Kenya and Somalia will from Monday argue their case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over an Indian Ocean boundary dispute whose outcome could have far-reaching repercussions.
Kenya had on October 7 last year raised preliminary objections to the jurisdiction of the Hague-based court and admissibility of the application filed by Somalia seeking to have the Indian Ocean boundaries between them redrawn.
According to the scheduling order, Kenya will present its case tomorrow and Wednesday while Somalia will have the opportunity to respond to the arguments on Tuesday and Friday.
“From September 19 to 23, 2016 the International Court of Justice will hold hearings in The Hague to consider submissions on the case brought by Somalia against Kenya in respect of Maritime Delimitation in the Indian Ocean.”
“Kenya objects to the court hearing the case, which it considers to have been instituted in violation of a 2009 agreement between Kenya and Somalia on the subject. Kenya will be represented by Attorney-General Githu Muigai, together with a delegation of officials and a team of international legal counsel,” the State Law Office said in a statement.
ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. The seat of the court is at Peace Palace, The Hague.
“The hearings will concern solely the preliminary objections raised by Kenya,” a press statement by the court states.
Somalia instituted proceedings on August 28, 2014 asserting that Kenya wrongly claims a triangle of water of more than 100,000 square kilometres.
In the case, Mogadishu is requesting the court to redraw the maritime boundary in the Indian Ocean based on an “equidistance line”, which should continue along the line of the land border, to the southeast.
In its 2014 application, Somalia asked the ICJ “to determine, on the basis of international law, the complete course of the single maritime boundary dividing all the maritime areas appertaining to Somalia and to Kenya in the Indian Ocean, including the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles (370.4 kilometres)”.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea the 200 nautical miles of a coastal state consists of that particular state’s exclusive economic zone over which it has special rights regarding exploration and marine resources.
However, the statement by the AG rejects Somalia’s equidistance line argument.
Instead, Nairobi argues that outer edge of the continental margin “the maritime boundary should follow the ‘parallel of latitude’, which has been used as the boundary since at least 1924 [www.ardhi.go.ke].” the State Law Office said in the statement.
The parallel of latitude is the sea border that goes in a straight line east and gives Kenya more sea territory.
The Somali government invited the ICJ to intervene in the matter since diplomatic negotiations “have failed to resolve this disagreement”.
But Kenya is relying on a memorandum of understanding it signed with Somalia on April 7, 2009.
In the MoU, “the parties agreed to delimit the maritime boundary by negotiation, and not by recourse to the court, and to finalise an agreement only after the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has established the outer limits of that maritime boundary”, the AG’s office said.
The eventual resolution of the boundary case will have serious consequences to energy companies that entered into agreements with Kenya to explore and develop the disputed territory.
The exploration blocks were awarded by Kenya to American, Italian and French petroleum companies between 2010 and 2012.
Kenya in 2012 opened offshore energy exploration blocks with the international companies within the disputed territory. The blocks are L-5, L-21, L-22, L-23, L-24, and L-25.
Somalia’s case at ICJ, if successful will also impact on Tanzania as it will lose Blocks 10, 11, and 12 to Kenya, thereby influencing the future of East Africa’s offshore development.