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Reflections on the Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia before the International Court of Justice

  • YOSHIFUMI TANAKA

Abstract

On 19 November 2012, the International Court of Justice gave its judgment concerning the Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia. This judgment includes several important issues which need serious consideration, such the as legal status of maritime features, the interpretation and application of Article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the methodology of maritime delimitations, the role of proportionality in maritime delimitations, and the impact of the judgment upon third states and effect of Article 59 of the ICJ Statute. Focusing on these issues, this contribution aims to analyse the judgment of 2012 from a viewpoint of the international law of the sea, in particular, the law of maritime delimitation.

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1 Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Judgment of 19 November 2012, [2012] ICJ Rep. (not yet published). The text of the judgment is available at the home page of the ICJ: www.icj-cij.org. The analysis of this study relies on the electronic version of the judgment. As this judgment has, at the time of writing, not yet been published, only the paragraph number will be quoted. Since the Court included upon the bench no judge of the nationality of either of the parties, Nicaragua chose Mr Thomas Mensa and Colombia chose Mr Jean-Pierre Cot as judge ad hoc. Ibid., para. 3. Colombia is not a party to the UNCLOS.

2 Thus an examination of the law of acquisition of territory in the Nicaragua v. Colombia case falls outside the scope of this contribution.

3 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 25.

4 Ibid., para. 26; Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain (Qatar v. Bahrain), Merits, Judgment of 16 March 2001, [2001] ICJ Rep. 40, at 102, para. 206. See also Tanaka, Y., ‘Low-Tide Elevations in International Law of the Sea: Selected Issues’, (2006) 20 Ocean Yearbook 189, at 198–207.

5 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, paras. 24 and 202.

6 Emphasis added. Ibid., para. 181. As Colombia is not a party to the UNCLOS, the Convention was not applicable in the present proceedings. As will be discussed later, however, the ICJ considered that Art. 121 UNCLOS as a whole has the status of customary international law. Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 139.

7 Ibid., para. 181.

8 Ibid., para. 37; Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain, supra note 4, at 99, para. 197.

9 Ibid., at 209, para. 198 (Judges Bedjaoui, Ranjeva, and Koroma, Dissenting Opinion).

10 Ibid., at 220–1, para. 13 (Judge Vereshchetin, Declaration).

11 For an analysis of these elements, see Tanaka, Y., The International Law of the Sea (2012), 64–7.

12 Emphasis added. Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 183.

13 Emphasis added. Ibid., para. 238.

14 Emphasis added. Ibid., para. 176.

15 Ibid., para. 170. See also Presentation by Mr Lowe, Verbatim Record, 24 April 2012, CR 2012/9, 27, para. 32.

16 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 173; presentation by Mr Bundy, 27 April 2012, Verbatim Record, CR 2012/12, 17, paras. 38 and 40.

17 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 180.

18 Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain, supra note 4, at 91, para. 167, and at 97, para. 185.

19 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 139.

20 The text of UNCLOS Article 121(3) provides the alternative, ‘human habitation or economic life of their own’. A literal interpretation seems to suggest that only one of these tests must be met in order that a maritime feature is regarded as an island. However, some consider the phrase as a single concept. Tanaka, supra note 11, 66.

21 It appears that the only example of incorporation of Article 121(3) into national legislation is the 1986 EEZ Federal Act of Mexico. Article 51 of the Federal Act, 25 ILM 889 (1986), at 896. Nonetheless, Mexico gave full effect to many minuscule islets generating its EEZ. van Overbeek, W., ‘Article 121(3) LOSC in Mexican State Practice in Pacific’, (1989) 4 International Journal of Estuarine and Coastal Law 252, at 262; Kwiatkowska, B. and Soons, H. A., ‘Entitlement to Maritime Areas of Rocks Which Cannot Sustain Human Habitation or Economic Life of Their Own’, (1990) 21 NYIL 139, at 176; Kolb, R., ‘L’interprétation de l’article 121, paragraphe 3, de la Convention de Montego Bay sur le droit de la mer Les “roches qui ne se prêtent pas à l’habitation humaine ou à une vie économique propre. . .”’, (1994) 40 AFDI 876, at 896–7.

