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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Nicaragua issues further claims against Colombia over disputed archipelago

(5 November 2013)

(30 October 2013)

Nicaragua has initiated legal action with the International Court of Justice against Colombia, proclaiming a potential oil rich island cluster as extended sovereign territory. Nicaragua have requested the Court to decree the precise boundary of the disputed archipelago and maritime limits, beyond its current 200 nautical miles. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos argues such a ruling “cannot be implemented”, as contemporary border disputes must be settled by bilateral agreement.
In November 2012 the International Court of Justice ruled Nicaragua control of an area of the Caribbean Sea that was previously Colombian territory. Nicaragua’s territorial waters were expanded by 90,000 sq. km, while Colombia argues it has lost up to 75,000 sq. km. The disputed San Andreas archipelago, consisting of the islands of Alburquerque, Bajo Nuevo, Cayo Bolivar, Quitasueno, Roncador, Serrana and Serranilla, remain under Colombian sovereignty. The disputed island cluster is situated 230km from Nicaragua and 775km from the Colombian coast.
Nicaragua has requested an extension on the current borders agreed by last year’s ruling, hoping to expand its access to oil and gas deposits. The undecided territory is of strategic environmental importance, located near an Unesco biosphere reserve.
In August 2013, Nicaragua declared it would commence drilling in the seabed around the islands for oil and gas. A file was claimed on 17th October 2013 by the Republic of Costa Rica against Nicaragua in the International Court of Justice, concerning ‘certain activities carried out by Nicaragua in the border area’ requesting the ‘immediate and unconditional suspension of any work by way of dredging or otherwise in the disputed territory’. Ambassador of the Republic of Costa Rica to the Organisation of American States, Mr Edgar Ugalde Alvarez, further requested that Nicaragua ‘immediately withdraw any personnel, infrastructure (including lodging tents) and equipment (including dredgers) from the disputed territory’. 

The unresolved territory has historical implications.
• 1928: Nicaragua and Colombia contracted a treaty to reconcile the border and sovereignty of the Caribbean islands.
• 1980: Nicaragua’s Sandinista government contended the treaty had been endorsed under US pressure and invalidated the settlement.
• 2001: Nicaragua filed its first claim to the International Court of Justice.
• 2007: The International Court of Justice agreed that the previous treaty was lawful, validating the disputed islands were Colombian sovereign territory.
• 2012: International Court of Justice rules Colombia sovereignty over archipelago but Nicaragua an extension of maritime boundaries.
• August 2013: Nicaragua proclaimed the beginning of oil and gas excavation in the disputed archipelago seabed that belonged to Colombia until 2012.
• September 2013: Nicaragua launches International Court of Justice action, claiming the archipelago boundary is inexact.
• October 2013: Costa Rica file International Court of Justice claim requesting Nicaragua to immediately suspend dredging in the disputed territory. 

‘A Mixed Ruling for a Caribbean Dispute’, William Neuman, New York Times, 19th November 2012.
‘UN ruling gives Colombia islets but Nicaragua more sea’, Arturo Wallace, BBC News, 20th November 2012.
‘Nicaragua files new claims against Colombia over San Andres’, BBC News, 17th September 2013.
‘Costa Rica v. Nicaragua’, International Court of Justice Press Release, 17th October 2013.