THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Nicaragua to compensate Costa Rica for damage Nicaragua caused with unlawful construction work near the mouth of the San Juan River, in the court’s first foray into assessing costs for environmental damage.
Friday’s order by the United Nations’ principal judicial organ follows a December 2015 ruling that Nicaragua violated Costa Rica’s sovereignty by establishing a military camp and digging channels near the river, part of a long-running border dispute in the remote region on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.
The Judges said the clearing of hundreds of trees and almost 2 square miles of vegetation ”significantly impacted the site” at the mouth of the disputed San Juan river.
In total, Nicaragua was ordered to pay US$378.890 US dollars (¢216.7 million colones) for environmental damage and other costs incurred by Costa Rica, a lot less than the US$6.7 million Costa Rica had demanded.
Presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf, reading the decision, said Costa Rica should be compensated for the damage caused, the cost of environmental restoration, expenses, and interest. The amount must be paid by April 2, after which interest begins to accrue.
Judges had already ruled that Nicaragua had to compensate its neighbor in 2015, but took two years to set an amount after the countries failed to agree on a sum.
The territorial dispute, mainly over the border line between the two countries, has been running since an 1858 treaty that attempted to map out their territory after their independence from Spain and Mexico.
The countries have a handful of claims and counter-claims before the Court, centering on the mouth of the San Juan river and the Isla Calero, also known as Isla Portillos and Harbor Head in Nicaragua, a virtually uninhabited area.
Costa Rica and Nicaragua are awaiting the Court’s decision of a separate case, about their shared maritime boundary, of the same area. The decision is expected later today, Friday.
Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister, Manuel Gonzalez, said Costa Rica “welcomes and respects the judgment of the International Court”.
“This must be one of the last chapters of that painful page of bilateral history, which should have ended with the historic ruling of the Court in 2015, where Costa Rica won with total forcefulness having ratified our sovereignty over Isla Portillos”, concluded González.