Insights | Colombia and Nicaragua return to the court in The Hague

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Colombia and Nicaragua return to the court in The Hague

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) summoned Colombia and Nicaragua for next September 20 for oral hearings on the long litigation that both countries have regarding their maritime borders.

The case originates from a sentence of  the same ICJ on November 19, 2012, which established maritime boundaries between the two countries, giving Managua tens of thousands of square kilometers that were previously under the control of Bogotá.

The November 2012 court decision confirmed Colombian sovereignty over seven keys near the islands of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina, but gave Nicaragua a larger portion of the sea than it had previously.

To respond to this ruling, in September 2013 the then President Juan Manuel Santos declared an Integral Contiguous Zone to exercise jurisdiction in the waters surrounding the islands and keys “as an archipelago and not as unconnected territories.” Two months later, Managua returned to the ICJ and demanded that it demand that Colombia repeal laws “incompatible with the judgment” of November 2012.

As part of its strategy in the face of the 2012 ruling, Colombia also introduced four counterclaims in the written allegations phase, of which two were admitted by the ICJ.

In the first, he assures that Nicaragua has violated the artisanal fishing rights of the inhabitants of the San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina archipelago, in particular, of the Raizal community. The second complaint that in a decree of August 2013 Nicaragua “extended its internal waters and maritime zones beyond what international law allows”, which would have been a “violation of the jurisdiction of Colombia.”

It is on these arguments that the judges of the ICJ will hear on September 20 both the initial complaint from Nicaragua and the counterclaims from Colombia. The hearings will presumably last several days, after which the magistrates will withdraw to deliberate a ruling that will be final, since the decisions of the ICJ are final.

It should be noted that this legal dispute is developed in parallel with another one presented by Nicaragua that is still in the written arguments phase. In this second case, Managua asked the ICJ to clarify the rights and duties of both countries with respect to a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast of the Caribbean Sea.

Meeting of former Presidents fails

To analyze the dispute with Nicaragua, the Foreign Ministry of Colombia called on September 2 a session of the Advisory Commission on International Relations, of which the former Presidents of the Republic are part. However, political differences among several of the attendees and scheduling problems caused the meeting to fail.

The convocation included former Presidents Álvaro Uribe, Juan Manuel Santos, César Gaviria, Ernesto Samper and Andrés Pastrana. This was the first time that President Iván Duque summoned his predecessors within the framework of the Advisory Commission on International Relations.

“A meeting of the Foreign Relations Advisory Commission was called to discuss with its members regarding the oral hearings that will take place between September 20 and October 1, 2021, within the framework of Nicaragua’s lawsuit against Colombia for the alleged violations of sovereign rights and maritime spaces in the Caribbean Sea, “the Foreign Ministry reported, adding that the summons is postponed until further notice.