Construction of a Road in Costa Rica along the San Juan River – Georgetown International Environmental Law Review

Construction of a Road in Costa Rica along the San Juan River

by Darci Stanger, Staff Editor

In this brief, GIELR Online provides an update on the ICJ’s December 2013 decision in Nicaragua v. Costa Rica, and postulates on the effects of the court’s time extension.

In December 2011, Nicaragua initiated pleadings against Costa Rica in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Their complaint involved the construction of a road by Costa Rica along the San Juan River, lying between the two countries. Nicaragua claims that the construction of the road is impeding on the sovereignty of Nicaragua, as well as contributing major environmental damage to the ecosystems and wetlands along the San Juan River.

Nicaragua has claimed that the construction of the road has led to major amounts of soil, uprooted vegetation and felled trees being dumped into the river causing changes in water flow, danger to the water quality, and threats to the sustainability of the biodiversity of the area.

“Nicaragua has claimed that construction of the road has led to threats to the sustainability of the biodiversity in the area.”

Nicaragua is seeking that an immediate environmental impact assessment be completed by Costa Rica, restoration of the situation to status quo ante, and steps be implemented to reduce further damage. Specifically, Nicaragua was asking for an immediate cessation of work until an environmental impact assessment was completed.

Costa Rica countered these claims by declaring that Nicaragua had no proof of the irreparable harm that it was claiming, specifically referring to the amount of sediment being introduced to the San Juan. Costa Rica contends that the sediment deposits are within normal ranges that naturally occur and they have taken remediation measures to minimize the adverse environmental risks.

“Costa Rica contends that the sediment deposits are within normal ranges that naturally occur and they have taken remediation measures to minimize the adverse environmental risks.”

On December 13th, 2013, the ICJ announced a decision on the matter denying Nicaragua’s request for provisional measures. The court reasoned that Nicaragua had failed to show any real and imminent risk of irreparable harm to the environment in the claims it had put forth.

Following the Court’s decision, it allowed time for a Reply by the Applicant (Nicaragua) and a Rejoinder by the Respondent (Costa Rica), both due in late 2014 and 2015, respectively. The Court reserved the subsequent procedure for further decision.

Allowing this extra time, will allow Nicaragua to complete ground surveys and gather more information and proof of environmental harm, in order to build a stronger case against Costa Rica. However, this will also allow Costa Rica the chance to continue building their road. Hopefully this extra time to build a better case is not done at the expense of the ecosystems and biodiversity surrounding the San Juan River.

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