Kenya has announced its intention to withdraw from an International Court of Justice (ICJ) case regarding the status of its maritime borders with Somalia. The first oral hearings of the case should begin on Monday, according to a communication from the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Over the weekend, the Sunday Nation reported that Kenya had decided to end the case in protest of the International Court of Justice’s alleged “bias and unwillingness” to delay the hearings.
“Kenya would like to inform the court through its Chancellor that it should not take part in the hearings in the present case if the same procedure as currently planned is carried out from March 15, 2021,” said a letter from the Kenyan lawyer dated March 11 General and seen by Sunday Nation (https://nation.africa/kenya/news/kenya-pulls-out-of-somalia-border-row-case-3322284)
Since 2017, Kenya has tried to postpone the case for a number of reasons, initially arguing that the ICJ had no jurisdiction. Kenya cited an agreement with Somalia from 2009 that would represent a commitment to out-of-court settlement of maritime disputes between the two neighbors. The judges denied this request in February 2017.
The public hearings on the case were initially scheduled to begin September 9-14, 2019, but were postponed to November 4 after the court allowed Kenya’s deferral request. This delay should allow Kenya to recruit a legal team. However, Kenya later appealed the November dates and requested a one-year extension. The ICJ postponed the date to June 2020, but Kenya requested another postponement due to the pandemic. This was granted and the dates were postponed to March 15, 2021.
In January, Kenya requested a fourth postponement, claiming it was missing an important card it was planning to use as evidence. Somalia denied this move and the ICJ allowed the hearings to proceed as previously planned.
The decision to withdraw from the case comes from what Kenya believes is biased because the ICJ refused to postpone another postponement. Kenya claims that its new legal team will need more time to familiarize themselves with the case. The pandemic occurred “around the time Kenya hired a new legal team,” the letter said. Kenya fired its legal team in 2019 and hired a new team in December of that year, months before the Covid-19 hit.
Kenya also protested the virtual hearing model adopted by the ICJ, arguing that the case was too complex to be tried online. Further, the notice from Kenya claims that Covid-19 has had a major impact on its budget, which has a direct impact on its ability to prepare for and defend the case.
Kenya also contends that the presence of Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf – a Somali national who was President of the Court in February – means that the ICJ will not hold an impartial hearing.
On Monday, presiding judge Joan Donoghue said the court would continue the case without Kenya attending the hearings and instead accept written arguments from the Kenyan legal team.