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ICJ Issues Ruling Against Columbia and El Salvador Government Extends State of Exemption

April 21-27, 2022 | Issue 5 - SOUTHCOM

Jan García, Maria Ruehl, Daniel Ruiz, SOUTHCOM Team

Léopold Maisonny, Editor; Demetrios Giannakaris, Senior Editor

Nicaragua and Colombia regional map[1]

Date: April 21, 2022

Location: Bogota, Colombia, Managua, Nicaragua

Parties involved: International Court of Justice (ICJ); UN Security Council (UNSC); Colombian government; Colombian islands; Colombian Navy; Nicaraguan government; Nicaraguan fishing boats; Indigenous Raizal communities

The event: On Thursday, April 21, the ICJ issued a ruling imposing a cessation of Colombian actions off the coast of Nicaragua. Such actions violate Nicaragua’s sovereign rights and include patrolling, controlling Nicaraguan fishing activities, and maritime research in the western Caribbean Sea. Maritime border disputes have been ongoing between Colombia and Nicaragua since 2012, when Nicaragua won a swath of 370 km from Colombia at the ICJ.[2] The maritime zone granted to Nicaragua will allow it to explore and exploit oil and other hydrocarbons.[3] Nicaragua is asking for compensation for the threats carried out by the Colombian Navy against Nicaraguan fishing boats, but Colombia says its presence is to reduce criminal activity in the area, like drug trafficking. If Colombia does not accept the ICJ ruling, the situation can be sent to the UNSC for further action.[4] The ICJ did not consider that Raizal communities conduct artisanal fishing in waters that are now Nicaraguan such as the Luna Verde fishing bank. The ICJ ruling will now prevent their fishing activity in these waters.[5]

Analysis & Implications:

  • Tensions between Colombia and Nicaragua over maritime borders will very likely increase, with major Colombian Navy deployment around islands on the Nicaraguan coast, such as San Andrés and Providencia. Nicaragua will likely view naval deployment as a threat, likely increasing tensions and worsening diplomatic relations. Tensions and strained relations will very likely hinder cooperation on regional security matters like drugs, weapons, and human trafficking, likely compromising maritime policing and security.

  • The Raizal community will very likely protest the court ruling because of the lack of protection for their fishing rights in the disputed waters. The ICJ ruling will very likely force the Raizales to fish in neighboring areas, likely leading to increased operating costs, decreased purchasing power, and overfishing. To protect the Raizales community, Colombia will likely take its claim before the UNSC to reverse ICJ’s decision.

Date: April 21, 2022

Location: El Salvador

Parties involved: Government of El Salvador; Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele; Salvadoran National Police; Salvadoran penitentiary system; Salvadoran judiciary system; Salvadoran citizens; Citizen Action (Acción Ciudadana); Salvadoran Human Rights organization Cristosal; Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13); Mara Barrio 18 gang

The event: The government of El Salvador extended the state of exception imposed on March 27 as a countermeasure to the increasing MS-13 and Mara Barrio 18 gang violence in the country. The state of exception restricts Salvadorans’ rights to gather, to be informed before detention, to access a lawyer, and allows the monitoring of private communications without a court order.[6] Salvadoran National Police have arrested more than 14,000 people in three weeks, straining the already overwhelmed judiciary and penitentiary systems. Salvadoran organizations, like Cristobal, documented human rights violations in prisons and have criticized President Bukele’s accumulation of power after the state of exception. President Bukele justified the mass detentions as a measure to “clean the streets” and labeled detentions of people without gang connections as “mistakes.”[7]

Analysis & Implications:

  • Protests and demonstrations resulting from the state of exception extension will very likely involve confrontations between citizens and Salvadoran law enforcement, likely resulting in additional arrests unrelated to President Bukele’s measures. News of widespread arrests will very likely negatively affect the tourism industry resulting in economic losses to public and private businesses that depend on this industry. The decline of the tourism industry and arbitrary arrests of Salvadoran citizens will very likely fuel social discontent for Bukele, with citizens likely holding him accountable for declining living standards. A rise in social unrest will likely lead the Salvadoran government to respond by expanding its repressive measures, such as added restrictions, likely increasing infringement on citizens’ civil rights in the country.

  • Penitentiary staff are unlikely to maintain prison security due to the rise in incarcerations. Convicts will likely take advantage of compromised security protocols to organize violent internal riots which will very likely result in injuries to both prisoners and staff. Prison riots will likely result in human rights abuses against prisoners, almost certainly drawing the further condemnation of El Salvador by human rights organizations.

  • The state of emergency will likely not resolve the structural causes that allow for the creation and expansion of gangs. The extension will likely lead to the arrest of additional gang members, affecting the gangs' manpower and resources, likely reducing their capabilities to commit criminal activities, and improving El Salvador's security indicators. With the increase in arrests, gang members currently at large will likely opt to relocate to other regions or neighboring countries like Honduras and Guatemala to evade prosecution by law enforcement agencies.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[2] ICJ: Colombia must stop activity in Nicaraguan EEZ waters, Al Jazeera, April 2022,

[3] Corte Internacional de Justicia dará un fallo en diferendo marítimo entre Colombia y Nicaragua: este mapa muestra la zona del conflicto, CNN, April 2022, (translated by Daniel Ruiz)

[4] Colombia must stop activities in Nicaraguan maritime zone, says UN court,, April 2022,

[5] Corte avala reclamos de Colombia, pero dice que violó derechos de Nicaragua, El Tiempo, April 2022, (translated by Daniel Ruiz)

[6] El Salvador extends state of emergency to curb gang violence, Al Jazeera, April 2022,

[7] ‘All Salvadorans at risk’: Inside El Salvador’s gang crackdown, Al Jazeera, April 2022,



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