Costa Rica
Wetlands, Cooperation, Damages, Protected Areas, Environmental Impact Assessments, Prevention, Permits, Criminal, Forests, Wildlife
Isla Portillos is a small parcel of territory located on the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The area is covered by rainforest and it is the site of a wetland that had been designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. Recently, Isla Portillos has been the subject of a territorial dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. As a result, Costa Rica brought proceedings to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 18 November 2010, claiming that the occupation of the territory by Nicaragua was a violation of its rights of sovereignty. Moreover, Costa Rica also claimed that the construction of a canal and associated works on the occupied territory were having a detrimental effect on the environment in violation of international law. At the same time as initiating the proceedings, Costa Rica requested the indication of provisional measures requiring Nicaragua to withdraw its troops and other personnel from the disputed area and to cease any construction work, felling of trees, dumping of sediments and the dredging of the nearby river. The Court delivered its order on provisional measures on 8 March 2011. First, Costa Rica had argued that the dredging of the river was causing damage to Costa Rican territory in violation of international law and it asked the Court to order the cessation of the dredging programme pending the settlement of the dispute. However, the Court held that it had not been shown on the evidence presented by Costa Rica that the dredging was creating a risk of irreparable prejudice to Costa Rica’s environment or to the flow of the San Juan River. Moreover, the Court noted that ‘even if there were such a risk of prejudice to rights Costa Rica claims in the present case, the risk would [not] be imminent’. The Court did indicate provisional measures requiring both parties to refrain from sending troops or other personnel to the disputed area in order to avoid the escalation of tensions. An interesting exception was added by the Court whereby it held that Costa Rica may permit visits to Isla Portillos by civilian personnel charged with the protection of the environment. The Court deemed that such an exception was necessary because Costa Rica was under an international obligation to protect the area that contained a wetland of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention. However, the Court made clear that any visits by environmental personnel must only be made ‘so far as it is necessary to ensure that no … prejudice is caused’ and only where Costa Rica has consulted with the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention and given prior notice to Nicaragua and used its best efforts to find a common solution with Nicaragua. This is an interesting application of the ecosystem approach, stressing the need for international cooperation to manage interconnected natural resources.