In addition to having called upon Ecuador a few weeks ago as a witness in Chile’s maritime dispute with Peru, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague also asked the Permanent Commission of the South Pacific (CPPS) – of which Colombia is a member to testify.
Ecuador is a third-party witness that signed previous border agreements between Chile and Peru in the 1950s. The CPPS was created in 1952 and includes member countries Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia, which also serve as witnesses to the disputed border.
Chile and Peru have been squabbling over the maritime border issue for years. While Peru maintains its maritime border with Chile has never been properly defined, Chile insists a pair of treaties signed in 1952 and 1954 resolved the issue.
Chile argues that its maritime border with Peru is simply a horizontal line in the Pacific. However Peru claims that due to the fishing agreements between both countries, the border should be considered as a diagonal line equidistant between both countries rather than a longitudinal line that extends out from the land border.
The net effect is that Peru is claiming fishing rights to 10,000 square miles of seafood-rich ocean that Chile has claimed for decades. Having first brought the case to the ICJ in January 2008, Peru decided to litigate the issue before the ICJ at The Hague in March 2009.
ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and its final ruling on the matter will be binding and irreversible.
According to diplomatic circles, whether the CPPS decides to participate in the litigation or not, the group should present their opinion, along with Ecuador. While Chile recognizes that reaching a consensus is complicated, Peru has established that it does not support the CPPS participation in the case.
The Chilean government already considered Colombia’s possible role in the lawsuit, noting that the country later ratified the 1952 agreement and that its maritime borders with Ecuador and Panama are parallel lines.
The Peruvian government maintains that it does not have issues of pending borders with Ecuador, since the 1952 agreement sets the “criteria” that when two countries have islands on the border, the limit will be a parallel line.
However, Peruvian Foreign Relations Minister José García Belaunde insinuated in February 2008 that if The Hague rules in favour of Peru, negating the borders established by the previous treaties, Peru would be able to renegotiate its border with Ecuador.
Chilean Finance Minister Felipe Larraín insisted that “Those treaties are completely current for all three countries. Peru has tried to have one criterion with Chile and another with Ecuador, which is contradictory to justice”. The minister also said that Ecuador’s stance on the issue should be favourable to Chile “because a wrong decision in The Hague could be prejudicial for Ecuador in the future”.
On the other hand, if Ecuador supports Chile in the case, it may damage relations with Peru, provoking another border dispute between the two.
In March 2010, Chile submitted a 200 page response to Peru’s report. Later, both countries will have the possibility to orally present their case to the ICJ. Ecuador has to make its decision whether to participate in the trial by this time.
Chile has to hand in its last written response in July of 2011 and the tribunal will likely pronounce its final decision in 2012.
Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa will make his first trip ever to Peru on June 9 and 10 followed by Peruvian president Alan García’s visit to Ecuador in October.