International Court of Justice dismisses another Nicaraguan claim against Costa Rica

THE HAGUE – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday rejected Nicaragua’s claim that Costa Rica was causing environmental damage with the construction of a road parallel to the Río San Juan, which functions as a natural border between the countries.

The Hague-based court unanimously ruled that “Managua’s allegations did not demonstrate the existence of a real and imminent risk.” The court will therefore take no action and Costa Rica may continue with construction on the 130-kilometer road. 

Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla highlighted that the ruling was the second favorable outcome from the ICJ in Costa Rica’s ongoing turf war with Nicaragua.

“Costa Ricans must continue to strengthen the defense of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity […] and construction of Route 1856 is and will remain a priority for this administration. The Court’s decision is very positive news and allows us to continue to improve the works with the assurance that what we have done, was done to protect our country,” said Chinchilla Friday in a press release.

Managua argued that construction works caused severe environmental damage and that San José should have consulted them before launching the project. According to Managua, the work on Route 1856 on the right bank of the San Juan is the primary threat threat to the species in the area.

But the Court rejected that claim, explaining that “Nicaragua has not [...] established the existence of a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights invoked.” The court also found that Nicaragua’s arguments “do not explain how these species could be specifically threatened by the construction of the road or indicate precisely what [species] are likely to be affected.”

The Court also added that Costa Rica “recognized the need to take corrective measures to reduce the impact of planning and executing the construction of the road.”

Costa Rica’s ambassador in Netherlands, Jorge Urbina, said he was satisfied with the ICJ ruling. “The measures requested by Nicaragua were unnecessary,” he said. Nicaraguan ambassador in Netherlands Carlos Argüello Gómez deemed the ruling “reasonable.”

This is the second time in less than a month that the Court has ruled against Nicaragua and in favor of Costa Rica.

In November, the judge ordered Managua to remove all personnel and equipment from a border location known as Isla Calero or Portillos (Harbour Head for Nicaraguans).

Nicaragua commenced repairing the two canals Nov. 28. Former guerrilla leader Edén “Comandante Cero” Pastora, in charge of dredging project, said at the time that they “were filling the 150 meters canals, which I mostly cleaned of water lilies and other aquatic plants…”

This week a group of Costa Rican inspectors arrived to the area, by land, after being denied access through the San Juan River by Nicaraguan officials. The experts from the Environment Ministry and the Foreign Ministry concluded that the works partially repaired the canals. 

The construction of Route 1856 was ordered by the government of President Laura Chinchilla in response to what she called an invasion of Nicaragua to Costa Rican territory. She also cited a need to provide access to isolated Costa Rican communities in the area.

However, the works launched in May 2011 were suspended a year later following allegations of embezzlement, one of the worst scandals in Chinchilla’s administration.