The UN’s highest court drew new maritime boundaries between Costa Rica and Nicaragua on Friday seeking to end a decades-long frontier dispute, and ordered Managua to pay compensation for environmental damage.
In a multi-pronged judgement, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) also ordered Nicaragua to remove a military camp near the river San Juan, which divides the two neighbours, and which the Hague-based ICJ said violated Costa Rica’s sovereignty.
Friday’s judgements resulted from a string of disputes between the two Central American neighbours before the ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule on border and territorial disputes between nations.
Apart from a ruling on the disputed San Juan wetlands area, Costa Rica also asked the ICJ to set its maritime boundaries on both its western Pacific Ocean coast and in the Caribbean Sea to the east.
On Friday morning, the ICJ judges ruled that Managua must pay San Jose almost $380,000 for environmental damage and to compensate for the costs of efforts to restore the area on the San Juan River.
“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 Somali-born judge was referring to a slither of land on Costa Rica’s disputed northern border, where Nicaragua set up a military camp in 2010, dredged the San Juan River and dug three channels.
The judge ordered Managua to pay the compensation before April 2 for the damage to the land, known in Costa Rica as Isla Portillos and in Nicaragua as Harbour Head.
But the amount fell far short of the $6.7 million demanded by Costa Rica in the ICJ’s first-ever compensation ruling for environmental damage.
The judges then drew maritime borders between the two countries in both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean along delimitation lines.
Costa Rican ambassador Sergio Ugalde said San Juan was happy with the marathon set of judgements, calling the ruling on maritime boundaries spectacular.
“Although a little less than what Costa Rica had estimated, the decision this morning (too) remains a very important economic remedy,” he added.
Costa Rica now wanted to normalise relations with its northern neighbour, Ugalde said.
Nicaraguan ambassador Carlos Arguello also said his country was pleased with the outcome, calling it a fair assessment.
“There is no longer a major problem, or there should be no problem to have normal relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica,” Arguello said.
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.
In December 2015, the court reproached Managua for violating San Jose’s right to navigation in the waters and ordered the two countries to negotiate an amount of compensation.
But the neighbours 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.