On Thursday, President of Colombia Gustavo Petro and his two immediate predecessors, Iván Duque and Juan Manuel Santos, celebrated the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ruling in favor of Colombia. It’s a “great victory,” the current president said of the court’s decision denying Nicaragua’s claim to extend its continental shelf. The current case, which was initiated in 2013, also caused concern in the two governments immediately preceding Petro’s. After the new ruling, Duque reiterated that Colombia should not abide by another ruling that is partially adverse to the nation, while Santos emphasized that it is the end of “the [country’s] litigation at the ICJ,” which began in 2001 with an initial claim about the sovereignty of the San Andres and Providencia archipelago.
“With this ruling, we hope to turn the page on the boundary dispute and focus on bringing sustainable development to our archipelago,” the president of Colombia said on social media. He will travel to San Andres to celebrate the legal victory. Beyond the current dispute, two other cases at The Hague formed part of a larger confrontation between Colombia and Nicaragua: one initiated in 2001 and another one that began in 2013. The 2012 ruling on the first case focused particularly on Colombian islands in the Caribbean Sea. Then, the ICJ recognized the South American country’s sovereignty over the archipelago, but it granted Nicaragua a greater extension of surrounding maritime zones than it already had. This decision produced tensions that have not yet been resolved and will continue beyond the ICJ.
For his part, Duque celebrated the court’s decision and congratulated the legal team that defended Colombia during his administration (2018-2022). “They rebutted Nicaragua’s arguments in its absurd claim of an extended continental shelf,” he said on Twitter. However, he reiterated that the country must maintain its position of not applying the “unjust ruling” from 2012, which was not favorable to Colombia in terms of the maritime area. “Not a millimeter of territory should be ceded,” he insisted. Hours before the ruling on Wednesday, Duque had questioned the ICJ’s authority and insinuated that Colombia should disregard the ruling if it favored Nicaragua: “Our borders can only be modified by means of a border treaty, ratified by the Congress of the Republic. Diplomatic tension in defense of our sovereignty is preferable to ceding the homeland’s territory.”
Santos and the foreign minister during his two terms (2010-2018), María Angela Holguín, also claimed “victory” for the South American country. “This closes a long chapter in Colombia’s recent history, that of the disputes before the ICJ. These [cases] put the archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina, its people and their needs at the center of the national conversation,” they said in a statement. In 2012, the Santos government denounced the Pact of Bogotá and removed the country from the Court’s jurisdiction after the first ruling. But Nicaragua filed the third lawsuit a few days before the court lost authority over Colombia and the case went forward.
Colombia’s Vice President, Francia Márquez, emphasized that the decision benefits the Raizal community of the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina: “It opens a path to focusing on improving the living conditions [of these people].” The Raizal fishermen, who are of Afro-Caribbean and Protestant descent, had expressed their concern about the environmental damage that could result from Nicaragua’s potential exploitation of resources on the continental shelf. In addition, they had decried the fact that previous processes made fishing difficult in areas that historically belonged to them and are now under the Central American country’s jurisdiction.
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