UN court 'has right to rule' in Nicaragua-Colombia row

Case brought by Nicaragua involves Caribbean Sea boundary; Colombia slams decision

AMSTERDAM • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that it had the jurisdiction to demarcate the boundary between Nicaragua and Colombia in a mineral-rich part of the Caribbean Sea, overruling Colombia's objections.

The ruling, separate from a judgment earlier on Thursday in which the United Nations court said it would rule on alleged violations of Nicaragua's sovereignty, means a maritime delineation case between the two countries can proceed.

An earlier ruling in 2012 settled the maritime boundaries between the two countries to a distance of 370km. In the new case, judges are being asked to settle boundaries that were left unfixed by the 2012 judgment.

The ICJ's decision dealt a sharp blow to Bogota, Colombia's capital. It had said that the court was not competent to hear the two cases brought by Nicaragua.

By 14 votes to two, the judges ruled the ICJ "has jurisdiction... to adjudicate upon the dispute" in which Nicaragua's capital Managua accuses Bogota of violating its sovereign rights in the Caribbean Sea.

And in a second split separate decision - in which ICJ president, Judge Ronny Abraham, had to use his casting vote - they ruled that a case brought by Nicaragua to determine the "precise course" of a continental shelf between the two countries "is admissible".

Managua has asked the Hague-based ICJ to delimit the maritime boundary between the two countries beyond 370km off the Nicaraguan coastline.

Colombia had argued the court no longer had jurisdiction in either case, because Bogota withdrew almost four years ago from a 1948 treaty known as the Pact of Bogota.

Under that treaty, most countries of South and North America agreed to settle disputes between them through peaceful means and had conferred jurisdiction over such matters to the ICJ.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos slammed the court's rulings, saying on his Twitter account that Bogota would not appear before the court when the cases eventually open.

"Our country respects the law, but requires respect for the law," he tweeted, calling on all Colombians to make "a strong common front to protect our Caribbean Sea".

Although the two countries share no land borders, diplomatic relations have been strained for almost a century over disputed maritime limits.

Nicaraguan Ambassador to the Netherlands, Mr Carlos Jose Arguello Gomez, welcomed the ruling, saying that it was the "most logical and practical".

He said: "If the court had not accepted jurisdiction, then it would have let there be an eternal dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'UN court 'has right to rule' in Nicaragua-Colombia row'. Print Edition | Subscribe