Kenya-Somalia-The Hague

Why is Kenya quitting maritime case with Somalia?

APA-Nairobi (Kenya)

Kenya has hinted that it was withdrawing from a case at the International Court of Justice over a protracted maritime dispute with Somalia.

The case which was taken to The Hague by Somalia was supposed to have been heard by ICJ judges on Monday March 15, but may no longer hold thanks to the decision by Nairobi to withdraw from the proceeding.

Kenya has not masked its distrust of the ICJ, questioning its ability to be impartial when a Somali judge sits on the panel of judges.

Officials in Nairobi have been appealing without success for the judge in question to recuse himself from the case over fears of a conflict of interest. 

The area under contention between Kenya and Somalia is a 62,000 sq miles (160,000 sq km) in the Indian Ocean found to be sitting on a rich reserve of oil.

Somalia took Kenya to the ICJ in 2014, claiming that the maritime border demarcation separating the two countries should take a cue from their land border.

On the other hand, Kenya insists on the maritime line being horizontal beginning from where the two neighbours' coastlines meet.

Kenya had said the raging coronavirus pandemic makes going ahead with the case untenable but the ICJ which has granted several requests for postponement from Nairobi last month ruled the hearings should be held virtually on March 15, 2021.

While members of Somalia's legal team including top government officials have been at The Hague since March 8, their Kenyan counterparts have been making last-ditch efforts to prepare fully for the case.

The Kenyans were requesting to hold a 30-minute brief at the ICJ before Monday's hearings were to begin.

In February, the Kenyan government appealed to The Hague-based court for more time to prepare its defence in the maritime dispute.

Nairobi's last application to the ICJ for the next hearings to be postponed was the third such appeal by the country, citing a number of challenges thought to be undermining its preparations for the case.

These include the current pandemic and the allegedly mysterious disappearance of a map said to be central to determining the credibility of its defence.

Between September 2019 and June 2020 Kenya had appealed twice for more time to properly constitute its defense team ahead of the hearing.

After these requests were granted by the ICJ to the displeasure of officials in Mogadishu, it was announced that the next hearings would take place on March 15, 2021.

The ICJ had made it clear that it was not going to entertain further requests to postpone the case.

Relations between Somalia and Kenya have been strained in recent years, culminating in Mogadishu's decision to recall its diplomats from  Nairobi, citing interference in its internal affairs.

Mogadishu accused Nairobi of meddling in its Gedo region, an allegation Kenya has vehemently denied.


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