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Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)

Overview of the case

On 29 September 2005, Costa Rica filed an Application instituting proceedings against Nicaragua in a dispute concerning the navigational and related rights of Costa Rica on a section of the San Juan River, the southern bank of which forms the boundary between the two States provided for by an 1858 bilateral treaty. In its Application, Costa Rica affirmed that “Nicaragua has — in particular since the late 1990s — imposed a number of restrictions on the navigation of Costa Rican boats and their passengers on the San Juan River”, in violation of Article VI of the 1858 Treaty, which “granted to Nicaragua sovereignty over the waters of the San Juan River, recognizing at the same time important rights to Costa Rica”.

Costa Rica filed its Memorial and Nicaragua its Counter-Memorial within the time-limits fixed by the Court’s Order of 29 November 2005. By an Order of 9 October 2007, the Court authorized the submission of a Reply by Costa Rica and a Rejoinder by Nicaragua. Those pleadings were filed within the prescribed time-limits.

Following public hearings held in March 2009, the Court rendered its Judgment on 13 July 2009.

As regards Costa Rica’s navigational rights on the San Juan River under the 1858 Treaty, in that part where navigation is common, the Court ruled that Costa Rica had the right of free navigation on the San Juan River for purposes of commerce ; that the right of navigation for purposes of commerce enjoyed by Costa Rica included the transport of passengers ; that the right of navigation for purposes of commerce enjoyed by Costa Rica included the transport of tourists ; that persons travelling on the San Juan River on board Costa Rican vessels exercising Costa Rica’s right of free navigation were not required to obtain Nicaraguan visas ; that persons travelling on the San Juan River on board Costa Rican vessels exercising Costa Rica’s right of free navigation were not required to purchase Nicaraguan tourist cards ; that the inhabitants of the Costa Rican bank of the San Juan River had the right to navigate on the river between the riparian communities for the purposes of fulfilling essential needs of everyday life ; that Costa Rica had the right of navigation on the San Juan River with official vessels used solely, in specific situations, to provide essential services for the inhabitants of the riparian areas where expeditious transportation is a condition for meeting the inhabitants’ requirements ; that Costa Rica did not have the right of navigation on the San Juan River with vessels carrying out police functions ; that Costa Rica did not have the right of navigation on the San Juan River for the purposes of the exchange of personnel among the police border posts along the right bank of the river or for the re-supply of these posts, with official equipment, including service arms and ammunition.

As regards Nicaragua’s right to regulate navigation on the San Juan River, in that part where navigation is common, the Court found that Nicaragua had the right to require Costa Rican vessels and their passengers to stop at the first and last Nicaraguan post on their route along the San Juan River ; that Nicaragua had the right to require persons travelling on the San Juan River to carry a passport or an identity document ; that Nicaragua had the right to issue departure clearance certificates to Costa Rican vessels exercising Costa Rica’s right of free navigation but did not have the right to request the payment of a charge for the issuance of such certificates ; that Nicaragua had the right to impose timetables for navigation on vessels navigating on the San Juan River ; and that Nicaragua had the right to require Costa Rican vessels fitted with masts or turrets to display the Nicaraguan flag.

As regards subsistence fishing, the Court found that fishing by the inhabitants of the Costa Rican bank of the San Juan River for subsistence purposes from that bank must be respected by Nicaragua as a customary right.

As regards Nicaragua’s compliance with its international obligations under the 1858 Treaty, the Court found that Nicaragua was not acting in accordance with its obligations under the 1858 Treaty when it required persons travelling on the San Juan River on board Costa Rican vessels exercising Costa Rica’s right of free navigation to obtain Nicaraguan visas ; that Nicaragua was not acting in accordanc with its obligations under the 1858 Treaty when it required persons travelling on the San Juan River on board Costa Rican vessels exercising Costa Rica’s right of free navigation to purchase Nicaraguan tourist cards ; and that Nicaragua was not acting in accordance with its obligations under the 1858 Treaty when it required the operators of vessels exercising Costa Rica’s right of free navigation to pay charges for departure clearance certificates.

The Court rejected all the other submissions presented by Costa Rica and Nicaragua.


This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.

Institution of proceedings

Written proceedings

Oral proceedings

Verbatim record 2009/1

Public sitting held on Monday 2 March 2009, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning the Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2009/2

Public sitting held on Monday 2 March 2009, at 10.15 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning the Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2009/3

Public sitting held on Tuesday 3 March 2009, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning the Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2009/4

Public sitting held on Thursday 5 March 2009, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning the Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2009/5

Public sitting held on Friday 6 March 2009, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning the Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2009/6

Public sitting held on Monday 9 March 2009, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning the Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Verbatim record 2009/7

Public sitting held on Thursday 12 March 2009, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Owada presiding, in the case concerning the Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua)
Available in:
Original Language
Translation
(bilingual version) Translation

Other documents

Orders

Order of 29 November 2005

Fixing of time-limits: Memorial and Counter-Memorial
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Order of 9 October 2007

Fixing of time-limits: reply and rejoinder
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Judgments

Summaries of Judgments and Orders

Summary 2009/4

Summary of the Judgment of 13 July 2009
Available in:
English French

Press releases

Press release 2005/20

29 September 2005
Costa Rica brings a case against Nicaragua to the Court in a dispute concerning navigational and related rights of Costa Rica on the San Juan River
Available in:
English French

Press release 2005/24

2 December 2005
Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) - Fixing of time-limits for the filing of the initial pleadings
Available in:
English French

Press release 2007/24

12 October 2007
Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) - The Court authorizes the submission of a Reply by Costa Rica and a Rejoinder by Nicaragua and fixes time-limits for the filing of these pleadings
Available in:
English French

Press release 2009/10

5 February 2009
Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) - The Court will hold public hearings from Monday 2 to Thursday 12 March 2009
Available in:
English French

Press release 2009/15

12 March 2009
Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) - Conclusion of the public hearings - Court begins its deliberation
Available in:
English French

Press release 2009/23

6 July 2009
Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) - Court to deliver its Judgment on Monday 13 July 2009 at 10 a.m.
Available in:
English French

Press release 2009/24

13 July 2009
Dispute regarding Navigational and Related Rights (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) - The Court rules on Costa Rica's right of free navigation and Nicaragua's power of regulation over the San Juan river
Available in:
English French