THE HAGUE, October 14, 2013 (AFP) – Nicaragua is violating international law by sending construction workers and soldiers to a tiny Costa Rican island, the International Court of Justice heard Monday, the latest salvo in the Central American dispute.
“Nicaragua’s actions are not accidental: Nicaragua has undertaken a constant and long-running campaign to violate its international legal obligations with regard to Costa Rica,” said Edgar Ugalde-Alvarez, representing Costa Rica at The Hague-based court.
“Nicaragua continues to cause irreparable damage to Costa Rica,” he said.
Nicaragua will on Tuesday put its case to the court, claiming that the disputed island — called Isla Portillos by San Jose and Harbour Head by Managua — is historically its territory.
The bitter border dispute was first brought before the ICJ, the only court to judge disputes between states, in 2010 after Costa Rica accused Nicaragua of sending troops onto the three-square-kilometre (just over one square mile) island near the mouth of the San Juan River.
The ICJ ruled in March 2011 that both countries must refrain from sending anyone to, or maintaining anyone on, the disputed territory, whether they be civilians, police or military.
Costa Rica says that Nicaragua is not respecting that ruling.
“Unfortunately, Costa Rica is obliged to ask you once more to take protective measures,” Ugalde-Alvarez told the court.
The island, “whether big or small… is Costa Rican territory and international law must recognise this,” Ugalde-Alvarez told AFP on arrival at the court.
Costa Rica used satellite and aerial photographs to show that Nicaragua is continuing to build two canals, which may be aimed at changing the course of water at the mouth of the San Juan river.
Nicaragua is sending workmen to the island for the construction work and thus damaging the fragile ecology of the protected area, Ugalde-Alvarez alleged.
Tensions in the area flared in 2011, when Nicaragua filed suit before the ICJ over a road on the Costa Rican side of the border which Managua said was also causing environmental damage.
Around 20 percent of the population of Costa Rica is Nicaraguan or of Nicaraguan origin.
Founded in 1945, the ICJ is the United Nations’ highest court.
It has no power to enforce its rulings, but two countries must agree before a case can be brought before the court.