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World Court Settles Nicaragua – Costa Rica Disputes

International Court of Justice resolves dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a “decision worthy of Solomon.”



On February 2, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its decision regarding the maritime border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, both in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The Court pronouncement left both countries satisfied, convinced that the verdict represented a balanced agreement.

Representatives from the two countries expressed the hope that they wouldn’t be returning again to the Hague due to these conflicts.

“There shouldn’t be any reason for returning to the Court, said Sergio Ugalde, the Costa Rican official, who considered the disputes with Nicaragua “resolved”. The two countries had resorted to the World Court on several occasions to settle their disputes.

His Nicaraguan counterpart, Carlos Arguello, expressed himself in similar terms, calling the marine frontiers imposed by the United Nations High Tribune as “very good” and “equitable”, for their interests, both in the Caribbean and in the Pacific.

The ICJ issued three decisions with respect to the disputes that Costa Rica and Nicaragua have taken to The Hague.

The most important was regarding the ocean boundaries, since Costa Rica has accused Nicaragua of offering to grant international companies tracts for oil exploration and possible exploitation in waters that were in dispute.

The verdict took into consideration grievances from both sides. On the one hand, the judges leaned towards Nicaragua in the matter of the two Corn Islands, delimitating the maritime border in the Caribbean so that Managua obtained several hundred additional square kilometers of ocean waters that had been in dispute.

On the other hand, the Nicaraguan proposal to omit the Santa Elena peninsula when establishing the coordinates of the ocean border in the Pacific was dismissed, favoring the Costa Rican position.

he Costa Rican official declared that on a scale of 0 to 10, he gave the rulings a “9.5” in terms, because the lines traced in the Pacific and the Caribbean by the High Court were very close to the proposals put forth by his country.

Ugalde also expressed his joy that they had recognized Costa Rica’s “exclusive economic territory, beyond 200 miles (out from the coast) in the Caribbean Sea.”

The ICJ pronounced unanimously in a second sentence that the territory to the north of the Portillos Isles, on the border between the countries, is under Costa Rican sovereignty. The court ordered Nicaragua to dismantle a small military camp that it maintains on a sandbar situated in this zone.

The judges have partially taken this landmark into account as the starting point for the maritime frontier in the Caribbean Sea, although the wetlands known as Harbor Head Lagoon, situated a few hundred meters to the southeast of this sandbar, will continue to be Nicaraguan territory.

That decision was termed “historic” by the Costa Rican representative, since, in his words, it reaffirms his country’s “complete sovereignty” over the formerly disputed territory.

In the third decision made by the Court, the reparations owed by Nicaragua to Costa Rica for environmental damages caused by the presence of their troops in the Portillos Islands between 2010 and 2013, was generally favorable to Managua.

Costa Rica had requested that the compensation for damages that was ordered by the judges in 2015 be set at 6.7 million dollars. However, the amount that the tribunal dictated was left at US $378,890.

This quantity represents approximately “some 5%” of what Costa Rica had hoped for, the Nicaraguan representative noted. He regretted that the two countries hadn’t reached an agreement previously, which would have saved the expenses of the legal process.

Arguello recalled that Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan president, “said from the beginning that he was willing to provide compensation, but obviously not all that Costa Rica desired.” Instead, he had said that it should be “a reasonable amount.” 


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