On January 28, 2021, a Special Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) held that it has jurisdiction over the boundary dispute between Mauritius and Maldives. The judgment was in response to five preliminary objections raised by Maldives, arguing that the Special Chamber did not have jurisdiction over the matter. First, Maldives argued that the United Kingdom is an "indispensable third party" to the dispute because of its sovereign claim over the Chagos Archipelago and that, in its absence, jurisdiction over the dispute is improper. Relatedly, Maldives submitted that the Special Chamber has no jurisdiction to determine the issue of sovereignty over the Archipelago, which is necessary in order to resolve Mauritius' claims. In response to these first two objections, the Special Chamber noted that "the legal status of the Chagos Archipelago is at the core of the disagreement" and is therefore relevant to both objections. It therefore considered the legal status of the Archipelago, by reference to the ICJ Chagos advisory opinion and UN General Assembly resolution 73/295. The Chamber concluded that "whatever interests the United Kingdom may still have with respect to the Chagos Archipelago, they would not render the United Kingdom a State with sufficient legal interests, let alone an indispensable third party, that would be affected by the delimitation of the maritime boundary around the Chagos Archipelago." Further, the Chamber concluded that "Mauritius can be regarded as the coastal State . . . for the purpose of the delimitation."
The Maldives' third objection related to the requirement in article 74 and 83 of UNCLOS that the parties engage in good faith negotiations before resorting to ITLOS for dispute resolution, which, according to the Maldives, had not yet occurred. The Special Chamber rejected this argument, citing several attempts on the part of Mauritius to engage the Maldives in negotiations that were ultimately fruitless, holding that it is not necessary for an agreement to be reached before coming to the Tribunal.
The fourth objection is based on the Maldives' denial that a boundary dispute exists. Again, this objection was not accepted by the Chamber, citing overlapping claims to an exclusive economic zone in the relevant area, as well as a 2011 diplomatic note from Mauritius to the UN Secretary-General, formally protesting to Maldives' claim.
Finally, the Maldives unsuccessfully attempted to show that Mauritius' claims were an abuse of process, as Mauritius was "using the compulsory dispute settlement procedures of the Convention to obtain a ruling on a territorial dispute with a third State."