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Extension of dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua

With one dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua already pending before the International Court of Justice , Nicaragua has initiated a new claim at the Court alleging that Costa Rica has caused transboundary pollution through the construction of a road on the border of the two countries.
Proceedings were initially started by Costa Rica against Nicaragua in November 2010 in which it was alleged that Nicaragua had violated the sovereignty of Costa Rica by sending troops to an area claimed by Costa Rica.  Nicaragua was constructing a canal in this disputed area, against the objections of Costa Rica. Costa Rica also claimed that damage was being caused to Costa Rican territory through dredging of the San Juan River.  Costa Rica invoked several international treaties and arbitral awards to support its claims. Alongside its application, Costa Rica requested that the Court indicate provisional measures to prevent any further activity in the disputed area by Nicaragua.  In March 2011, the Court ordered the two parties to the dispute to refrain from sending any personnel, whether civilian, police, or security, to the disputed area where the canal was being built.  The one exception was civilian personnel charged with protecting the environment.  Such personnel could continue to visit the disputed area in order to prevent damage to the protected wetlands located there, provided that Costa Rica consulted the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and informed Nicaragua in advance of any visit.  The Court also required the parties to refrain from conducting any other activities which might aggravate or extend the dispute.  However, the Court refused to expressly indicate provisional measures to stop Nicaragua from dredging of the River as there was not sufficient evidence that it creates a serious risk to Costa Rica’s environment.
The new claims submitted by Nicaragua on 22 December 2011 allege that Costa Rica is also causing damage to the border area through the construction of a road along the San Juan River.  In particular, it is claimed that the dumping of soil from the construction works into the River threatens the water quality and aquatic life of the River.  Ironically, Nicaragua invokes many of the same treaties, such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which were also invoked by Costa Rica in its own allegations against Nicaragua.  Nicaragua also alleges that Costa Rica has failed to share any information concerning the construction works and it demands that Costa Rica produce and present the results of an environmental impact assessment containing relevant information.  Nicaragua reserves its right to request provisional measures against Costa Rica.
In many ways, these new proceedings act as a counter-claim to the original proceedings started by Costa Rica over a year ago. Indeed, Nicaragua notes in its application that “the legal and factual grounds of the [Application] are connected to the ongoing case concerning Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)”, it “reserves its rights to consider in a subsequent phase of the present proceedings . . . whether to request that the proceedings in both cases should be joined.”  The new claims certainly present even more opportunities for the Court to further explore the relevant rules of international environmental law relating to transboundary harm, an area of increasing importance in international litigation.

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