The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice and Britain’s Colonial Legacy by Philippe Sands - review by James Gow

James Gow

Empire Strikes Back

The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice and Britain’s Colonial Legacy

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Weidenfeld & Nicolson 206pp £16.99 order from our bookshop
 

Many will enjoy The Last Colony and it will undoubtedly sell well. It might also be nominated for prizes, as was Philippe Sands’s East West Street. That earlier book blended the author’s personal exploration of family history with a study of two of the most impactful contributors to the history of international law, Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin, and the concepts that they gave us: crimes against humanity and genocide. The crucial link in the triple helix was the Ukrainian city of Lviv. This is where Sands’s own Jewish grandparents started life and where those two great Jewish lawyers studied.

The Last Colony shares the elements that shaped East West Street: a personal angle and a discussion of international law, here revolving around a particular case. The personal dominates the book in two ways. First, the author uses the voice of Liseby Elysé, born on the Chagossian island of Peros Banhos in 1953 and compulsorily resettled two decades later, to provide an emotional, perhaps sentimental, dimension to the narrative. Second, the author’s own perspective runs through the book – there is quite a lot of ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’, which I can understand (occasionally having written this way myself), but some might find it a little irritating.

The case at the heart of this book is the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, an advisory opinion case heard at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 2019. In a sense, the book is a report

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