The Rights and Obligations of States in Disputed Maritime Areas: What Lessons Can Be Learned from the Maritime Boundary Dispute between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire?
Author: Dr. Youri van Logchem
Unilateral acts undertaken in disputed maritime areas, particularly in relation to mineral resources, frequently lead to conflict between states. Appraisals of the scope that remains for unilateralism in disputed maritime areas under international law exist in both case law and literature, but the precise scope remains shrouded in doubt. The ruling of the tribunal in Guyana v. Suriname—building its argumentation extensively on that of the International Court of Justice (ICJ or Court) in the Aegean Sea Continental Shelf (interim measures)—is significant in this regard, clarifying, at least to a certain extent, the scope for unilateral conduct. Recently, in September 2017, in the maritime boundary dispute between Ghana and Cȏte d’Ivoire, a Special Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) addressed the lawfulness of unilateral conduct by Ghana in a disputed maritime area. The Ghana/Cȏte d’Ivoire judgment throws a completely different light on the matter, compared to this earlier case law, making revisiting the topic of what the rights and obligations of states are in disputed maritime areas highly necessary and topical.