The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, rendered on 19 November its decision in the territorial and maritime dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua.
The dispute related to the sovereignty over islands in the Caribbean Sea. According to the court, ‘Colombia, and not Nicaragua, has sovereignty over the islands at Alburquerque, Bajo Nuevo, East-Southeast Cays, Quitasueño, Roncador, Serrana and Serranilla’.
The decision of ICJ was based on the State’s acts manifesting a display of authority on a given territory (effectivités). It found that for many decades Colombia continuously and consistently acted à titre de souverain in respect of the maritime features in dispute.
Moreover, this exercise of sovereign authority was public and there was no evidence that it met with any protest from Nicaragua prior to 1969, when the dispute crystallised.
Furthermore, the evidence of Colombia’s acts of administration with respect to the islands was in contrast to the absence of any evidence of acts à titre de souverain on the part of Nicaragua. This, in a way, provided a strong support for Colombia’s claim of sovereignty over the islands.
Even more interesting, while not being evidence of sovereignty, Nicaragua’s conduct with regard to the disputed territories, the practice of third States and maps afforded some support to Colombia’s claim.
In addition, the court also redrew the maritime border, extending the Nicaraguan area, thus giving Nicaragua more sea territory. The Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that his country rejected this part of the judgement and described the movement of the border westwards as ‘wrong and contradictory’.