22 A notable exception is the Norwegian Supreme Court Judgment of 7 May 1996. In this case, the Supreme Court held that Abel Island, which is 13.2 square kilometres in area, was too large to be a ‘rock’ within the meaning of Article 121(3); and that the island would be able to support a significant polar bear hunt, were such hunting not prohibited for conservation reasons. Churchill, R., ‘Norway: Supreme Court Judgment on Law of the Sea Issues’, (1996) 11 IJMCL 576, at 576–80 (in particular, at 579).

23 The Court considered sovereignty over maritime features in dispute on the basis of effectivités. Specifically it examined public administration and legislation, regulation of economic activities, public works, law-enforcement measures, naval visits and search and rescue operations and consular representation. In addition, it examined alleged recognition by Nicaragua, positions taken by third states, and evidentiary value of maps. Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, paras. 82–102.

24 Ibid., para. 251(1).

25 As Colombia is not a party to the UNCLOS, customary international law applied to the maritime delimitation. However, the Court recognized that the principles of maritime delimitation enshrined in UNCLOS Arts. 74 and 83 reflect customary international law. Ibid., para. 139; Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain, supra note 4, at 91, paras. 167 et seq.

26 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, paras. 190–199.

27 Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea (Romania v. Ukraine), Judgment of 3 February 2009, [2009] ICJ Rep. 61, at 101–3, paras. 11–22.

28 Tanaka, Y., Predictability and Flexibility in the Law of Maritime Delimitation (2006), 46.

29 For a detailed analysis of this subject, see ibid., at 51–126; Tanaka, Y., ‘Quelques observations sur deux approches jurisprudentielles en droit de la délimitation maritime: l’affrontement entre prévisibilité et flexibilité’, (2004) 37 Revue Belge de droit international 419. See also Tanaka, supra note 11, 192–8; by the same writer, ‘Reflections on Maritime Delimitation in the Romania/Ukraine Case before the International Court of Justice’, (2009) 56 NILR 397, at 413–19.

30 North Sea Continental Shelf (Federal Republic of Germany v. Denmark) (Federal Republic of Germany v. Netherlands), Judgment of 20 February 1969, [1969] ICJ Rep. 3, at 46, para. 85; at 53, para. 101(C)(1).

31 Ibid., para. 101(B). See also at 49, para. 90.

32 Ibid., at 50, para 92.

33 Basically the result-oriented equity approach corresponds to the concept of équité autonome (‘autonomous equity’) presented by Weil, P., Perspectives du droit de la délimitation maritime (1988), 179–81.

34 Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Judgment of 24 February 1982, [1982] ICJ Rep. 18, at 59, para. 70.

35 Ibid., at 79, para. 110.

36 Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary in the Gulf of Maine Area (Canada/United States of America), Judgment of 12 October 1984, [1984] ICJ Rep. 246, at 300, para. 112.

37 Ibid., at 312–3, paras. 157–158.

38 Ibid., at 315, paras. 162163.

39 However, in the second segment of opposite coasts, the Chamber of the ICJ took the corrective-equity approach. Ibid., at 334–7, paras. 217–223.

40 Continental Shelf (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Malta), Judgment of 3 June 1985, [1985] ICJ Rep. 13, at 38–9, para. 45. At the stage of establishing the continental shelf boundary between opposite coasts, however, the Court applied the equidistance method as a first provisional step, and the equidistance line was adjusted in a second stage on account of relevant circumstances. Ibid., at 52–3, para. 73. Accordingly, the Court applied the equidistance method at the first stage of continental shelf delimitation, although it supported the result-oriented equity approach.

41 The Guinea/Guinea-Bissau arbitration, (1985) 89 RGDIP 483, at 521, para. 89; at 525, para. 102.

42 The St Pierre and Miquelon arbitration, 31 ILM 1145 (1992), at 1163, para. 38.

43 Tanaka, supra note 28, 123–5; Tanaka, supra note 29, at 415.

44 Maritime Delimitation in the Area between Greenland and Jan Mayen (Denmark v. Norway), Judgment of 14 June 1993, [1993] ICJ Rep. 38, at 113, para. 85 (Judge Oda, Separate Opinion). See also Oda, S., ‘The International Court of Justice Viewed from the Bench (1976–1993)’, (1993) 244 RCADI 9, at 151–4; See the Gulf of Maine case, supra note 36, at 386, para. 41 (Judge Gros, Dissenting Opinion).

