Gabon-Equatorial Guinea: the dispute over the Mbanié Islands before international justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), a UN judicial organ sitting in The Hague, the Netherlands, whose decisions in this matter are irreversible, will rule definitively on the territorial dispute between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

For lack of consensus, the two neighboring countries, members of the international community and members of continental and regional groupings have decided to bring their border dispute to international justice on the subject of the property of the Mbanié, Cocotiers and Conga islands. Competent to judge territorial disputes between the States, the ICJ was seized so that the law is said on this subject which poisons the relations between the two countries.

After hearing the two parties on March 30, the President of the ICJ, Joan E. Donoghue and her team ordered the opening of the preliminary procedures which consisted in particular in the designation of the Agents of each of the two States. Once this step has been completed, the proceedings should continue in accordance with the order of the International Court of Justice of April 7, 2021 specifying the order of filing of the parties’ pleadings as well as the deadlines for filing such pleadings.

In this perspective, the ICJ awaits the brief of Equatorial Guinea on October 5, 2021 and that of Gabon on May 5, 2022. A stage considered “important” since it precedes that of the pleadings, where each party relying on arguments of right, should seek to demonstrate that these islands reputed to be rich in oil but also in fish are within its territorial jurisdiction.

In its capacity as civil party, Equatorial Guinea asks to “say whether the legal titles, treaties and international conventions invoked by the Parties are lawful in the relations between the Gabonese Republic and the Republic of Equatorial Guinea with regard to the delimitation of their common maritime and land borders and sovereignty over the Mbanié, Cocotiers and Conga islands ”.

At the end of a “special agreement” concluded on March 3, 2021 before the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea celebrated “the successful end of a mediation process at the United Nations, whose objective was to facilitate a peaceful solution to the protracted border dispute between the Gabonese Republic and the Republic of Equatorial Guinea ”.

An optimism also shared by the head of the UN for whom the agreement concluded between the two countries “demonstrates the United Nations’ firm commitment to the peaceful settlement of international disputes and underlines the relevance of the various instruments of multilateralism in the international context in evolution “.

For several decades, the two countries have been fighting in particular for the sovereignty of the island of Mbanié, which is reputed to be rich in hydrocarbons. According to corroborating sources, the extension by the two States of their territorial waters beyond 12 nautical miles leads to reciprocal overlaps of their maritime territory.

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