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ICJ rejects Nicaragua’s efforts to halt Tico highway

Costa Rica is celebrating its “second consecutive victory” in The Hague following the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) decision to reject Nicaragua’s efforts to halt construction on the Tico highway paralleling the Río San Juan. 

World court magistrates voted unanimously on Friday to reject Nicaragua’s request for an ICJ stop-work order. The ICJ says Nicaragua failed to prove that the highway construction has led to a substantial increase in the sedimentation of the river. 

Nicaragua first filed its case against Costa Rica’s riverside highway (Route 1856) on Dec. 22, 2011, arguing that the road represented “violations of Nicaraguan sovereignty and major environmental damages on its territory.” On Oct. 11, 2013, Nicaragua filed another motion before the Court requesting provisional measures to halt construction as part of a tit-for-tat response to Costa Rica’s request for measures against Nicaragua’s continued dredging in the disputed border region. The ICJ sided with Costa Rica on both issues, first ordering Nicaragua to fill in its latest trenches and then rejecting Nicaragua’s request to halt construction on Route 1856. 

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“Nicaragua has not established in the current proceedings that the ongoing construction works have led to a substantial increase in the sediment load in the river,” today’s ICJ order reads. “It notes that Nicaragua did not contest the statement of Costa Rica’s expert, Professor Thorne, that, even according to the figures provided by Nicaragua’s expert, Professor Kondolf, the construction activities are only contributing 1 to 2 per cent of the total sediment load in the San Juan River and 2 to 3 per cent in the lower San Juan River. The Court is of the view that this seems too small a proportion to have a significant impact on the river in the immediate future.”

The ICJ order further states that the “photographic and video evidence submitted by Nicaragua does nothing to substantiate Nicaragua’s allegations relating to increased sedimentation levels.”

Finally, the Court said, “With respect to the alleged effect on the ecosystem including individual species in the river’s wetlands, the Court finds that Nicaragua has not explained how the road works could endanger such species, and that it has not identified with precision which species are likely to be affected.”

The Costa Rican government is patting itself on the back. 

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“For an unarmed democracy like Costa Rica, this is a triumph of international law and an indisputable judicial victory that we celebrate,” said Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo. 

President Laura Chinchilla, eager to celebrate any accomplishment by her beleaguered administration, cheered the victory on social media. “Congratulations, Costa Rica. History and Justice continue to prove we are right,” the Costa Rican president tweeted. 

Costa Rica argues that the road construction will mitigate against environmental damage to the border region. The Tico government says it will plant some 50,000 trees in the already deforested area where the road will pass. 

Nicaragua, however, is also trying to spin the ICJ order into a victory. Carlos Argüello, Nicaragua’s representative to the ICJ, claims Nicaragua managed to achieve its principal goal by getting Costa Rica to recognize environmental damages and mitigate against them in the future.


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