The International Court of Justice declined early today to impose any measures against Costa Rica relating to the Ruta 1856 that the government constructed along the south bank of the Río San Juan.
The government of Nicaragua sought such measures as part of the continuing international litigation over Managua’s invasion of Costa Rican territory. The decision was read by Peter Tomka of Slovakia, president of the court, and translated into English for a Web transmission.
The roadway was built specifically because Nicaragua had invaded a section of Costa Rica in the extreme northeast. Not only was the road designed to carry official traffic but it allows residents to travel without submitting to Nicaragua controls that would be imposed if they took the river route, as has been traditional. Nicaragua, under an 1858 treaty, owns the river.
Nicaragua claimed that road construction was contributing sediment to the river. The court decision noted that even Nicaragua’s own expert estimated that the additional sediment coming into the river ranged between 1 and 3 percent of the material already there.
Nicaragua also wanted Costa Rica to provide an environmental impact study on the road construction, but the court said to order this would prejudge the pending dispute.
The decision also noted that Costa Rica is doing remediation work on the road. The project was controversial because it was done quickly without firm plans. The court noted that Costa Rica admitted that there were problems in the roadway that were being fixed and that the initial job was done badly.
This is the route that has resulted in criminal investigations in Costa Rica. However, Thursday President Laura Chinchilla noted that some 700 volunteers have planted 47,600 trees along the route to restore vegetation that might have been destroyed by construction.
Basically the court said it should act during this intermediary proceeding only if there was imminent danger of harm or that there were significant risks to Nicaragua’s rights.
In fact, the court did that Nov. 22 when it ordered Nicaragua to refrain from any dredging and other activities in the disputed territory and refrain from work of any kind on the two new channels it dredged. The country also was ordered to fill the trench within two weeks. Costa Rican experts just inspected the work and they appeared to be unimpressed.
The decision said:
“The power of the Court to indicate provisional measures will be exercised only if there is urgency, in the sense that there is a real and imminent risk that irreparable prejudice will be caused to the rights in dispute before the Court has given its final decision.”
Tomka said that Nicaragua had failed to provide evidence that supports a finding of imminent risk. The hearing was at 10 a.m. in The Hague, Netherlands. That was 3 a.m. Costa Rican time. The entire proceedings took just 24 minutes..