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  HOME | Central America

World Court Backs Costa Rica and Nicaragua in River Quarrel
Nicaragua and Costa Rica have been at odds over an 1858 Caņas-Jerez Treaty, which grants Managua sovereignty over the San Juan River while giving navigation rights to San Jose until the International Court of Justice at the Hague issued its ruling Monday. The case helped decide several contentious issues over the border river that was used to traverse the peninsula before the Panama Canal existed and was even widely seen as a competitor for what would have been the "Nicaragua Canal"

THE HAGUE -- The International Court of Justice ruled Monday in favor of Costa Rica in a battle with Nicaragua over navigation and fishing rights on the San Juan River, which forms the border between the two Central American countries.

At the same time, the ICJ found that Nicaragua is within its rights to establish hours of navigation and to otherwise regulate Costa Rican vessels using the San Juan.

The court also sided with Nicaragua by limiting Costa Rican police's official travel on the river to emergency situations.

The judges recognized the right of Costa Rican citizens to travel on the river between different communities on their side of the waterway in the course of their daily activities.

The ICJ also upheld the right of Costa Ricans to engage in subsistence - though not commercial - fishing along their side of the San Juan.

Nicaragua and Costa Rica had been at odds since 2001 over interpretation of the 1858 Caņas-Jerez Treaty, which grants Managua sovereignty over the San Juan River while giving navigation rights to San Jose.

Nicaraguan officials had insisted that those navigation rights extended only to shipments of merchandise, not to passenger transport or fishing.

The ICJ ruled that Managua did not have the right to require that tourists aboard Costa Rican vessels have visas or tourist permits.

Nicaragua, however, did not violate international law by requiring that Costa Rican vessels submit to entry and exit inspections, and that passengers have identification or by setting the hours of navigation on the river.

Managua also has the right to ask Costa Rican vessels to fly the Nicaraguan flag and issue exit certificates, though the Nicaraguans cannot collect fees for issuing the documents.

Costa Rica's deputy foreign minister, Edgar Ugalde, told Efe that his government was "satisfied" with the ruling.

"I expect (the ruling) to help restart new relations with Nicaragua ... since the San Juan River has always been like a stone in the shoe," Ugalde said.

Costa Rica "has never called into question Nicaragua's sovereignty over the San Juan River," but the ICJ ruling noted that Managua's sovereignty "is not absolute," the deputy foreign minister said.

Nicaraguan Ambassador to the Netherlands Carlos Arguello said he was satisfied with the World Court's recognition of "the sovereign rights of Nicaragua ... and its right to regulate and impose environmental and security rules."

Regarding whether the ruling put an end to the disputes with San Jose over the San Juan River, Arguello said the decision "has solved the (legal) points that Costa Rica took before the court."

Click here to read a summary of the World Court's judgment.


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