UN court rules disputed islands in Caribbean Sea belong to Colombia

13 December 2007 – The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, ruled today that three Caribbean Sea islands disputed by Nicaragua and Colombia belong to the latter country because a 1928 treaty between the two nations settled the issue.

But judges at the ICJ, which sits in The Hague, also ruled that they do have jurisdiction to rule on the sovereignty of three other cays and the delimitation of the maritime boundary between Colombia and Nicaragua.

Nicaragua had launched action at the ICJ, arguing that it should be granted sovereignty over the islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, and over the cays of Roncador, Quitasueño and Serrana.

But Colombia raised a series of preliminary objections, arguing that the 1928 treaty between the two nations and the 1948 Pact of Bogotá mean the Court does not have jurisdiction.

By a majority of 13 to four, the judges found that the treaty had settled the question over the three islands, noting that Nicaragua did not contest the treaty’s validity for more than 50 years after it was signed.

“At no time in those 50 years did Nicaragua contend that the treaty was invalid for whatever reason, including that it had been concluded in violation of its constitution or under foreign coercion,” according to today’s judgement. “On the contrary, Nicaragua has, in significant ways, acted as if the 1928 treaty was valid.”

But the judges found unanimously that the Court can adjudicate on the three cays – which the treaty specified it did not cover – and on the maritime delimitation between Nicaragua and Colombia.

Also known as the World Court, the ICJ hears disputes between States and its decisions are binding and without appeal.

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