150-Certain Activities Carried Out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)
On November 18th, 2010, Costa Rica filed an application instituting proceedings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Nicaragua, claiming that the latter had violated the principles of territorial integrity and the prohibition of the threat or use of force. Indeed, according to the application, Nicaraguan troops had occupied Costa-rican territory as part of the construction of a canal from the San Juan River to Laguna los Portillos and carried out certain related works of dredging on the San Juan River. These activities had, according to Costa-Rica, had a terrible influence on the environment of the area and in particular the Colorado River, the wetlands and the flora reserves of the region.
Costa Rica also filed on the same day, a request for the indication of provisional measures, seeking in particular the withdrawal of the Nicaraguan armed forces from the disputed territory, the immediate cessation of the construction of the canal and the suspension of the dredging of the Colorado River. In its order dated March 8th, 2011, the ICJ ordered the parties not to aggravate or extend the dispute, not to send or maintain personnel in the disputed territory, whether civilian, police or security, with the exception, on some conditions, of civilian personnel charged with the protection of the environment.
On December 22nd, 2010, Nicaragua also filed an application instituting proceedings against Costa Rica alleging ”violations of Nicaraguan sovereignty and major environmental damages to its territory” caused by the construction of a road on the border between the countries. Given the links between the two cases and for efficiency purposes, the Court decided to join the two instances, as requested by Nicaragua.
In an order dated April 18th, 2013, the ICJ ruled that the subject-matter of Nicaragua first counter-claim in the Case Costa Rica vs Nicaragua was essentially the same as the main claim in the case Nicaragua vs Costa Rica and would therefore be decided with the other substantive issues. The other 3 counter-claims presented by Nicaragua were deemed inadmissible.
On May 23rd, 2013, Costa Rica filed a request that the Court urgently amend its order of March 8th, 2011. In its order of July 16th, 2013 the ICJ found that the change in the situation did not justify a modification of its previous order.
Costa Rica once again turned to the Court when it noted that Nicaragua had built two new channels on the disputed territory, an act which was in violation of the March 8th order. The Court reminded Nicaragua that from any dredging or any other activity in the disputed territory. Nicaragua should ensure the withdrawal of any personnel still remaining in the zone and prevent any other citizen entering the Costa-rician soil.
As for Nicaragua, it filed a request for the indication of provisional measures in the Nicaragua vs Costa Rica case, indicating that it was seeking to protect certain rights which it considered infringed upon by the construction of the road on the border in particular the transboundary movement of sediments and other resultant debris. The Court did not consider it necessary to pronounce such measures.
The ICJ finally ruled on the merits of the two cases in its judgment dated December 16th, 2015 and concluded that in the case:
- Costa Rica vs Nicaragua: it was not disputed that the disputed territory was on the Costa-Rica side of the border and under Costa-Rican sovereignty. Therefore, all construction not authorised by Costa-Rica were incursions by Nicaragua into a sovereign territory and a violation of international rules on the matter. Consequently, the Court ruled that Nicaragua had an obligation to compensate Costa Rica for the material damages caused by its actions and that, failing an agreement on the matter between the Parties within 12 months, the Court would settle this question in a subsequent procedure;
- Nicaragua vs Costa Rica: the construction of the road by Costa Rica involved a risk of significant transboundary damage. In spite of it, Costa Rica had not carried out any environmental impact study as is required by general international law. This decision by the Court, was deemed to be a sufficient form of compensation. The ICJ also ruled that Nicaragua had failed to prove that the construction of the road would have cause significant transboundary damage, and accordingly rejected Nicaragua’s claim on that point.
As the two countries could not agree on an amount to be paid by Nicaragua for its foray into Costa-Rican soil, the Court set the amount to be paid at USD 378,890.59, Nicaragua paid off this debt on March 8th, 2018.
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.