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World Court Digest

III. The International Court of Justice
2.2. Conditions for a Decision on the Merits
2.2.6. Mootness

¤ Land and Maritime Boundary
between Cameroon and Nigeria,
Preliminary Objections, Judgment,
I.C.J. Reports 1998, p. 275

[pp. 308-309] 72. In the alternative, Nigeria finally argues that, on account of the demarcation under way in the Lake Chad Basin Commission, the Court "cannot rule out the consideration of the need for judicial restraint on grounds of judicial propriety" and should decline to rule on the merits of Cameroon's Application, as it did in 1963 in the case concerning Northern Cameroons.

In that case, the Court had noted that the United Nations General Assembly had terminated the trusteeship agreement in respect of the Northern Cameroon by resolution 1608 (XV); it observed that the dispute between the parties "about the interpretation and application [of that agreement therefore concerned a treaty] no longer in force" ; it went on to say that "there can be no opportunity for a future act of interpretation or application of that treaty in accordance with any judgment the Court might render". It had concluded that any adjudication would thus be "devoid of purpose" and that no purpose "would be served by undertaking an examination of the merits in the case". Observing that the limits of its judicial function "do not permit it to entertain the claims submitted to it [by Cameroon, it had considered itself unable to] adjudicate upon the merits of [those] claim[s]" (Northern Cameroons, Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 1963, pp. 37-38).

The Court considers that the situation in the present case is entirely different. Indeed, whereas in 1963 Cameroon did not challenge the validity of the General Assembly resolution terminating the trusteeship, Nigeria, in the present case, does not regard the technical document on the demarcation of the boundaries, approved at the Abuja Summit of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, as a document definitively settling boundary problems in that region. Nigeria reserved its position before the Court as regards the binding character of that document. It contends that the document requires ratification and recalls that it has not ratified it. Lastly, it specified at the Ninth Summit of the Commission at N'Djamena in 1996 that "Nigeria could not even start processing ratification unless the issue was out of Court".

Cameroon for its part considers that Nigeria is obliged to complete the process of approval of the document concerned and, that, even in the absence of so doing, the boundary between the two countries in this sector is "legally defined", "marked out on the ground" and "internationally recognized".

It is not for the Court at this stage to rule upon these opposing arguments. It need only note that Nigeria cannot assert both that the demarcation procedure initiated within the Lake Chad Commission was not completed and that, at the same time, that procedure rendered Cameroon's submissions moot. There is thus no reason of judicial propriety which should make the Court decline to rule on the merits of those submissions.