The UN’s top court on Tuesday handed Somalia control of most of a potentially oil and gas-rich chunk of the Indian Ocean after a bitter legal battle with Kenya, which strongly rejected the ruling.
Kenya got only a small slice of the disputed tract of sea off the east African coast in the ruling by the International Court of Justice.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said that his government “rejects in totality and does not recognize the findings in the decision.”
With Kenya refusing to recognize the “biased” court’s authority, all eyes will be on what Nairobi does next in one of the world’s most troubled regions.
Somalia urged Kenya to “respect the international rule of law” following the verdict by the court based in The Hague.
Judges unanimously ruled that there was “no agreed maritime boundary” in force and drew a new border close to the one claimed by Somalia.
Chief judge Joan Donoghue, reading a summary of the judgement, said that the “court is thus satisfied that the adjusted line ... achieves an equitable solution.”
Somalia took Kenya to the court in 2014 after efforts to resolve a dispute over the 100,000km2 tract failed.
The court’s judgement is final and cannot be appealed, but the court, set up after World War II to rule in disputes between UN states, has no means of enforcing its rulings.
However, states can go to the UN Security Council if another country fails to obey a ruling.
In a televised speech, Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is widely known as Farmaajo, said that Nairobi should see the ruling as an “opportunity to strengthen the relationship of the two countries.”
“The verdict was a fair indication of the transparency of the International Court of Justice,” Farmaajo said, adding that he had faced “political, diplomatic, security and economic pressure by the Kenyan leadership.”
Kenyatta said that the ruling amounted to “a zero-sum game, which will strain the relations between the two countries.”
“It will also reverse the social, political and economic gains; and potentially aggravate the peace and security situation in the fragile Horn of Africa region,” he said, reiterating Nairobi’s support for a negotiated settlement instead.
At the heart of the Somalia-Kenya dispute was the direction that their joint maritime boundary should extend from where their land frontiers meet on the coast.
Somalia said that the boundary should follow the orientation of its land border and thus head out in a 200 nautical mile (370.4km) line toward the southeast.
Kenya said its boundary runs in a straight line due east — a delineation that would have given it a big triangular slice of the sea.
Nairobi says it has exercised sovereignty over the area since 1979.
The contested area is believed to contain rich gas and oil deposits, and also has key fishing rights.
Kenya has already granted exploration permits to Italian energy giant ENI, but Somalia is contesting the move.
The court threw out Kenya’s argument that Somalia had “acquiesced” to its claims by not protesting more strongly.
It also rejected the line that Nairobi wanted to draw from the coast, saying it would have a “severe cut-off effect” for Somalia.
However, it adjusted Mogadishu’s proposal slightly, saying that Kenya risked having its own maritime rights sandwiched between Somalia and Tanzania.
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