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152-Construction of a Road in Costa Rica along the San Juan River (Nicaragua v. Costa Rica)

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.

Order of 17-04-2013.pdf

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.

Order of 18-04-2013.pdf

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.

Order of 13-12-2013.pdf

The ICJ finally ruled on the merits of the two cases in its judgment dated December 16th, 2015 and concluded that in the case:

  1. 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;
  2. 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.

Judgment of 16-12-2015.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.

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