The International Court of Justice issued a decision on July 16, 2013 regarding “certain activities carried out by Nicaragua in the border area” between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. According to an application filed by Costa Rica, Nicaragua’s Army was unlawfully occupying Costa Rica’s territory, which allegedly resulted in “serious damage inflicted to its protected rainforests and wetlands” damage to the Colorado River, and “the dredging and canalization activities being carried out by Nicaragua on the San Jose River.”
Nicaragua countered with its own application to the International Court of Justice. Specifically, Nicaragua alleged that Costa Rica committed “violations of Nicaraguan sovereignty and major environmental damages on it’s territory,” which allegedly was caused by “extensive road construction works being carried out by Costa Rica in most of the border area between the two countries along the San Juan River. Moreover, Nicaragua also accused Costa Rica of performing “uncontrolled industrial development” in the San Juan River basin.
The International Court of Justice stepped in, and entered an initial provision which stated that both parties “shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.” The Court noted that these actions could take the form of either acts or omissions, and that this provision had a binding effect on both parties. It then when on to state that, in light of the evidence submitted by both parties, Costa Rica had not demonstrated that the alleged risks posed by the Nicaraguans were not causing irreparable harm and infringing upon Costa Rica’s right to sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the non-interference with Costa Rica’s lands. The Court further found that the evidence did not demonstrate the existence of a proven risk if irreparable harm to the environment.
I am not sure what is confusing here: (1) the vague declaration by the Court if both parties’ having to refrain from any action “which may aggravate or extend the dispute,” or (2) or the fact that this order was kept in place even though the Court found that many of Costa Rica’s claims were essentially unfounded. What sort of role should the International Court of Justice play in border disputes between two independent sovereigns? What could both parties do in order to make sure they do not make “the dispute more difficult to resolve” for the Court?
Source: International Court of Justice
Picture Source: BBC News
I think that the ICJ keeping the order in place shed light into very important concepts in international law: ownership of territory and sovereignty over land. These concepts are at the core of what constitutes a State. Territorial disputes, like the one between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, are and have been common.
I would like to think that the ICJ is taking a careful and well established approach with regards to this dispute. While you do raise interesting questions pertaining to Costa Rica, I think there is more to the situation. Costa Rica is asking the ICJ to take protective measures and to enforce its ruling by ensuring that Nicaragua complies.
Nevertheless, I do think that the ICJ should take more assertive action in regards to the situation. At the center of the issue are environmental concerns that should go beyond the expansionists concerns of Costa Rica, and other Central American nations, with regards to Nicaragua’s actions.