is also edited in French under the title “La Dernière Colonie”.