Top UN tribunal to rule on bitter dispute between Kenya and Somalia
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The Hague (AFP)
The highest UN court will rule on a bitter border dispute between Somalia and Kenya on Tuesday, delivering a verdict with potentially significant consequences for bilateral relations and energy extraction in the region.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) must give its final word in a case filed by Mogadishu more than seven years ago.
A full bench of 15 judges led by US judge Joan Donoghue will deliver the verdict at the Peace Palace in The Hague at 13:00 GMT.
At stake are sovereignty, submarine wealth and the future of relations between two countries in one of the most troubled regions of the world.
Kenya has previously accused the ICJ of bias and has announced that it does not recognize the court’s binding jurisdiction.
At the heart of the dispute is the direction the common maritime border should take from the point where the land borders meet on the coast.
Somalia insists that the border should follow the orientation of its land border and thus run south-east.
But Kenya says its border is in a straight line east – a delineation that would give it a large triangular slice of the sea.
Nairobi claims to exercise sovereignty over the area since 1979, when it proclaimed the limits of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – a maritime territory extending up to 200 nautical miles offshore where a state has the right to exploit resources.
The disputed area of 100,000 square kilometers (38,000 square miles) is said to contain rich deposits of gas and oil.
Nairobi has already granted exploration permits to Italian energy giant ENI, but Somalia is contesting the decision.
– Kenyan anger –
Created after World War II, the ICJ settles disputes between UN member states. Its decisions are binding and without appeal.
Kenya has argued unsuccessfully that the tribunal lacks jurisdiction over the case and, in March, did not attend hearings, citing difficulties resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Just over two weeks ago, Nairobi notified the UN Secretary-General that it was withdrawing its 1965 declaration accepting compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.
“The delivery of the judgment will be the culmination of a flawed judicial process against which Kenya has expressed reservations and withdrew,” Kenya’s foreign ministry said last week.
He accused the tribunal of “obvious and inherent bias” in resolving the dispute.
“As a sovereign nation, Kenya will no longer be subject to an international court or tribunal without its express consent.”
– Long standing conflict –
Somalia and Kenya agreed in 2009 to settle the dispute through bilateral negotiations.
Two meetings were held in 2014, but little progress was made. A third round the same year failed when the Kenyan delegation did not show up without informing their counterparts, later citing security concerns.
Somalia then took the case to the ICJ in 2014, saying diplomatic attempts to resolve the dispute had gone nowhere.
Monday’s verdict could further deteriorate diplomatic relations between the two countries after Kenya recalled its ambassador to Mogadishu in 2019 after accusing Somalia of selling blocks of oil and gas in the disputed area.
Nairobi called the move an “unprecedented affront and illegal grab” of its resources.
It bitterly reminded Somalia of Kenya’s sacrifices in the battle against the jihadists of Al-Shabaab.
Kenya is a major troop contributor to AMISOM, an African Union military operation that combats al-Qaeda-linked fighters leading a violent insurgency across Somalia.
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© 2021 AFP