Question of the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf between Nicaragua and Columbia beyond 200 nautical miles from the Nicaraguan Coast

(Nicaragua V.S. Columbia)

On the 26th of November 2013, The Republic of Nicaragua submitted to the International Court of Justice an application against the Republic of Columbia. The application concerns fixing the boundary between the continental shelves of Nicaragua and Columbia.

The Caribbean Sea has long been a contested zone, with many countries claiming many different regions of the sea for centuries. In situations like these, it is helpful to look at the history of the zone in question.

The zone is home to an archipelago of islands known as ‘The Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina’. The islands (and the waters surrounding them) were formally claimed by Spain in 1510 and were placed under the administration of the Kingdom of Guatemala (A Spanish colony at the time, which Nicaragua was a part of).

More than 100 years later, in 1803, the jurisdiction of the islands transferred to the Viceroyalty of Grenada (another Spanish colony, containing modern-day Columbia). So when Columbia gained independence in 1822, the islands and the waters around them became part of the new Gran Columbia. However, the islands were also claimed by the United Provinces of Central America (UPCA), and when it broke up, the claim was carried on by one of its successors, Nicaragua.

The dispute continued until 1928, when the two nations signed the Esguerra-Bárcenas Treaty, which firmly placed control of the islands and the waters around them to Columbia. However, it is important to note that at the time, Nicaragua was under U.S military occupation.

Nicaragua has made applications to the ICJ using the pact of Bogota as basis for jurisdiction. However, Columbia claims the ICJ has no jurisdiction, and renounces the pact of

Bogota. The Court’s judgement in November 5 2012 led Columbia to threaten to use force to enforce judgements.

There are many things both the prosecution and defense can establish as Facts of the case. This ranges from information regarding the history of the island, as well as articles from the UN charter, the treaty of Esguerra-Bárcenas, and the pact of Bogota. It is important to note that these facts must relevant, authentic, and not biased to either party.

The first argument that the Prosecution can make is that before the islands and the waters around them were part of the Vice Royalty of Grenada (and its successor, Columbia), the

archipelago was under the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Guatemala (and its successor, Nicaragua). Prosecution can argue that this gives Nicaragua a bigger claim to the islands, and therefore to the waters surrounding them.

Another argument Nicaragua can make is that it was under US occupation for most of the signing of the treaty of Esguerra-Bárcenas and was possibly under pressure from the US to give the islands to Columbia. This is further proven from the fact that the US also had a dispute with Columbia at the time and might have believed that giving Columbia the islands would mean the US would win its own dispute.

There are many arguments the defense can also make. Firstly, it can claim that although the islands were originally belonging to Nicaragua, it was also colonized by Englishmen and Frenchmen. In the end, Spain (the colonizer that had jurisdiction over both countries at the time) decided that the land shall be part of New Grenada.

In addition, Columbia can also argue that US troops had begun leaving Nicaragua by 1930, when the treaty of Esguerra-Bárcenas was ratified. This could mean that Nicaragua did indeed make the decision by themselves, and not under US pressure.

The topic is indeed a very big and controversial one. One which has sparked on and off for centuries. This is what makes it perfect for the ICJ to decide which party has a bigger claim to the islands and the waters surrounding them.