At ICJ, Costa Rica claims Nicaragua causing ‘irreparable damage’ to its territory

Costa Rica's agent to the court Edgar Ugalde-Alvarez (L) speaks with Nicaragua's agent Carlos Jorge Arguellos Gomez prior to a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on October 14, 2013. Costa Rica is asking the International Court of Justice to call a halt to the construction by Nicaragua of two canals near the two countries' border. AFP PHOTO/MAUDE BRULARD

Costa Rica’s agent to the court Edgar Ugalde-Alvarez (L) speaks with Nicaragua’s agent Carlos Jorge Arguellos Gomez prior to a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on October 14, 2013. Costa Rica is asking the International Court of Justice to call a halt to the construction by Nicaragua of two canals near the two countries’ border. AFP PHOTO/MAUDE BRULARD

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.

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    • P mattingly

      Weepy story of how Costa Rica is being pushed around by the playground bully to the north while thousands are being killed in civil wars in other countries.

    • disqus_r8w0IwvvLw

      Don’t undermine this article. It is the first sign that there will be entrance by large bully countries in the future once the stage is set. They are in the background whispering into ears of Nica politicians to create these ideas and movements. The same has happened at the Mexican/N. american border over a very long time period

      . Those who think they are opening la frontera up for good reasons and immigration are working as peones for the Elitists who have already printed the Ameri dollar for the new american Union similar to the european union. Get it? So slow you can’t see this happening. If only Costa Rica and Nicaragua could see the bigger longer picture, they might become closer and not allow this to happen. But money talks and Nicaragua is buying into being a bully in behest of the Powers that be. Sad

    • Ken Morris

      Especially since I’m usually accused of taking Nicaragua’s side in this dispute, let me say that I think Costa Rica is right to take this particular narrow action and will likely win.

      Even so, I’m very curious about what kind of defense Nicaragua will put up tomorrow. I can’t believe that it will base its defense on the claim “that the disputed island . . . is historically its territory,” as this story predicts, since that isn’t even the issue in this proceeding. That’s a larger issue. The issue here is whether Nicaragua wrongly violated the provisional ruling of the court to stay out of the disputed territory.

      To my mind Nicaragua therefore has to argue that (a) it didn’t enter the territory and/or (b) it was provoked into entering it by wrongful actions on the part of Costa Rica. As said, I don’t think Nicaragua is going to be able to make either argument convincingly, but I’m interested in watching it try. Of course, it might come up with yet another argument, but I’ll be darned if I can guess what it might be.

      I think Nicaragua is going to lose this round, and probably properly so, but it’s high legal drama to see how it tries to squirm out of a clear violation of the court’s provisional ruling. I mean, forget the channels, everybody knows that Nicaragua has had a youth camp there in violation of the court. It’s going to take an awfully slick lawyer for Nicaragua to win this, and I doubt any lawyer is that slick.

      Of course, the bigger picture remains that of wishing that the two countries would simply cooperate, but at this juncture it’s the court battle that is the drama.

      • Frank Castle

        Ken,

        Look, personally I think that Nicaragua is going to always lose when it comes to the San Juan River because, and this is rare, it’s part of their country. Most river boundaries between countries around the world are right down the middle of the bordering waterway. This will almost always engender sympathy for Costa Rica. It would be smart if Costa Rica and Nicaragua could sit down, set up a border commission just about the San Juan with the understanding that rivers change course over time and the border on the Atlantic side might need to be adjusted. Also, since this an environmentally sensitive area, maybe a joint country wildlife refuge that could benefit both nations should be agreed upon.

        If both countries had gone down this route from the time the Commandante Cero wanted to dredge on the river, I believe that this could have been prevented.

        This has nothing to do with a canal, by the way, since the route suggested by the Chinese concession is farther to the north. I’ll believe it when I see it on that project.

        • Ken Morris

          This is worrisome, Frank, we’re starting to agree.

          Not sure exactly what you meant at the beginning, but after I looked at the geographic and treaty facts when this whole thing started, it seemed to me that Costa Rica’s case was stronger, but as best as I could tell there was enough gray for Nicaragua to make a case. My sense was also that the initial Hague ruling was mixed, so we still have a horse race on the big questions.

          Though the ideal solution is for the two countries to sit down and hash this out to their mutual benefit, although I think Costa Rica needs a face-saving victory thrown into the mix now.

          As for Edén Pastora, just another one of my perhaps overly strong opinions (but at least the product of research), I think he’s always been manipulated by Ortega, beginning when Ortega joined him in the Southern Command during the revolution. The Ortega brothers didn’t trust him, for good reason, and intentionally left him without supplies on the eve of victory so he wouldn’t be the victor of the revolution. I have no doubt that Ortega was very much in charge during this Rio San Juan fiasco too. Pastora is just a front man egotistical enough to be used.

          And BTW, he wasn’t even the first Commander Zero. The first and probably superior one was killed, as happened to many of the best in those days.

          I know that the Chinese plan calls for the canal to be farther north, and also that the canal plans historically have been all over the place. Thus I’m inclined to agree that the Rio San Juan controversy has nothing to do with a canal. However, a Tico buddy who happens to be an engineer tells me that there’s no way to construct a canal without using the river, and when I ignorantly look at a map, the Rio San Juan looks logical to me too. So I’m not excluding any possibility at this point.

          The only thing I’m fairly sure of is that Nicaragua will lose this round (although again I await tomorrow’s arguments to see whether Nicaragua has an ace up its sleeve) and I can’t see it winning the whole shebang in the end either. But then again I don’t think Ortega expects to win this way. I think he’s trying to ruffle Costa Rica’s feathers enough to compel it to sit down at a negotiating table and hammer out something, and in this strategy I give odds that he will prevail. Costa Rica is spending a lot of time and money fighting this thing, and sooner or later someone in Costa Rica is going to decide (as the Tico saying goes) “a bad agreement is better than a good fight,” although Costa Rica should be able to negotiate a good agreement.

          • Frank Castle

            I agree on some of what you have said but still not happy with the Sandinista government. Too thuggish for my taste. As for the canal, if you look at the topo maps of Nicaragua and the planned route, it make sense what they are planning. There is a river that empties into L. Nicaragua that they will use for part of this an use the low elevation terrain the rest of the way to Bluefields. To me, the engineering looks feasible but I don’t believe that this Chinese concession will follow through. They are some kind of electronics firm so it seems fishy to me.

    • Ken Morris

      Wow, as hard as I try, I can’t keep up with Ortega’s strategy–although at least I get close.

      Evidently Nicaragua admitted violating the court’s injunctions, but argued that Pastora acted alone and without the authorization of the government.

      I knew (and mentioned) that Ortega was accustomed to manipulating Pastora, but didn’t predict that he’d pin the blame on Pastora and hang him out to dry.

      All I can say is that this was a brilliant defense, and just like Perry Mason getting his client off by pinning the blame on the real culprit.

      Of course, I suspect that Ortega and Pastora are still in cahoots. Pastora enjoys this kind of global limelight.