Published November 28, 2012
BOGOTA, Colombia – Smarting from a World Court decision that cost Colombia some territorial waters, President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday that his government would no longer recognize the court's jurisdiction in territorial disputes.
Legal experts, however, said Santos' announcement was unlikely, in practice, to diminish the court's authority in any international disputes involving the South American nation.
"The decision I've made obeys a fundamental principal: The borders between states should be fixed by the states themselves," Santos said while opening a meeting of coffee growers in Bogota.
He was reacting to a Nov. 19 decision by the International Court of Justice in the Hague that his government has been railing against as unjust and erroneous.
The ruling affirmed Colombian sovereignty over a Caribbean archipelago off Nicaragua but said some waters around the islands belong to the Central American nation.
Those waters are valued for potential oil and gas deposits beneath them, and Santos, under pressure from environmentalists, had announced a moratorium on exploratory drilling in them. After the court's ruling, Nicaraguan officials said they would study exploration.
The court's decision affecting the San Andres and Providencia archipelago is final and not subject to appeal.
International legal experts said Santos' announcement would not, in practice, exempt Colombia from the jurisdiction of the World Court, as it is recognized as the arbiter of last resort under customary international law and practice.
What Santos announced was that Colombia would remove itself from the 1948 Pact of Bogota, a treaty that recognizes the World Court's jurisdiction to resolve international disputes in general, not just territorial disputes.
Santos said his government notified the Organization of American States on Tuesday of its withdrawal from the treaty.
He said the decision does not mean that Colombia "intends to remove itself from mechanisms of peaceful solution to controversies."
Matthew Brotmann, a professor of international law at Pace University Law School in the United States, said erasing Colombia's obligations under the 1948 treaty is not so simple as the country likely has laws and international obligations that adhere to its terms.
He said he doesn't think Santos stands to gain anything for Colombia from Wednesday's announcement other than burnishing his domestic political image.
"In my opinion, although he may say that they no longer are going to recognize the jurisdiction of the court, it doesn't really matter," Brotmann said.
"Countries can't really pick and choose what parts of a treaty that they've already ratified they want to be held to."