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Costa Rica celebrates world court ruling in border spat with Nicaragua

November 22, 2013

Costa Rica celebrated on Friday that “justice was served” following a ruling by the International Court of Justice that ordered Nicaragua to withdraw entirely from the disputed border territory of Isla Calero, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo announced.

Costa Rica “is pleased to receive the news that the court has ruled in favor of our complaints regarding Nicaragua’s violations of preventive measures ordered in 2011,” Castillo said in a press release.

Commenting from Washington, D.C., Castillo added that he hoped Nicaragua would accept the ruling and that relations between the two countries could return to normal ahead of a final ruling by the world court, based in The Hague, Netherlands.

The court ordered Nicaragua to remove all personnel from the disputed wetland along the San Juan River, which forms a natural border between the two countries, and prohibited the government of Daniel Ortega from returning to the area. The ban includes all Nicaraguan civilians, and police and security forces. 

The court also ruled that “Nicaragua should abstain from any type of dredging or other activities in the disputed territory, and particularly, from any type of work on two new canals” in the area, according to International Court of Justice President Peter Tomka.

Costa Rica had sought an expansion of preventive measures dictated by the court in March 2011, which in addition to Isla Calero is referred to as Isla Portillos by Costa Rica, and Harbour Head by Nicaragua. 

The court previously had ordered the two countries to stay out of the area until a final ruling. But according to Costa Rica, Nicaragua repeatedly had sent pro-government activists to the area, as well as machinery to forge two new canals to the Caribbean Sea, causing – according to Costa Rica – environmental damage to an internationally protected wetland. 

The disputed area measures only three square kilometers, and is located at the far eastern end of the San Juan River, in an area declared a Ramsar International Wetland.

“This is a triumph for international law, a legal victory for Costa Rica, and a serious warning to Nicaragua to stop ignoring the orders of the [world] court and disrespecting Costa Rica’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Castillo said.

Justices also granted Costa Rica the authority to seek reparation for the canals opened by the Ortega government.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla praised the ruling on her Twitter account on Friday, saying, “We are very satisfied with the ICJ ruling. It confirms that international law defends our sovereignty.”

Tico Times reporter Tania Lara contributed. 

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