North Carolina Journal of International Law

Volume 43

Bitter Sweet Victory: Costa Rica receives limited damages in dispute with Nicaragua

By: Lenore Livingston

Costa Rica claimed it was entitled to $6.7 million in damages due to Nicaragua’s violation of their sovereign territory in 2010.  However, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) only granted $378,890.59 in damages.  What accounts for the vast difference in the amount Costa Rica expected to collect?

In 2015, the ICJ ruled that Nicaragua violated Costa Rican sovereignty by setting up a military post on the northern tip of Isla Calero.[1] Nicaragua had justified the invasion of Isla Portillos, the wetlands portion of Isla Claero, by suggesting google maps had put Isla Portillos within the Nicaraguan territory.[2]  Since the ruling in favor of Costa Rica, both countries agreed to abide by the judgement.[3]  However, the most recent ICJ judgment dealing with the compensation Costa Rica claimed for Nicaragua’s excavation of two channels on the territory and the environmental damages from unlawful intrusion and activities resulted in a disappointing sum of damages for Costa Rica.[4]

The ICJ notes that there is an obligation in this case to pay for “full reparation for the damage caused by a wrongful act” that has been recognized by the Court.[5]  However, the ICJ also notes the Court has “not previously adjudicated a claim for compensation for environmental damage.”[6]  Regardless, payment for damages can include indemnification for the impairment or loss of environmental goods and services, payment for the restoration of the damaged environment, and payment for restoration with the understanding that the natural habitat may not fully return to the same condition before the damage.[7]

The parties asserted two different environmental theories for evaluating the damage.   Costa Rica suggested Nicaragua owed $6.7 million in damages[8] based on an ecosystem approach, where the value of the damages to the environment should also consider the value of the goods and services that cannot be traded on the market.[9]  Specifically, Costa Rica suggests there should be compensation for lost resources as well as restoration for the cost of the replacement of the soil and erosion control.[10] Additionally, Costa Rica is requesting payment for the surveillance costs and expenses it incurred while monitoring the withdrawal of the Nicaragua’s military from the region.[11]

The ICJ awarded total compensation of $378,890.59.[12] Allocation of these damages are for the impairment or loss of environmental goods and services, the restoration costs claimed for the internationally protected wetland, the costs and expenses Costa Rica incurred as a direct result of Nicaragua’s unlawful activities on their territory, and pre-judgment interest on the costs and expenses to be compensated.[13]

The ICJ ruled Costa Rica failed to meet its burden of proof that it is entitled to receive compensation for salaries of personnel and expenses related to itsmonitoring of Nicaraguan troops and satellite images of Nicaraguan activities on the disputed territory.[14]   Additionally, the ICJ found no causal link between the establishment of two new police stations and a biological station Costa Rica claims is part of the costs associated by Nicaragua’s unlawful activities.[15]

The Costa Rican Foreign Minster reportedly claimed the ICJ did not account for an environmental recovery period of fifty years that was impacted when trees from over two centuries were logged.[16]  However, both parties have agreed to abide by this ruling.[17]

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[1] Deutsche Welle, Costa Rica Sues Nicaragua over land dispute, Deutsche Welle, (Jan. 1, 2017), http://www.dw.com/en/costa-rica-sues-nicaragua-over-land-dispute/a-37154779 [https://perma.cc/N7NL-J594].

[2] Shahan Russell, Nicaragua Invaded Costa Rica in 2010—Then Blamed Google Maps, War History Online, (Aug. 21, 2017) https://www.warhistoryonline.com/history/nicaragua-invaded-costa-rica-2010-blaming-google-maps-x-m.html [https://perma.cc/GB43-RGZP] (last visited Feb. 4, 2018).

[3] L. Arias, The Hague Court: Territory disputed with Nicaragua belongs to Costa Rica, The Tico Times, (Dec. 16, 2015), http://www.ticotimes.net/2015/12/16/hague-court-calero-island-belongs-costa-rica [https://perma.cc/2S8X-TGQH] (last visited Feb. 4, 2018).

[4] Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)—Question of Compensation (Costa Rica v. Nicar.), Press Release, 2018 I.C.J. at 1 (Feb.2).

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 2.

[7] Id.

[8] Mike Corder, UN court lays down Costa Rica, Nicaragua maritime borders, The Washington Post, (Feb 2, 2018, 6:47 PM) https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/un-court-nicaragua-must-pay-costa-rica-environmental-costs/2018/02/02/3852d0d0-080a-11e8-aa61-f3391373867e_story.html?utm_term=.4da0289748ae [https://perma.cc/CY6M-HZN3] (last visited Feb. 4, 2018).

[9] Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)—Question of Compensation (Costa Rica v. Nicar.), Press Release, 2018 I.C.J. at 2 (Feb.2).

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 4.

[12] Id. at 6.

[13] Id.

[14] Id. at 4

[15]Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)—Question of Compensation (Costa Rica v. Nicar.), Press Release, 2018 I.C.J. at 2 (Feb.2).

[16] Mike Corder, UN court lays down Costa Rica, Nicaragua maritime borders, supra note 8.

[17] Id.

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