World Court Gives Unanimous Verdict to Nicaragua In Maritime Border Dispute With Colombia

November 19, 2012

Nicaragua scored an historic victory over Colombia today as the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled unanimously that Nicaragua should receive more than three times as much maritime area as Colombia in the part of the Caribbean Sea claimed by both countries. Foley Hoag served as Nicaragua’s counsel in the case.

“This is a great day for Nicaragua,” said Dr. Carlos Arguello Gomez, Nicaragua’s ambassador in The Hague and agent before the court. “Nicaragua is extremely pleased by the unanimous decision of the court awarding it the overwhelming majority of the disputed maritime area. This gives Nicaragua the exclusive right to exploit the abundant fishing resources in this part of the sea, and the oil and gas that lie below the seabed.” 

The maritime area in question extends for 200 miles eastward from Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, and surrounds Colombia’s islands of San Andres and Providencia, as well as some small and uninhabited cays that the Court, as expected, confirmed as belonging to Colombia.

The court unanimously rejected Colombia’s claim to more than 70 percent of the disputed sea. Colombia unsuccessfully argued that Nicaragua’s maritime space could not extend past a hypothetical median line drawn halfway between Colombia’s islands and Nicaragua’s coast at a distance of less than 70 miles from Nicaragua.

Instead, the court ruled 15-0 that Nicaragua was entitled to an exclusive economic zone extending around Colombia’s islands to the full distance of 200 miles that a coastal state may claim under international law. Within that 200 mile area, claimed by both Nicaragua and Colombia, the court awarded 75 percent of the disputed sea to Nicaragua.

Nicaragua’s advocates before the court included international law specialists Paul Reichler and Lawrence Martin from Foley Hoag, and professors Alan Pellet (France), Vaughan Lowe (UK), Antonio Remiro Brotons (Spain) and Alex Oude Elferink (Netherlands).

“The ICJ has again distinguished itself for its legal acumen, its fairness, and its vital role in promoting the peaceful resolution of international disputes according to the rule of law,” said Reichler, a partner in Foley Hoag’s Washington D.C. office who regularly represents states before the International Court of Justice. “The court is more indispensable than ever in a world where states too often resort to coercion or military force to resolve their differences.”

Nicaragua commenced the lawsuit in 2001, after the Colombian navy blocked Nicaraguan vessels from crossing the 82nd meridian, close to Nicaragua’s coast, insisting that line was a “wall” constituting the maritime boundary between the two states. “Under the Court’s ruling, the meridian lies entirely within Nicaraguan waters, and Colombia may no longer prevent Nicaraguan civilian and naval vessels from crossing it,” Reichler said.

Nicaragua’s Ambassador Arguello concluded: “The Court’s ruling vindicates Nicaragua’s claims in all important respects, and removes a serious impediment to friendly bilateral relations. We trust Colombia will fully comply with the decision, and we look forward to a new, happier chapter in our relations with a sister Latin American republic.”

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