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133-Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)

On September 29th, 2005,  Costa Rica  filed an application instituting proceedings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Nicaragua concerning a dispute relating to Costa Rica’s navigational and related rights over a part of San Juan River, the southern bank of which forms the boundary between the two States provided for by an 1858 bilateral treaty (the Treaty). The claimant stated that Nicaragua was in violation of article VI of the Treaty, which “granted to Nicaragua sovereignty over the waters of the San Juan River, recognizing at the same time important rights to Costa Rica”.

In its judgment of July 13th, 2009, the ICJ notably ruled on the following points:

  1. Navigational rights: according to the Court, Costa Rica has the right of free navigation on the San Juan river for the purposes of commerce, which includes transport of passengers and the transport of tourists. Furthermore, people travelling on the San Juan river on Costa Rican vessels exercising Costa Rica’s rights of free navigation are not required to obtain either a Nicaraguan visa or tourist card. As for the inhabitants of the Costa Rican bank of the San Juan river, they have the right to navigate on the riparian communities in order to meet the basic needs of the daily life. Costa Rica has navigational rights with official boats exclusively employed, in special cases, on order to provide essential services to the inhabitants of the riparian zones where speed is a condition of the satisfaction of the needs of these people, with the exclusion of boats carrying out  police functions. Finally, Costa Rica does not have the right of navigation on the San Juan river for the purposes of relieving the personnel of the police border post established on the right bank of  the river and providing them with supplies, including service weapons and ammunition;
  2. Regulation of navigation by Nicaragua: the Court concluded that Nicaragua had the right to require costa rican ships and their passengers to stop at the first and last Nicaraguan posts on their route alongside the San Juan river; that Nicaragua is entitled to require the presentation of a passport or a ID from people travelling on the river; that Nicaragua has the right to issue departure clearance certificates to Costa Rican vessels but did not have the right to demand payment of a fee in return for the issuance of these certificates; that Nicaragua has the right to impose navigation schedule on vessels using the San Juan river; that Nicaragua has the right to require that Costa Rican vessels fitted with masts or turrets to display the Nicaraguan flag.
  3. Subsistence fishing: this is a customary rights exercised by the inhabitants of the Costa Rican shore which must be respected by Nicaragua

In conclusion, the ICJ ascertained that Nicaragua had failed to meet its international obligations under the 1958 Treaty, when it established a procedure for issuing visas, tourist cards and certificates of Nicaraguan apparatus.

Judgment of 13-07-2009.pdf


This summary of the facts of this case and the proceedings is only proposed for informational purposes, does not engage Dome in any way and cannot replace the careful reading of the judgments and orders of the case.