135-Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay)

On May 4th, 2006, Argentina filed an application instituting proceedings against Uruguay before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an alleged violation of the Treaty of February 26th, 1975 organising the Statute of the River Uruguay (the 1975 Statute), in the part which constitutes their joint boundary. Argentina took exception to the fact that Uruguay unilaterally authorised the construction of 2 pulp mills on the River Uruguay, without complying with the obligatory prior notification and consultation procedures under the 1975 Statute. These two buildings, according to the requesting state, constitute a threat to the river and its environment by potentially altering the quality of the water and causing significant transboundary damage to Argentina.

The latter accompanied the application instituting proceedings with a request for the indication of provisional measures, so that Uruguay ”be ordered to suspend the authorizations for construction of the mills and all building works pending a final decision by the Court; to co-operate with Argentina with a view to protecting and conserving the aquatic environment of the River Uruguay; and to refrain from taking any further unilateral action with respect to the construction of the two mills incompatible with the 1975 Statute, and from any other action which might aggravate the dispute or render its settlement more difficult”. In its order of July 13th, 2006, the ICJ denied that request, considering that the circumstances of the case did not require such measures.

Order of 13-07-2006.pdf

Groups of Argentinian citizens having organised themselves to block the construction, Uruguay also filed a request for the indication of provisional measures in order to put an end to these roadblocks and to take ”all reasonable and appropriate steps . . . to prevent or end the interruption of transit between Uruguay and Argentina, including the blockading of bridges or roads between the two States”; to abstain “from any measure that might aggravate, extend or make more difficult the settlement of this dispute”; and to abstain “from any other measure which might prejudice the rights of Uruguay in dispute before the Court”. Then again, in its order of January 23rd, 2007, the Court refused to grant such request, deciding that the circumstances of the case did not justify such measures.

Order of-23-01-2007.pdf

The Court ruled on the merits of the case in its judgement of April 20th, 2010 and distinguished between procedural and substantive violations:

  1. Regarding the former, the ICJ considered that by not informing the Administrative Commission of the River Uruguay (CARU) of the projects before the issuance of the environmental authorisations for each construction, and by not notifying Argentina through CARU, Uruguay had violated the 1975 Statute;
  2. Regarding the latter, the Court concluded that the elements presented did not conclusively prove that the constructions would have a harmful effect on the quality of the water of the river and more generally on the biological balance of the area. The ICJ therefore concluded that Uruguay did not violate its substantive obligations under the 1975 Statute on these points.
Judgment of 20-04-2010.pdf

This summary is provided for informational purposes only, does not involve the responsibility of Dome and should in no way be used as a substitute for a careful reading of the judgment and order of the case.