45 Weil, supra note 33, at 174–5.

46 The Anglo-French Continental Shelf arbitration, United Nations, 18 Report of International Arbitral Award (RIAA) 3, at 45, para. 70.

47 Emphasis added. Ibid., at 116, para. 249. The Court took into account the fact that, in the Atlantic region, Art. 6 was applicable. As Art. 6 is the particular expression of a customary law of equitable principles, the result would be the same as if customary law had been applied.

48 Weil, supra note 33, 179.

49 In this case, there was no agreement on a single maritime boundary and, thus, the law applicable to the continental shelf and to the EEZ/FZ had to be examined separately. Both parties had ratified the Convention on the Continental Shelf.

50 Maritime Delimitation in the Area between Greenland and Jan Mayen, supra note 44, at 58, para. 46.

51 Ibid., at 61, para. 51.

52 Ibid., at 59, para. 47.

53 Ibid., at 61–2, para. 53.

54 Ibid., at 62–3, para. 56.

55 The Eritrea/Yemen Arbitration (the Second Phase),40 ILM 983 (2001), at 1005, paras. 131–132.

56 Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain, supra note 4, at 91, para. 167, and at 111, para. 230.

57 Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria (Cameroon v. Nigeria: Equatorial Guinea intervening), Judgment of 10 October 2002, [2002] ICJ Rep. 303, at 441–2, paras. 288–290.

58 The Barbados/Trinidad and Tobago arbitration, at 94, para. 306. The text of the award is available at the home page of the Permanent Court of Arbitration: http://www/pca-cpa.org.

59 Ibid., at 73, para. 242.

60 Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea (Nicaragua v. Honduras) Judgment of 8 October 2007, [2007] ICJ Rep. 659, at 77, para. 281.

61 Ibid., at 83, para. 304.

62 Tanaka, Y., ‘Case Concerning the Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea (8 October 2007), (2008) 23 IJMCL 342–3. See also Churchill, R., ‘Dispute Settlement Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: Survey for 2007’, (2008) 23 IJMCL 601, at 622–4.

63 The Guyana/Suriname arbitration, at 108–9, para. 335 and at 110, para 342. The text of the award is available at the home page of the Permanent Court of Arbitration: http://www/pca-cpa.org.

64 Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, Judgment of 14 March 2012, at 76, para. 240, available at www.itlos.org/fileadmin/itlos/documents/cases/case_no_16/C16_Judgment_14_03_2012_rev.pdf.

65 Tanaka, supra note 28, 419. See also Speech by His Excellency Judge Gilbert Guillaume, President of the International Court of Justice, to the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations, 31 October 2001.

66 Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, supra note 64, para. 228. It is also to be noted that as shown in the Gulf of Maine and the Libya v. Malta cases, the ICJ seemed to accept the validity of the corrective-equity approach in the maritime delimitation between states with opposite coasts, even when it supported the result-oriented equity approach.

67 Thirlway, H. W. A., The Law and Procedure of the International Court of Justice: Fifty Years of Jurisprudence, Vol. I (2013), 444.

68 Scovazzi, T., ‘The Evolution of International Law of the Sea: New Issues, New Challenges’, (2000) 286 RCADI 39, at 200; Vœlckel, M., ‘Aperçu de quelques problèmes techniques concernant la délimitation des frontières maritimes’, (1979) 25 AFDI 693, at 706–7.

69 Tanaka, supra note 28, at 352 and 354.

70 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, paras. 233–235.

71 Ibid., para. 215.

72 Ibid., para. 5 (Judge Xue, Declaration).

73 Ibid., para. 236.

74 Continental Shelf (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Malta), supra note 40, at 34, para. 34.

75 Ibid., at 46–7, para. 61.

76 Weil, supra note 33, 53.

77 Lucchini, L. and Vœlkel, M., Droit de la mer, Tome 2, Délimitation, navigation et pêche, Vol. I, Délimitation (1996). 211.

