Nicaragua defended this Monday before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in the case opened against Colombia, that the continental shelves and maritime zones that overlap between States “must be delimited in accordance with international law” and legal customs accepted by both parts as standard.
“The continental shelves, as well as all the maritime areas that overlap between States, have to be delimited in accordance with international law (…) rules that were accepted by both parties as norms of customary international law,” said the Nicaraguan agent before ICJ, Carlos José Argüello Gómez.
The ICJ had asked both countries to dedicate this week’s oral trial to presenting their arguments exclusively in relation to two issues of customary international law (legal customs that countries adopt as binding) “before proceeding to any consideration of technical and scientific issues ” of the case.
Among other things, the ICJ urged them to make their submissions on whether — under customary international law — a State’s right to a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from its coast can extend within 200 nautical miles of another. Condition.
In addition, he asked them to clarify the criteria established by customary international law to determine the limit of the continental shelf beyond 200 miles from “the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.”
“A careful reading of Colombia’s position on the controversies filed against it by Nicaragua in the case (…) shows that Colombia’s position has not been consistent,” said Argüello Gómez, regarding the differences in the interpretation of the Convention of the UN on the Law of the Sea, which Bogotá has not ratified.
Colombia changes position
Until 2008, Colombia recognized —read the Nicaraguan— that “although the provisions of the 1982 Convention are not applicable as a source of conventional law ‘per se'”, the provisions of the articles on the exclusive economic zone and others on the right to the maritime areas of coastal States, “reflect well-established principles of customary international law.”
But Colombia, he added, “has changed its position” on the customary nature of the rules of Article 76.
“Colombia now appears to argue that only the part of paragraph 1 that refers to the 200 nautical mile limit corresponds to customary law, and that the reference in that paragraph to natural prolongation is a treaty obligation applicable to the parties to the Convention. This is a singular position”, added Argüello Gómez.
If the criteria contained in that article of the Convention in its entirety are not applied, “then what criteria are we going to apply?”, he asked.
The Colombian Foreign Minister, Álvaro Leyva Durán, is also in The Hague to participate in the opening of the hearings and has listened to the arguments presented by Nicaragua. On Tuesday Bogota will have the turn to speak.
November 2012 ruling
The dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua took a turn ten years ago with the ICJ ruling that modified the limits between the two countries in the Caribbean Sea but, far from settling the issue, gave rise to new claims before that court.
In the judgment of November 19, 2012, for a complaint filed in 2001 by the Central American country, Colombia maintained sovereignty over the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, as well as the keys that comprise it, and retained 12 miles of the water that surrounds these territories, but lost almost 75,000 square kilometers of sea to Nicaragua.
Faced with Colombia’s decision not to apply the ruling and declare an Integral Contiguous Zone to exercise its jurisdiction in the waters surrounding the islands and keys “as an archipelago and not as unconnected territories”, Nicaragua returned to the ICJ in September 2013.
On that occasion, Managua asked the Court to declare the “exact course” of the maritime border, “beyond” the 200-mile limits defined in the November 2012 judgment, as well as to require Bogotá to repeal of laws “incompatible with the judgment” and the revocation of permits granted to Colombian fishing vessels that operate in disputed waters.
In response, Colombia countersued, alleging that Nicaragua “has violated the artisanal fishing rights of the inhabitants of the archipelago, particularly the Raizal community,” since their traditional fishing banks were outside the 12 nautical miles stipulated in the previous ruling.
Last April, the ICJ considered that there is a violation of Nicaragua’s “sovereign rights and jurisdiction” in its Exclusive Economic Zone (ZEE), and demanded that Colombia “immediately cease its conduct” in that area.