Is Somali gov’t hiding something on delay of case with Kenya at ICJ?

On 19 May, the Federal Government of Somalia announced that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had postponed public hearings on the maritime border case with Kenya, which was set for 8 June 2020, to 15 March 2021.

According to the government, the hearing was delayed because of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohamed Guled explained it this way:

The Government of Kenya asked the court to delay the hearing because, it claimed, the global coronavirus pandemic disrupted its plans to put together a team of lawyers to represent it, as well as its ability to meet the required payments.

Somalia opposed Kenya’s request, arguing that the court could hold the hearing via video-conference technology, and that Kenya’s lawyers could defend it from home.

The court, however, found Kenya’s request reasonable and postponed the hearing to 2021.

Somalia was disappointed, but it must respect the court’s decision and has therefore accepted the outcome.

On 22 May, the court issued a press release announcing its decision. The statement read in part:
“The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, has decided to postpone to the week beginning Monday 15 March 2021 the oral proceedings in the case concerning Maritime Delimitation in the Indian Ocean (Somalia v. Kenya), which were scheduled to open on Monday 8 June 2020. The Court reached its decision, having duly considered the views and arguments of the Parties, following Kenya’s request for a postponement of the oral proceedings in the case owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Concerns have since been raised over whether the government was telling the whole story.

According to Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was president of Somalia when the case was initially filed at the court in 2014, the court can only delay the proceedings of the case if the two parties, Somalia and Kenya, accepted the delay.

He accused the government of misleading the public and asked it to explain how the court reached this decision without Somalia’s agreement.

“Every time there was a delay, the government comes and says they were opposed to the delay but it has never shared with the public any evidence on that,” the former president said.

Today, the ICJ announced that it will hold public hearings on a case between Guyana and Venezuela, concerning the Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899. According to a press release by the court, the case will be heard via video-conference technology.

Abdirahman Yusuf Ali Aynte, prominent Somali journalist and former minister, who commented on the court’s announcement today on Twitter, questioned the validity of the Somali Government’s claim that its own case had been delayed over ovid-19. “So the Somalia vs Kenya case wasn’t delayed due to COVID19?” he asked.

These are valid concerns, and in a matter as serious as the country’s territorial borders, the Somali public must know the truth. Maybe there is a simple answer for these questions, but if that is the case, the government must share them.