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Sentence to Costa Rica for environmental damage in Rio San Juan

Róger Solórzano Canales | Jul 5, 2012

FUNDENIC and FONARE during the press conference. | Photographer: Róger Solórzano Canales

CCJ ordered suspension of the parallel road to the river, and NGOs requested precise actions to Nicaragua government.

The Central American Court of Justice (CCJ) failed last Monday, July the 2nd, condemning the environmental damages and ordering the definitive suspension of the road which currently builds the State of Costa Rica in part on the South bank of the Nicaraguan San Juan River. Yesterday, the same two environmental NGOs who filed the case, publicly requested the Government of Nicaragua to consider specific actions to protect the river, natural reserves and communities linked to it, given the Costa Rican rebellion in the face of the regional judicial body.

The protagonists’ organizations are the “Fundación Nicaragüense para el Desarrollo Sostenible (FUNDENIC) and the Foro Nacional de Reciclaje (FONARE)” -Nicaraguan Foundation for Sustainable Development and the National Recycling Forum-. Both filed complaint on December 2011 before the CCJ, due to the damage observed initiated by the 160 kilometer road that Costa Rica built on the South bank of the river. With its own resources and initiatives, both organizations started documentation to qualify the obvious damage in hydrology, ecology, navigation and local economy of San Juan caused by the Costa Rican work. See a photo gallery

These technical materials were the ones that made them win the court case unanimously and strongly, said the scientist Jaime Incer Barquero, president of FUDENIC. The teams made air, river and land visits to the area to check for damage, and georeferenced the critical points where the road has violated the flow. This is a video made by FUNDENIC as samples of these references:

Since the filing of the case in the CCJ, representatives of Costa Rica, -including its president Laura Chinchilla-, publicly expressed disregard the authority on the country of the court, which was accused of being biased towards Nicaragua. After the current court decision, the situation has not changed, it’s even been published through media that the country plans to leave the “Sistema de Integración Centroamericana –SICA-” (Central America Integration System) -regional organ in function since 1993- temporarily, while Nicaragua has the pro tempore presidency of the entity, which was recently received last June 29th.

SICA is not a club

"The SICA is not a club where you enter and exit when you want to", said the legal representative of FUNDENIC, Rosario Sáenz, lawyer of the organizations in the process. The officer noted as unfortunate the attitude of the State of Costa Rica, accusing it of not taking a responsible attitude when it doesn’t have the upper hand, only participate in the bodies and forums in which it is profitable, where they will win, but leave when they perceive that they will lose, said the lawyer.

The Dr. Mauricio Herdocia, international lawyer of Nicaragua, commented that this should be a moment of great maturity, wisdom and sanity for the two states involved. "The SICA is not an a la carte menu" Herdocia said, noting that the region is at a historic integration moment because of the recent approaches earned with the European Union in economic matters. "We must not tarnish the integration system," he said.

Future Actions

Kamilo Lara, president of FONARE said that they are planning future actions to ensure that the State of Costa Rica assume its responsibilities in the environmental crime they are committing in San Juan River. The first step, he said, was to publish the judgment of the process and the findings of the damage that the road already caused and is still causing. Now, they hope that the Government of Nicaragua considers the proposals that the organizations are making and take an active part in the conflict.

For the immediate future, Lara said there is already a proposal march in Costa Rica to request the resignation of the president, who faces a lot of discontent in her country for unpopular measures of various kinds. They also plan a conference at the Nicaraguan Embassy to publicize the injustices that his government is doing in a natural reserve in this country.

With the help of the sister organizations in Costa Rica, said Lara, they hope to win seats in the Costa Rican courts to bring the case. Rosario Sáenz even said they hope to prosecute Laura Chinchilla for environmental crimes and corruption when she leaves the presidency of her country.

Judgment and request to the Government of Nicaragua

The decision of the CCJ was favorable to plaintiffs and condemned Costa Rica for environmental crimes, disrespect -for the country ignored the trial and did not participate in it- and for breach of various international treaties signed by the country in previous years. The key points of ruling are:

  • There was never an environmental impact study before the execution of the work.
  • Nicaragua was not consulted despite specific treaties signed by Costa Rica in the areas of Environment.
  • The work –road-, is considered high risk and dangerousness.
  • The definitive suspension of the work is ordered.
  • Costa Rica is condemned for environmental damage and related.
  • The CCJ failed to establish an amount for damages for not having specific quantified data.

If you want to know the complete decision, you can download it at this link: CCJ adjudication (in Spanish)

For demanding organizations, this is a historic victory and an important moment in which to act to ensure the right of Nicaragua to maintain the optimal state of the San Juan River in its navigation, ecology and economy. For this, the letter sent yesterday to the Nicaraguan presidency raises issues as:

  • To promote the dialogue with the government of the South to "ensure the protection of the reserve." Currently relations between the two governments are cold, and even Costa Rica has no ambassador in Nicaragua.
  • Support for hiring international expert to quantify the damage caused by the road and to justify the financial compensation to Costa Rica, funds that then should be used for sustainable management of the river.
  • Strengthen institutional presence in the San Juan River to ensure that Costa Rica does not continue with the work and environmental damage.

To read the full letter (in Spanish), you can download it here: Letter to the Government of Nicaragua.

"Costa Rica is asking the International Court of Justice $10 million dollars for 2 kilometers of damage that the dredging of the river supposedly caused in one of their pipes; then, how much should Nicaragua request for 160 kilometers of road?", said Jaime Incer during the presentation to the media yesterday.

Currently, both countries face in 2 trials brought in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Holland. The first was brought by Costa Rica for alleged invasion of land and environmental damage caused by the dredging of Rio San Juan by Nicaragua. The second one was brought by Nicaragua because of the construction of the road. Both Jaime Íncer and Mauricio Herdocia claimed that the ruling of the CCJ will surely have an effect on the judgments of the ICJ, in favor of Nicaragua.

Translated by Aída Pichardo