The UN Court of Justice rules that Colombia violated the rights of Nicaragua in the Caribbean Sea | International

A panoramic image of Johnny Cay, next to the Colombian island of San Andrés, in the Caribbean.John Vizcaino (Reuters)

The International Court of Justice of the United Nations (TIJ) has ruled this Thursday that Colombia violated the sovereignty of Nicaragua by allowing, on the one hand, fishing in the waters of the Caribbean Sea that this court recognizes as part of the exclusive economic zone of Nicaragua . On the other, for interfering with the scientific and fishing research activities of vessels with a Nicaraguan flag or license in said space. In 2012, UN judges declared Nicaragua’s sovereign rights over almost 75,000 square kilometers of ocean that Colombia claimed belonged to it. Now, they have decided that Bogotá must “immediately cease” its behavior.

The resolution adds that “it is not in accordance with customary international law [de usos y costumbres]” the decree of the Colombian presidency of 2013 that establishes a maritime space called the contiguous zone, over which it can exercise certain sovereign rights, and which overlaps in part with the economic zone attributed to Nicaragua by the TIJ in 2012. The current judicial decision It is part of the case on the alleged violations of sovereign rights and maritime spaces in the Caribbean Sea, which has confronted both countries for years. However, its maps do not change, as happened in 2012. Then, the judges maintained Colombia’s sovereignty in the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, but the country considers that it “lost” about 75,000 square kilometers of area exclusive maritime economic rich in natural resources in favor of Nicaragua.

The current ruling also indicates that it has not been proven that Nicaragua has violated the artisanal fishing rights of the Raizal community of the archipelago, as the Bogotá government had alleged. It is an ethnic group with African, European and Caribbean roots, which fishes in the exclusive economic zone of Nicaragua (a maximum of 200 nautical miles from the coast of the State in question). But the judges do conclude that a Nicaraguan decree on the delimitation of its maritime spaces violates international law by attributing areas that do not correspond to it. “This type of maritime dispute is very sensitive for States, although this ruling is limited to a limited area. The Colombian activities and decisions invoked by Nicaragua were not a general response to the 2012 ruling of the ICJ, since they were mainly incidents between Nicaraguan patrol boats and fishing boats in a certain maritime area. But we will have to wait for Colombia’s reaction,” says Asier Garrido Muñoz, an expert in International Organization Law, on the phone.

The Colombian legal team was satisfied, and considered that the result was positive despite the fact that it included what it described as “a small scolding” for some operations by the army. The Colombian agent before the TIJ, Carlos Gustavo Arrieta, interpreted that the ruling achieved what was essential for his country, which was to “maintain freedom of navigation in the area and the presence of the Navy, maintain the integrity of the archipelago, and recognize the Raizal community so that they could fish in the area,” he said as he left court. President Iván Duque joined that first optimistic look and declared from San Andrés that “the court recognized the right of Colombia to navigate freely in the area to fight transnational crimes and drug trafficking,” reports Santiago Torrado from Bogota.

The core of the dispute dates back to 2001. That year, Nicaragua filed a lawsuit with the TIJ claiming sovereignty over the Colombian archipelago and over several islands and keys, low-lying insular territories. Managua in turn requested that the court establish a single maritime border between the continental coasts of both countries. In 2007, Colombian sovereignty over the archipelago was recognized and the study of the merits of the case began. Five years later, the judges first confirmed Colombian sovereignty also over the 7 keys claimed by Nicaragua in the same waters. They are these: Alburquerque, Southeast, Rocador, Serranilla, Bajo Nuevo, Quitasueño, Serrana. They then drew the limits in the Caribbean by expanding Nicaragua’s continental shelf, at the expense of Colombia.

The Government of Bogotá immediately rejected said demarcation, and its president at the time, Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), argued that in order to set new maritime limits it was necessary to draw up a treaty in this regard. He also stressed that the court “exceeded the scope covered by the Esguerra-Bárcenas Treaty (1930) declared valid and in force by itself, by extending the dividing line of the water to the north and south of the archipelago.” The TIJ’s decisions are binding, but Santos said Colombian domestic law prevented him from complying with them in this case. He said the following: “It is complied with, but it is not applied.” The Nicaraguan government pointed out that only the part of the ruling considered convenient could not be accepted, and the fact of appealing to a new treaty was “an excuse to fail to comply” with the opinion of the judges. With the judicial decision, Nicaragua had access to fishing, as well as gas or oil that could be extracted in the area.

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This concluded, in 2012, this territorial dispute in the sea, but in 2013 Nicaragua accused Colombia of violating several maritime zones drawn by the judges the previous year. The Colombian side insisted that it had respected that ruling, and although its ships sometimes sailed in the area of ​​disputed waters, it was done in accordance with international law. In response, it in turn sued Nicaragua alleging that it had violated the fishing rights of the Raizal people, and had illegally extended its maritime spaces recognized by the court. Nicaragua, for its part, requested in another lawsuit that the border between the two countries in the Caribbean be delimited beyond 200 nautical miles (this was not done in 2012), and said matter is still pending before the TIJ.

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