BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia and Nicaragua went before the International Court of Justice on Monday to present their arguments in a long running dispute over what the Nicaraguan government alleges are violations of its sovereignty in the western Caribbean.
The case was initiated by Nicaragua in 2013, and is now reaching its public sittings stage, where lawyers for both countries present their arguments in front of a panel of 15 judges at the court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Legal experts say the case could help clarify the rights of both nations in an area of the Caribbean that is home to a UNESCO-listed biosphere reserve inhabited by dozens of endangered species.
The area has long been claimed by both countries, and Nicaragua gained fishing rights over a big portion in a 2012 ruling by the The Hague court. But Colombia’s navy has continued to patrol the waters, which are also used by drug traffickers to smuggle drugs into Central America.
On Monday, Nicaragua argued that Colombian naval ships are infringing on its fishing rights by patrolling the area that was awarded to Nicaragua as an “exclusive economic zone” in the 2012 ruling. It also alleged Colombia's navy has dissuaded vessels with Nicaraguan fishing permits from operating in the area while providing protection to vessels with Colombian permits.
Colombia, which owns the islands of San Andres and Providencia 110 kilometers (nearly 70 miles) from Nicaragua’s coast, denies those accusations.
Colombia says its navy is patrolling the area because it is trying to meet international commitments to fight drug trafficking and protect the Seaflower Marine Reserve, an area created by Colombia that is on UNESCO’s global list of biosphere reserves and overlaps the economic zone awarded to Nicaragua in the 2012 ruling.
Colombia accuses Nicaragua's navy of interfering with the ancestral fishing rights of the inhabitants of San Andres and Providencia and of unilaterally trying to expand its own maritime borders through a law in Nicaragua’s congress.
The court will take several months to deliver a ruling.