After 10 failed negotiation attempts, Ghana has appointed a former judge as an impartial arbiter in the arbitration proceedings it has instituted at the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to ensure a resolution of its maritime boundary dispute with Cote d’Ivoire.
In accordance with Article 3(a) of Annex VII, Ghana has appointed Judge Thomas Mensah, former President ITLOS, as a member of the Tribunal.
“Despite several years of good faith negotiations, including at least 10 rounds of bilateral meetings, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have been unable to agree upon the location of their maritime boundary,” the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong, announced at a press conference in Accra yesterday.
Formally announcing Ghana’s decision to go for arbitration, Mrs Appiah-Opong said Ghana’s legal team would be led by herself, her attorneys, all relevant government departments, as well as distinguished and highly experienced international lawyers and technical consultants.
Cote d’Ivoire staked a claim to parts of Ghana’s offshore a year after Ghana discovered oil in commercial quantities.
Following failed bilateral talks between the two countries in the past year, Ghana decided to turn to ITLOS under the rules set out by the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) to protect the country’s interest and that of oil companies who have invested millions of dollars in the exploration of oil at some of the disputed areas.
Secure legal position
Flanked by the Minister of Energy, Mr Emmanuel Armah-Kofi Buah; the Minister of Communications, Dr Edward Omane-Boamah; the Minister of Lands, Forestry and Natural Resources, Nii Osah-Mills; attorneys and other government officials, the Attorney-General said, “Ghana is confident that the outcome will be favourable to its long-term development and to the continuation of excellent relations with its neighbours”.
Ghana’s decision to pursue arbitration in the dispute over its maritime boundary with Cote d’Ivoire is part of a national policy of achieving the final settlement of all of its maritime boundaries. Pursuant to this policy, Ghana hopes to engage with its neighbouring states in the east with the aim of fixing boundaries in that area by mutual agreement,” Mrs Appiah-Opong explained.
Highlighting how secure Ghana’s legal position was, the attorney-general noted that consistent with the law of the sea and international case law, including numerous decisions of the International Court of Justice and arbitral tribunals, “Ghana maintains that the boundary is to be defined by an equidistance line.”
Despite Ghana’s consistent respect for and recognition of the internationally recognised standard for determination of maritime boundaries, Mrs Appiah-Opong noted that “in recent years, Cote d”Ivoire has chosen to adopt a different approach.
“At stake is a large area of sea and seabed, including the natural resources they contain, vital for the economic development and well-being of both countries and its people,” the Attorney-General added.
She explained that the claims of both countries to the disputed areas had generated uncertainty about the location of the maritime boundary and uncertainty on the part of both domestic and foreign partners regarding their rights and responsibilities.
“This is especially so in relation to oil and gas exploration and production, with all the consequences that implies for future economic development,” Mrs Appiah-Opong noted and, indicated that these factors had culminated in Ghana’s decision to go to the ITLOS.
It would take an average of three years for the issue to be resolved and when resolved, the decision would be final and binding on all parties.
Five arbitrators will decide on the matter. Both countries will choose an arbitrator each but the three remaining arbitrators would be chosen by mutual consent by both countries.
In the event the parties do not mutually agree on the three arbitrators, the rules of ITLOS give the President of ITLOS the mandate to decide on the three remaining arbitrators.
Operation of oil companies
Answering questions from journalists, Mrs Appiah-Opong said oil companies would continue operating in the disputed area.
She also said it was too early to state how much the state would spend on the matter but gave the assurance that Ghana would adhere to internationally accepted fees in such matters.
Peace and Security
The attorney-general gave the assurance that the action would not affect diplomatic relations with Cote d’Ivoire and explained that both countries were signatories to UNCLOS.
“We have adopted a peaceful method. This is not a hostile action,” Mrs Appiah-Opong noted and added that the disputed boundary had been in existence since 1950.
She also told the media that although Ghana had formally notified Cote d’Ivoire of its intention, it was yet to receive a response from that country.
Dr Omane-Boamah gave the assurance that the method adopted by Ghana was in the interest of both countries and Mr Buah added, “this action will make room for investor confidence.”
It will take an average of three years for Ghana’s boundary dispute with Cote d’Ivoire to be resolved by the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
Source: Graphic Online