Colombia’s Constitutional Court Says ICJ Rulings Are Not Self-Executing; Medellin v. Texas in Bogota?

by Julian Ku

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Medellin v. Texas that rulings of the International Court of Justice are not “self-executing” under U.S. law.  For this reason, the Supreme Court refused to require Texas to stop executions that the ICJ had held in violation of U.S. treaty obligations.  It looks like Colombia’s Constitutional Court has followed that same approach with respect to Colombia’s Constitution:

Colombia’s constitutional court ruled on Friday that applying a decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that granted Nicaragua a disputed area of Caribbean waters could not take effect without a treaty between the countries.

The court’s verdict upholds the position taken by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who said the Hague-based ICJ’s decision was not applicable according to Colombia’s constitution without such a treaty, ratified by the Andean nation’s congress.

Colombia’s government has been pretty consistent in its public statements. It does not dispute the legal obligation represented by the ICJ’s ruling, but it does not believe the ruling can override domestic Colombian constitutional law either.  This court decision appears to endorse this dualist approach.   Of course, I have not read the ruling (anyone have a link?) and even if I had the ruling, I can’t read Spanish (anyone have a link and a translation?).  So I might be overstating things here. But it is worth looking into.

3 Responses

  1. Here is the decision: 

  2. The posting substantially oversimplifies what the Constitutional Court actually decided.  Article 101 of the Colombian Constitution reads in part: “The borders of Colombia are those established in international treaties approved by the Congress, duly ratified by the President of the Republic, and those defined by  arbitral awards to which the Nation is a party.
    “The borders previously indicated by this Constitution, can only be modified in virtue of treaties approved by the Congress, duly ratified by the President of the Republic.”
    The decision was specifically based on this clause of the constitution, so it only renders non-self-executing decisions of the ICJ concerning borders of Colombia.  The Court goes to some lengths to emphasize that  state authorities nonetheless have an international obligation to implement the ICJ’s decision.  The Constitutional Court expresses a very different attitude toward international law than the U.S. Supreme Court in Medellin v. Texas, and the decision has a much more limited reach.

  3. I echo David Attanasio’s comment.  Also, on April 21, 2014, the Superior Court for Bogota (Civil Chamber- Restitution of Lands) ordered the reinstatement of the Mayor of Bogota who had been removed by the Inspector General over an environmental scandal having to do with garbage collection. Days earlier, on March 18, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had granted precautionary measures in favor of the Mayor, whom it said should be permitted to serve out the term for which he had been elected, until the Commission could decide the case.  The Superior Court decision stated that the Commission’s precautionary measures were obligatory on Colombia and ordered the Mayor’s reinstatement within 48 hours.  The Government complied and the Mayor was reinstated. Find something comparable on the part of the USG.

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