International Court of Justice rules on territorial waters dispute


  By Lynda Williamson

Tensions between Colombia and Nicaragua have heightened following publication of the International Court of Justice ruling on their historical dispute over maritime borders.

Following the signing of the treaty of Barcenas Meneses Esguerra on March 24th 1928, the maritime border between the two countries was established as 82nd meridian which lies less than 70 miles from the Nicaraguan coast.  The islets of San Andres and the Providencia Archipelago, which are now home to some 80,000 inhabitants, were also ceded to Colombia.

The Nicaraguans disputed the legality of the treaty as it was signed while they were under US occupation and took their case to the ICJ in 2001.

A tribunal, made up of judges chosen by the UN security council, took 11 years to reach the conclusion that the treaty was indeed invalid.  They have ruled that it breached international regulations giving countries control over the area of sea that lies within 200 nautical miles (230 miles) of their shores.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, effectively returns an area of 30,000 square miles to Nicaraguan control.  The territory is thought to contain under water oil deposits as well as its lucrative fishing grounds.

While the court confirmed Colombia’s sovereignty over San Andres and Providencia, the Colombians reacted with fury.

On the 28th of November President Juan Manuel Santos pulled the country out of the Pact of Bogata, an agreement which guarantees peaceful settlement of territorial disputes through the ICJ.   He argued that territorial and maritime disputes should be settled through treaty rather than courts.

Ironically, the treaty of Bogata was signed and ratified in Colombia’s capital in 1948.

After the ruling both countries established a heavy military presence in the disputed area but today President Santos met with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in Mexico City in an effort to establish lines of communication.  President Santos agreed with President Ortega about the need to avoid “incidents”, stating that

“Nobody wants a warlike confrontation – that is the last recourse.  The way to fix situations like this is through common sense talks in which positions are established and clearly stated”

He also stressed that his country would continue to use “every means available to defend the rights of Colombians”

The Nicaraguan Government website, El 19, today reported that President Ortega had assured President Santos that Nicaragua will respect the fishing rights of the inhabitants of San Andres and Providencia as Nicaragua is dedicated to peace.

He is reported to have offered to work closely with his Colombian counterpart to “overcome any obstacles”