The 16 justices of the World Court in the Hague have ordered Nicaragua to fill in part of the controversial ditch in what Costa Rica considers its land.
In an interim decision issued Friday, the court basically gave Costa Rica everything it was seeking in its appeal.
The court in its decision recognized that there had been digging work on the ditches that could connect an arm of the Río San Juan to the sea. It noted that Nicaragua claimed that the additional work there was directed by Edén Pastore, the man put in charge by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The country’s lawyers had said in the recent arguments in the court that Ortega stopped work there as soon as he became aware of what was going on.
The court had ordered in March 2011 that no one enter the disputed territory, but Costa Rica presented overwhelming evidence, mostly satellite photos, that showed the advancement of digging operations and the presence of Nicaragua military.
The court ordered Nicaragua to fill in part of the ditch within two weeks and report back when the job had been done.
It also ordered that any government personnel, including soldiers, be ordered out of the area and that the Nicaragua government should prevent the intrusion of private parties. Groups of so-called environmentalists have been camping on the disputed land.
The court said that “The decision given in the present proceedings in no way prejudges any questions relating to the merits or any other issues to be decided at that stage. It leaves unaffected the right of the Governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua to submit arguments in respect of those questions.”
So a final decision still is awaited.
The court said that Nicaragua had argued that since dredging activities have now ceased and will not resume, there is no real and imminent risk that irreparable prejudice will be caused to Costa Rica’s claimed rights before the court has given its final decision.
The court recognized that the digging and dredging might cause the river to change course and create a new opening to the sea.
That is the main purpose of the Nicaraguan dredging. The part of the river that drains into the Caribbean is silted, and Nicaragua hopes to open a new channel that will allow increased river traffic. To do so it must cross land that Costa Rica claims.
The south bank of the river is the international boundary over which the International Court of Justice has jurisdiction.
Said the decision:
“The Court moreover considers that there is urgency. The risk of irreparable prejudice . . . is not only real but also appears to be imminent, for the following reasons. First, during the rainy season, the increased flow of water in the San Juan River and consequently in the eastern caño could extend the trench and connect it with the sea, thereby potentially creating a new course for the San Juan River. Secondly, the trench could also easily be connected to the sea, with minimum effort and equipment, by persons accessing this area from Nicaraguan territory. ”
Caño in this reference, as defined by the court, means canal.
Since Nicaragua did not fully comply with the early court order to stay off the disputed territory, Costa Rica will be watching closely to see what its neighbor does.