The Parliament Committee on National Security Services, commonly called the 241 Committee, has commenced an in-depth analysis of a letter from former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth. This letter signifies a pivotal shift in the Maldives’ stance concerning the sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago.

The letter, the focal point of the 241 Committee meeting, was proposed for translation from English to Dhivehi by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Member of Parliament (MP) for Hoarafushi, Ahmed Saleem. He stated, “There are certain words and legal terms in the letter that I’m unfamiliar with. So, I suggest we ask the Counsel General and administrative staff of Parliament to provide a Dhivehi translation of the letter. This will allow us to begin a thorough analysis.”

Despite the letter being classified as “confidential” by the President’s Office, Saleem proposed an open review, citing its relevance to the public interest. His proposal, supported by the committee members representing his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was to commence analysis of the letter once a Dhivehi translation was received and to conduct this analysis openly rather than behind closed doors.

However, this proposal was contested by MP for Thulusdhoo Ibrahim Naseem from the ruling People’s National Congress (PNC), who advocated for the preservation of state secrets and a closed-door analysis. He suggested, “I’ve always been a proponent of keeping state secrets confidential. I believe we should conduct the analysis behind closed doors. If there are any significant issues with the letter, we can make those public after our review.”

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ruled on 23 April 2023 to settle the dispute over the maritime boundary between the Maldives and Mauritius, affirming the latter’s sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. The Maldives had initially argued that ITLOS did not have the jurisdiction to oversee the case, which was later shifted and confirmed by Solih’s letter to Jugnauth.

Solih’s letter was a significant cause of concern for the then-opposition, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)-Progressive National Congress (PNC) coalition, before the 2023 presidential elections, held in September, with President Mohamed Muizzu calling on Solih to make the letter public. Muizzu and the then-opposition had also claimed that Solih had shifted the Maldives’ stance in the case related to the sovereignty of the Chagos Archipelago after ceding a significant portion of Maldivian territorial waters to Mauritius.

However, Mauritius’s sovereignty over the Chagos Islands was confirmed earlier by the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) advisory opinion. In a 2019 vote on a United Nations General Assembly resolution, calling for the United Kingdom to hand over the Chagos Archipelago to Mauritius, the Maldives, Australia, the United States, Hungary, and Israel sided with the UK and voted against the resolution.

President Muizzu recently stated that the government is reviewing the ITLOS ruling and will appeal the decision, a pledge he made during the presidential campaign. The ITLOS decision resulted in the Maldives gaining a larger portion of the disputed waters, totalling 92,563 square meters. However, the Maldives lost approximately 45,331 square metres from its traditionally claimed Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).