Satyajit Boolell

Sir Ian Brownlie 


It was with great sadness that I learned from Adam Sloane, clerk at Blackstone Chambers, of the tragic and untimely death of Sir Ian Brownlie in a car accident in Egypt last Sunday. Adam did not have much information regarding the circumstances of the accident but I was given to understand that Sir Ian and his wife Christine were on holiday in Egypt visiting their daughter. Both mother and daughter were in the car when the accident occurred. Lady Brownlie is now hospitalized after having sustained serious injuries but her daughter was not so fortunate and encountered the same fate as her father.



The death of Ian Brownlie is a huge loss to the legal world. He was a leading authority on Public international law and through his numerous publications, the most famous being probably “The Principles of Public International Law”, recognised as the best  textbook on international law, he has shaped the course and content of international law. He was until his death Professor of Public International Law at the University of Oxford and a Distinguished Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.

Sir Ian Brownlie has appeared on behalf on numerous governments before the international tribunals especially the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. He served as an advisor to US President Jimmy Carter during the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis and also represented Amnesty International at the extradition trial of Chilean coup-leader Augusto Pinochet before the House of Lords. He was one of the longest serving members of the United Nations’ Law Reform Commission, having served from 1997 until his resignation in 2008.


His death is also a serious blow to the Mauritian government and to the Prime Minister who knew him personally. He was advising the Government on international law and was constantly being solicited to advise on the complex legal issues that surfaced in relation to the Chagos Archipelagos and Tromelin.

I first met Ian Brownlie at a lunch hosted by my father Sir Satcam when he was High Commissioner in London. Mr Brownlie struck me as being kind, humble and unpretentious. Later on when I served as Parliamentary Counsel I was called upon to liaise with him and instruct him on behalf of the Government on various legal issues that unfolded before the English Courts on the Chagos Archipelago.

Ian Brownlie was adamant on the legal position of Mauritius regarding the Chagos. The excision of the Chagos islands prior to independence was an act incompatible with the principles of UN charter and also with general international law. He had no doubt that the UK government had acted illegally when the Chagos islands were excised from Mauritian territory. His argument was solidly entrenched on the General Assembly Resolution 2066(XX) of 16 December 1965. The text of Resolution 2066 without any ambiguity affirms that the unit of self-determination relevant to the process of decolonisation was the Territory of Mauritius and its dependencies. It was undisputed that the Chagos Archipelago formed part of the dependencies of Mauritius.

Resolution 2066 was reinforced by the content of Resolution 2232 (XXI) and also by Resolution 2357(XXII) which reaffirmed the inalienable right of peoples of Mauritius and its dependencies to self-determination and independence. Moreover, the title of Mauritius to the Chagos had been recognised by a majority of states to the UN.  It was also largely as a result of his rich legal mind that both the Mauritian and French governments have managed to find a formula translating the concept of co-gestion over Tromelin into reality.


Over the years, as I got to know him better, we became good friends and when he visited Mauritius he spent some time at my place and took a liking to my children. Last year we both formed part of the Mauritian delegation led by the Secretary to Cabinet, when we met our British counterparts at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, to start the first round of bilateral negotiations over the Chagos. Ian Brownlie explained with a clarity, of which only he knew the secret, the legal position of Mauritius. After his intervention he told me jokingly that “by the look on the face of the chaps at the FCO, his knighthood is gone forever”. Nonetheless last June he was knighted and I sent him a congratulatory message reminding him that the FCO has not after all sabotaged the Knighthood.


Sir Ian will be sorely missed and his works will no doubt remain an authoritative source to all practitioners of International law. His precious advice to the Government of Mauritius no doubt constitutes an important legal foundation, which enables Mauritius to legitimately seek recognition of its sovereignty over the Chagos islands and compensation for the unjust evictment of Mauritians of Chagossians origin. It was a privilege and honour to have known him.


Satyajit Boolell

Director of Public Prosecutions

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