UN court set to issue verdict on Colombia-Nicaragua sea dispute


The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest court of the United Nations, is poised to announce its decision on Thursday regarding the ongoing legal battle between Colombia and Nicaragua over a resource-rich portion of the Caribbean Sea.

For over two decades, these Latin American rivals have been engaged in a dispute at the ICJ over their respective maritime boundaries. The judges will deliver their ruling at the court’s headquarters in The Hague at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT).

Nicaragua, situated in Central America, challenges a 2012 ICJ ruling that granted it a significant portion of the Caribbean while assigning seven small islands to Colombia in South America.

The following year, Nicaragua returned to court, arguing that its territory should extend beyond the customary 200 nautical miles (230 miles or 370 kilometers) from its coastline, as prescribed by international law. Instead, Managua contends that its territory should follow the underwater continental shelf that extends from its coastline.

However, Colombia disputes this claim, asserting that it overlaps with the area where the archipelago of islands is situated.

In a related case, the ICJ ordered the Colombian navy in 2022 to cease interfering in Nicaraguan waters.

“This dispute involves maritime areas rich in biodiversity, fishing resources, scenic beauty, and also natural resources such as hydrocarbons,” stated Nicolas Boeglin, a professor of public international law at the University of Costa Rica, in an interview with AFP.

During hearings in December of last year, the two sides engaged in verbal sparring within the courtroom. Colombia accused Nicaragua of making the most “exorbitant” demands in legal history and insisted that Nicaragua failed to substantiate scientifically the existence of a continental shelf extending beyond 200 miles.

Meanwhile, Nicaragua accused Colombia of jeopardizing the “public order of the ocean.”

Although Nicaragua and Colombia do not share any land borders, their diplomatic relations have remained strained for almost a century due to disputes over maritime boundaries.

Nicaragua eventually took Colombia to the ICJ in 2001, and in 2012, it was awarded several thousand square kilometers of territory in the Caribbean that had previously belonged to Colombia. In response, Colombia, left with only seven islets, declared at the time that it would no longer recognize the court’s jurisdiction in border disputes.

In 2013, Nicaragua returned to the ICJ, alleging that Colombia had violated the previous judgment.

The International Court of Justice was established after World War II to resolve disputes between member states of the United Nations. Its rulings are final and cannot be appealed.

In recent years, several Latin American countries, including Chile and Bolivia, Guyana and Venezuela, and Guatemala and Belize, have turned to the ICJ to settle territorial claims that have spanned decades or even centuries.

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