78 Weil, supra note 33, at 64.

79 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 32 (Judge Abraham, Separate Opinion).

80 Ibid., para. 13 (Judge Xue, Declaration).

81 Counter-memorial of the Republic of Colombia, Vol. I, 11 November 2008, at 28, para. 2.22; Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 24.

82 Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea, supra note 27, at 123, para. 188.

83 Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea, supra note 60, at 702, para. 137.

84 Ibid., at 751, para. 302.

85 Ibid., at 759, para. 320.

86 North Sea Continental Shelf, supra note 30, at 50, para. 91.

87 Emphasis added. Ibid., at 52, para. 98.

88 Tanaka, supra note 28, 162 and supra note 29 (2009), 425. This view is supported by W. Bowett, The Legal Régime of Islands in International Law (1979), 164; Higgins, R., Problems and Process: International Law and How We Use it (1994), 229; Ida, R., ‘The Role of Proportionality in Maritime Delimitation Revisited: The Origin and Meaning of the Principle from the Early Decisions of the Court’, in Ando, N.et al. (eds.), Liber Amicorum Judge Shigeru Oda (2002), 1037 at 1039; Kolb, R., Jurisprudence sur les délimitations maritimes selon l’équité (2003), 258.

89 Continental Shelf (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Malta), supra note 40, at 134–5, para. 18 (Judge Oda, Dissenting Opinion). This view was echoed by Judges Valticos and Schwebel. Ibid., at 110, para. 19 (Judge Valticos, Separate Opinion); ibid., at 182–5 (Judge Schwebel, Dissenting Opinion).

90 For an analysis of judicial practice on the application of the concept of proportionality, see Tanaka, supra note 28, at 161–79.

91 Tanaka, supra note 28, 167–9. See also Continental Shelf (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Malta), supra note 40, at 121 (Judge Mosler, Dissenting Opinion); Dissenting Opinion of Judge Schwebel, ibid., at 184 (Judge Schwebel, Dissenting Opinion); ibid., at 110, para. 19 (Judge Valticos, Separate Opinion).

92 It must be noted that disparity of coastal lengths is an inseparable element of the concept of proportionality.

93 North Sea Continental Shelf, supra note 30, at 22, para. 18. See also Tanaka, supra note 28, at 11–12.

94 Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), supra note 34, at 60, para. 71. See also Continental Shelf (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Malta), supra note 40, at 40, para. 46; Maritime Delimitation in the Area between Greenland and Jan Mayen, supra note 44, at 67, para. 64.

95 Thirlway, supra note 67, at 500.

96 Tanaka, supra note 28, at 179.

97 The Barbados v. Trinidad and Tobago case, supra note 58, at 100, para. 328.

98 Maritime Delimitation in the Area between Greenland and Jan Mayen, supra note 44, at 69, para. 69.

99 Vœlckel, supra note 68, at 706.

100 Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea, supra note 27, at 129, para. 212.

101 Presentation by Mr Oude Elferink, 23 April 2012, Verbatim Record, CR 2012/8, at 28, para. 8.

102 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 144.

103 Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea, supra note 27, at 129, para. 214.

104 Pratt, M., ‘Commentary: Case Concerning Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea (Nicaragua v. Honduras)’, (2007) 2 Hague Justice Journal 34, at 38.

105 Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea, supra note 27, at 129, para. 213.

106 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 246.

107 Tanaka, supra note 28, 179–82.

108 Higgins, supra note 88, at 230. Some argued that proportionality should no longer play any formal role in the process of maritime delimitation. Evans, M. D., ‘Maritime Boundary Delimitation: Where Do We Go From Here?’, in Freestone, D., Barnes, R., and Ong, D. (eds.), The Law of the Sea: Progress and Prospects (2006), 137 at 156.

