World Court joins Nicaragua v. Costa Rica border cases

International Court of Justice claims joining the two cases will speed up resolution to the pending border dispute

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week decided to join the two cases concerning the border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica “in conformity with the principle of the sound administration of justice and with the need for judicial economy,” according to statement released by the World Court.

The first case, filed by Costa Rica in November 2010, was referred to a “Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area.” That case was based on Costa Rica’s claim of “incursion into, occupation of and use by Nicaragua’s army of Costa Rican territory” in connection with Nicaragua’s river-dredging efforts, which Costa Rica likened to “the construction of a canal across Costa Rican territory.”

The second case, instituted by Nicaragua in 2011, was called “Construction of a Road in Costa Rica along the San Juan River.” That proceeding was based on Nicaragua’s claim of “violations of Nicaraguan sovereignty and major environmental damages on its territory” caused by Costa Rica’s construction of Route 1856—the riverside highway paralleling Nicaragua’s San Juan River.

The two proceedings will now be joined into one case at the request of Nicaragua. Costa Rica had rejected the joinder, argued that merging the two cases “would neither be timely nor equitable” because there is “no close connection between the two cases.” The Court disagrees.

“The Court is of the opinion that a decision to join the proceedings will allow the Court to address simultaneously the totality of the various interrelated and contested issues raised by the Parties, including any questions of fact or law that are common to the disputes presented,” the ICJ said in a statement published Tuesday afternoon. “In the view of the Court, hearing and deciding the two cases together will have significant advantages.”

Costa Rica reacts

The government of Costa Rica reacted to the Court’s decision on Tuesday evening with a press release celebrating ICJ’s alleged decision to also reject four counter-claims filed by Nicaragua last year. Nicaragua, in a letter to the Court last August, petitioned for inclusion of counter-claims seeking navigation rights to Costa Rica’s Colorado River and demanding an injunction to halt construction on Costa Rica’s riverside highway, which Nicaragua claims is causing irreversible damage to the Río San Juan and surrounding ecosystem.

Nicaragua argues that 90% of its waters from the Río San Juan are diverted into Costa Rica’s Río Colorado, so Nicaragua should be allowed to have free navigation rights to the Tico waterway in a quid pro quo for Costa Rica’s right to navigate the Río San Juan. Costa Rica, however, scoffed at Nicaragua’s courter-claim as a form of “expansionism.”

“We could respond to that with our own counter-claim demanding Costa Rica’s right to navigate Lake Nicaragua,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo told The Nicaragua Dispatch in February.

Still, it’s not clear where Costa Rica is getting its information that the ICJ has rejected Nicaragua’s counter-claims. The ICJ’s release on Tuesday references the four counter-claims by Nicaragua, but does not say that they were rejected by the Court.

The Nicaraguan government, meanwhile, has not yet responded to the ICJ decision.



  • Oscar Quintana

    Very interesting. I think you made a wise assessment of the court’s decision.
    The Court only decided to join the two proceedings. The final outcome is yet to come. Congratulations!

  • Carlos Briones

    There is nothing interesting about this very common procedural move.

    Typically, consolidation of actions are made on grounds that actions are pending before a court involve a common question of law and fact, as the ICJ pointed out.

    The ICJ must have considered the three elements for actions ripe for consolidation, and these are: 1. That consolidation will avoid unnecessary costs; 2. delay, and 3. duplicity in rulings resulting in irreparable injury to either party.

    Black letter law first considers consolidation and whether doing so would not prejudice parties to the action by virtue of consolidation. Secondly, similarly to the prejudice analysis, above, consolidation is not proper where such an order would result in confusion to the jury, such as when the same party is obligated to assume inconsistent positions and where the jury must apply differing tests to particular fact situations which it may find to exist. Thirdly, consolidation may be proper although the evidence presented in one action would not have been admissible in the other action.

    I just hope that these two stooges, ticos and nicas, can understand these costly lessons and seek to resolve their issues without the costly intervention of a forum (the ICJ) that has no teeth to enforce its judgments. Remember Colombia?

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