Thursday, August 14, 2008

Peaceful Resolutions?

Could it be that it is still possible for nations to resolve territorial disputes peacefully? A little news item caught my attention today of just such an occurrence. It's in Africa, so I'm sure it won't have much impact on the rest of the world, but you never know. What's even more unlikely is that there's oil involved. Bakassi, a small, possibly oil rich peninsula, was ceded from Nigeria to Cameroon today in a ceremony held in Calabar, Nigeria.

In another twist, it was the International Court of Justice, the same body that has been defied by the US in its drive to continue to murder Mexicans, that issued the verdict that has been adhered to by both sides. OK, the ceremony had to be moved from the peninsula's main city due to fears of violence, but the fact is, war wasn't necessary to resolve the conflict! Yes, there has been some bloodshed as the Niger Delta Defence and Security Council (NDDSC) has launched attacks on the Cameroonian army, resulting in some deaths, at least four separate clashes in recent months. November of 2007 was particularly violent as at least 21 Cameroonian soldiers were killed. The fact is though that following a series of clashes in the 90's, the case was brought before the court by Cameroon, a ruling was made, and both parties seem to be abiding by it. Although a majority of the population call themselves Nigerian, the court sided with Cameroon.

Bakassi juts into the Gulf of Guinea, an area which may contain up to 10% of the world's oil and gas reserves as well as being rich in marine life. The peninsula has been administered by Nigeria since independence from Britain in 1960. The ruling was quite difficult to determine because of the colonial history of the territory. The biggest bone of contention on the part of the Nigerians is the fact that the ruling was purportedly based on an Anglo-German treaty from 1913 that transferred Bakassi to Germany. However, at that time Nigeria and Bakassi were only British protectorates, not colonies meaning it wasn't their land to give.

There are many more hurdles to be overcome, of course most of them from the Nigerian side. For example, the Nigerian constitution stipulates that there shall be 36 states in Nigeria, of which Bakassi is one. Furthermore there may be as many as 200,000 Nigerians, many of whom are fisherman, who may need to be relocated, and the proposed area is landlocked and already populated. When does international law override domestic law? When the judgment is against the US (see US vs Nicaragua or the current situation of the Mexicans sitting on death row) of course it's domestic law. I hope that they learn a lesson from the Nigerians.