109 Treaty on the Delimitation of Marine and Submarine Areas and Associated Matters between the Republic of Panama and the Republic of Colombia of 20 November 1976, entered into force 30 November 1977. Text in: Charney, J. I. and Alexander, L. M. (eds.), International Maritime Boundaries, Vol. I (1993), at 532–5; Treaty on Delimitation of Marine and Submarine Areas and Maritime Cooperation between the Republic of Colombia and the Republic of Costa Rica of 17 March 1977, not yet in force. Text in ibid., at 474–6. According to Colombia, ‘Costa Rica has stated on numerous occasions that it has applied the 1977 Treaty in good faith and will continue to do so’. Presentation by Mr Bundy, Verbatim Record, 27 April 2012, CR 2012/12, at 21, para. 52.

110 Treaty Concerning Delimitation of Marine Areas and Maritime Cooperation between the Republic of Costa Rica and the Republic of Panama of 2 February 1980. Entered into force 11 February 1982. Text in Charney and Alexander, supra note 109, at 547–9.

111 Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Application to Intervene, Judgment of 14 April 1981, [1981] ICJ Rep. 3, at 20, para. 37.

112 Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), supra note 34, at 42, para. 33.

113 Ibid., at 94, para. 133C(3).

114 Continental Shelf (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Malta), supra note 40, at 26, paras. 21–22.

115 Continental Shelf (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Malta), Application to Intervene, Judgment of 21 March 1984, [1984] ICJ Rep. 3, at 28, para. 47.

116 Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain, supra note 4, at 115–16, para. 250.

117 Ibid., at 115, para. 249.

118 Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria, supra note 57, at 421, para. 238, and at 448, para. 307.

119 Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea, supra note 60, at 759, para. 319.

120 Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea, supra note 27, at 130–1, paras. 218–219.

121 Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Application by Costa Rica for Permission to Intervene, Judgment of 13 December 2011, [2011] ICJ Rep. (not yet published), para. 86. See also para. 89.

122 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 228.

123 Ibid. In the application for permission to intervene, Costa Rica expressed its concern that the Court's ruling on the maritime boundary between Nicaragua and Colombia could render the 1977 Agreement between Costa Rica and Colombia without purpose. Application for Permission to Intervene by the Government of Costa Rica, 25 February 2010, at 6, para. 13.

124 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 15 (Judge Xue, Declaration).

125 Ibid., para. 10 (Judge ad hoc Cot, Declaration).

126 This issue also relates to intervention under Article 62 of the ICJ Statute. For an analysis of the relationship between Arts. 59 and 62 of the Statute, see in particular Thirlway, supra note 67, Vol. 2, at 1841–7.

127 Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia), Application by Costa Rica for Permission to Intervene, supra note 121, para. 87.

128 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 228.

129 Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria, supra note 57, at 421, para. 238.

130 See Argument by George Abi-Saab in the Cameroon v. Nigeria case, Verbatim Record, 19 March 2002, CR 2002/23, at 18, paras. 3–4.

131 Territorial and Maritime Dispute, supra note 1, para. 13 (Judge Xue, Declaration). Thus Judge Xue expressed the view that the maritime boundary should stop at Point 8 with an arrow pointing eastward. Ibid., para. 11.

132 Ibid., para. 9 (Judge ad hoc Cot, Declaration).

133 Ibid., para. 13 (Judge ad hoc Mensah, Declaration).

134 In this regard, it must be recalled that the ICJ itself stressed ‘consistency and a degree of predictability’ in the Libya v. Malta judgment. Supra note 40, at 39, para. 45.

135 Judge Oda, in the Denmark v. Norway case, stated that ‘if the Court is requested by the parties to decide on a maritime delimitation in accordance with Article 36, paragraph 1, of the Statute, it will not be expected to apply rules of international law but will simply “decide a case ex aequo et bono”’. Maritime Delimitation in the Area between Greenland and Jan Mayen, supra note 44, at 113, para. 85 (Judge Oda, Separate Opinion).

136 In response to the Nicaragua v. Colombia judgment, on 27 November 2012, Colombia denounced the 1948 American Treaty on Pacific Settlement (Pact of Bogotá) in which the state parties to the treaty accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ (Art. XXXI). See www.oas.org/juridico/english/sigs/a-42.html#Colombia.

* DES, PhD (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva), LLM (Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo). Associate Professor of Public International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen [].

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Reflections on the Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia before the International Court of Justice

  • YOSHIFUMI TANAKA

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