The Hague – Costa Rica claimed victory over Nicaragua on Friday after the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) awarded Costa Rica disputed territory along the coastal border shared by the two Central American countries.
In a multi-pronged judgment, Nicaragua was ordered by the ICJ to remove a military base from a contested coastal area near the San Juan river, which the judges said violated Costa Rican sovereignty.
The court’s panel of 15 international judges also found that Costa Rica has sovereignty over the “whole northern part of Isla Portillos, including the coast,” but excluding Harbour Head Lagoon.
Costa Rica’s ambassador Sergio Ugalde said that the border determined by the ICJ is identical to the one that the country proposed from the beginning and “practically” the 37 oil blocks that Costa Rica claimed and that the government of Daniel Ortega put out to an international tender for their exploitation, remain on the Costa Rican side.
Isla Portillos, is also known as Isla Calero and Harbor Head in Nicaragua. The new rulings came more than two years after the ICJ found that Costa Rica had sovereignty over Isla Portillos, basing its ruling in part on an 1858 treaty.
Costa Rica’s President Luis Guillermo Solis called the decision “historic,” while Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez said it was very close to what the country had asked for.
In a separate case heard at the court earlier on Friday, Nicaragua was ordered to pay Costa Rica nearly $379,000 dollars – less than it had asked for – in reparations for environmental damage to parts of its wetlands at the mouth of the disputed San Juan river.
Costa Rica should be compensated by April 2 for damage caused, the cost of environmental restoration, expenses, and interest, the court said.
“The amount is not what we hoped for, but we accept fully and respectfully what the court decided,” Gonzalez said. “Nicaragua has a valuable opportunity to rebuild trust between the two countries and close the chapters that have distanced us in recent years.”
Nicaragua’s government called the environmental verdict a “major defeat for Costa Rica” in a statement. It did not comment on the other cases.
As part of the border settlement, the court drew a new maritime boundary between the states, who have had rival claims since 2002, when Nicaragua published maps detailing oil concessions. Some of those were in waters claimed by Costa Rica.
“Costa Rica has sovereignty over the whole of Isla Portillos up to the point at which the right bank of the San Juan River reaches the low-water mark of the coast of the Caribbean Sea,” judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said.
The judge was referring to a strip of land on Costa Rica’s disputed northern border, where in 2010, Nicaragua sent soldiers to open an artificial waterway to divert water from the San Juan River that divides both countries to a nearby Nicaraguan lake, in what Costa Rica saw as a move to shorten its territory. Nicaragua said it was dredging a natural waterway
Costa Rica had filed the suit in 2014, asking the court to determine its borders with Nicaragua in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean.
Friday’s judgments resulted from a string of disputes between the two Central American neighbors before the ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule on border and territorial disputes between nations.
In December 2015, the ICJ reproached Managua for violating Costa Rica’s right to navigation in the waters and ordered the two countries to negotiate an amount of compensation.
But they failed to reach a deal and the issue trundled back to the ICJ so judges could set the compensation amount.
The two countries first held negotiations in 1976 to try to reach an agreement on their border which broadly follows the San Juan river, but talks dragged on. Costa Rica brought the case to the ICJ in 2014 saying it had “exhausted its diplomatic means” to resolve the row.