Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Limits of International Law: Settlement of the Nigeria-Cameroon Territorial Conflict

Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

Limits of International Law: Settlement of the Nigeria-Cameroon Territorial Conflict

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

International law plays a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of international relations, reflecting the desire of states to call upon the power of international legal mechanisms to resolve territorial conflicts without resort to force. The vocabulary of international law, as employed by states in the pursuit of their interests, and of international organizations in helping nations to resolve their differences, has enjoyed increasing intellectual attention.1 One issue that has recently attracted academic attention has been the role of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the settlement of interstate territorial conflicts and disputes in Sub-Saharan Africa. This paper contributes to this discussion by focusing on the process and outcome of the Nigeria-Cameroon Bakassi Peninsula conflict. The study is based on an examination of primary and secondary materials with the aim of generating theoretical and empirical understandings of the mediation process in terms of how Nigeria was persuaded to accept the loss of the Bakassi Peninsula that it found very painful, and linking this experience to the practical and ethical challenges of international law in resolving territorial conflicts.

The Bakassi Peninsula is an oil-rich territory located on the Gulf of Guinea and stretches across a geographical territory of approximately 1800 square kilometers. Until recently, the sovereignty of Bakassi has been contentious, as both Nigeria and Cameroon lay competing claims to the territory. After more than a decade of military confrontation, the government of Cameroon decided to file a lawsuit against Nigeria at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague on March 29,1994. On October 10,2002, the ICJ ruled in favor of Cameroon, ceding the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon's sovereignty, despite there being hundreds of thousands of Nigerian citizens on the territory.2 In June 2006, Nigeria and Cameroon signed the historic Greentree Agreement under the auspices of the former United Nations SecretaryGeneral, Koffi Annan, setting the preconditions for the implementation of the 2002 ICJ verdict which includes the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the Peninsula and official transfer of the territory to Cameroon's sovereignty.

The implementation of the Greentree Agreement resulted in the unforeseen displacement of upwards of 100,000 Bakassi people from their ancestral homeland, creating a complex governance challenge and a fundamental human rights problem in Nigeria. While not dismissing the potential of international law in ending military confrontation between states, it is argued that in the case of the Bakassi conflict, its implementation produced mixed results because the resulting population displacement aggravated untold human suffering. The degree of suffering corresponds to Johan Galtung's idea of structural violence, understood as the systematic ways in which political and economic institutions cause avoidable harm to people or otherwise put them at greater risk.3

This article is divided into four main sections. The first section draws insight from the liberal theory of international relations to map the theoretical framework of the paper. The second section draws on relevant literature to provide an overview of the conflict context, suggesting that the Nigeria-Cameroon problem underlies a rich historical context. The third section attempts to evaluate the legal arguments, reflected in claims and counter-claims to the sovereignty of the Bakassi Peninsula that culminated in the outcome of the ICJ judgment. In the fourth section, the paper examines the implementation of the ICJ ruling and its implications for structural violence. The paper concludes by assessing the practical and ethical challenges of resolving interstate territorial conflicts through the mechanism of international law, while also recommending effective governance reform that gives priority to the human rights of populations affected by the implementation of international legal and diplomatic interventions. …

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