Somalia's Indian Ocean maritime case against Kenya postponed again at ICJ
HAGUE, Netherlands - For the third time in as many months, the International Court of Justice at The Hague postponed the Indian Ocean maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia, citing Coronavirus pandemic as the motivating factor following Nairobi's application.
The case was scheduled for June 8-12 this year and both parties had been asked to file submissions to allow "smooth deliberations" without "further" delay when the court sat in November 2019 over the case.
A statement from the ICJ indicated on Tuesday that the case "stands postponed due to Coronavirus pandemic" and set March 2021 from 15th to 19th as the dates for hearing from both parties. Further directives on filing submissions shall be communicated, it added.
The move is a huge reprieve to Kenya which has been lobbying for out of court settlement despite making an application dated April 23 citing Covid-19 pandemic as the "main factor" delaying any meaningful submissions as directed by the court.
A senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official in Nairobi had told Garowe Online last week that "our major aim is to have the matter solved out of court. But we made the application for postponement mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic".
Both Kenya and Somalia are battling the surge of Coronavirus cases. The latter has reported slightly over 1,400 cases while the former has over 900 cases, with the cumulative total of death from both sides being 106 cases.
Last week, Somalia Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohamed Guled had insisted that "we cannot take any of these applications, the cases must proceed as scheduled. We are ready to adopt the virtual proceedings".
But in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, the firebrand politician appeared to concede the decision, adding that "as FGS we do not agree with the directive but we shall adhere to the request made by Kenya".
In September last year, the ICJ postponed the case to November citing overhaul in Kenya's legal team. But the matter could not proceed in November after Kenya also called for an additional one year for preparations before the commencement of the matter.
But the court, while allowing for an extension of eight months to June 2020, strictly warned that "we shall not tolerate further delay, each party must now cooperate for quick deliberation on the matter". Coronavirus has grounded activities worldwide, thus the decision for the latest development.
There were concerns by Kenya that the court's President Abdulqawi Yusuf, a Somali national may be "prejudiced" but Nairobi went to say that "we expect them to approach the matter with the professionalism it requires".
Attempts by the African Union through former chairman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi failed to broker a deal between the two countries, following relentless efforts by Kenya to have the matter settled through dialogue. Somalia had moved to the ICJ in 2014 after failing to secure a meeting with Kenya.
During the UN general assembly in New York last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya seemed to push for a dialogue with Somalia, only for his counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo to insist that "we have confidence in the court as the best arbiter".
So vicious has been the matter that at one point, Kenya withdrew its envoy from Somalia besides imposing strict travel measures across the border both on-air, sea, and land. But the matter was temporarily resolved in November when Farmajo visited Nairobi.
Authorities in Nairobi had accused Somalia of bidding for oil blocks along the shores of the Indian Ocean without consultation, leading to the unprecedented protracted court battle, which could significantly affect diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Just a fortnight ago, Somalia opened bids for seven oil blocks, although the country's Oil and Natural Resources minister Ahmed Mohamed insisted that "they are not along with the contested fields". Both ExxonMobil and Shell have started joint ventures in Somalia.