Kenya: UN Court Opens Maritime Dispute Hearing Without Kenya

A map showing the location of Kenya (green) and Somalia (orange) (file photo).

Paris — Kenya has refused to attend a weeklong hearing by the United Nations' highest court over a long-running maritime dispute with Somalia.

In a letter last week to The Hague-based International Court of Justice, or ICJ, the Kenyan government cited a mix of reasons for not participating, including the COVID-19 pandemic that it said made it hard to adequately prepare and make its case.

The court's president, Judge Joan Donoghue, rejected Kenya's request to brief it before the start of Monday's opening.

"The court regrets the decision of Kenya not to participate in the oral proceedings," she said.

But she said the court had a raft of material previously filed by the country in arguing its side of the case.

Kenya's dispute with Somalia centers on some 100,000 square kilometers of Indian Ocean waters rich in fish, and possibly also oil and gas. Mogadishu argues its maritime border with Kenya should be extended along the same southeasterly line as its land border. Nairobi claims the frontier should head in a straight line east.

Over the months, Kenya filed several requests for this hearing to be postponed, along with other demands.

Presenting his country's opening arguments, Somalia's Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohamed Guled described the dispute as of key national importance to his country.

"We hoped that it would be possible to settle our dispute with Kenya bilaterally, through negotiations. Unfortunately, that proved impossible," Guled said.

The maritime spat adds to mounting diplomatic friction between the East African neighbors. In December, Mogadishu announced it was cutting ties with Kenya for allegedly meddling in its internal political affairs.

It may take years for the ICJ to rule on the maritime dispute. It has no power to enforce its rulings, and in the past, some countries have simply ignored them.

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