ICSID Tribunal finds for Mauritius in dispute about UNESCO World Heritage Site

20 February, 2020

An ICSID tribunal has dismissed a claim brought by UK investors who sought to build a luxury hotel complex on Mauritius’ first UNESCO-designated World Heritage site.

The case concerned the Le Morne peninsula in Mauritius, an area of outstanding natural beauty with deep cultural significance as a place of refuge for escaped slaves during the 19th century. In 2008, UNESCO designated it as the first World Heritage site commemorating resistance to slavery, as a monument to mankind’s desire for freedom and dignity. The Government of Mauritius decided that permitting the building of a luxury resort on the site would be inappropriate, and incompatible with the UNESCO designation process.

A group of UK investors took the case to an ICSID tribunal, arguing that this decision breached the UK-Mauritius Bilateral Investment Treaty. In its Award of 18 February 2020, the tribunal, by majority, disagreed, and rejected the claim in its entirety. The decision is significant in considering the ability of states to strike a balance between the goal of economic development and the need to protect areas of cultural and natural significance.

Alison Macdonald QC acted for Mauritius, alongside a team from Foley Hoag LLP in Washington, DC and Paris.