Foley Hoag Represents Uruguay in Major Environmental Case Brought Before International Court of Justice

Decision Expected Next Spring; Dispute Centers on Pulp Mill Located on Uruguay River

September 14, 2010

Beginning today, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, The Netherlands, will hear three weeks of final arguments in a closely watched dispute over sustainable development between the nations of Uruguay and Argentina over a paper mill on the Uruguay River.  The case is only the second environmental dispute to be decided by the ICJ, and the first since the 1990s.

Uruguay is represented by a team from Washington, DC-based Foley Hoag LLP, led by international law specialist Paul Reichler.

Arguments will be heard by 17 judges from around the world, who are expected to issue a decision sometime next spring.

Mr. Reichler and Foley Hoag have represented Uruguay since Argentina first brought the case in May 2006. The Uruguay River forms part of the border between the two nations, and Argentina argues that the mill, in Uruguayan territory, releases harmful contaminants into the river as part of the production of pulp used in the manufacture of paper. 

Uruguay contends that the mill, approved through a thorough permitting process and built by a Finnish company, is a model of eco-responsibility that has not damaged water quality or aquatic life.

Uruguay won the first round before the ICJ, which by a near-unanimous vote in July 2006 refused to order that construction of the mill be halted. The facility opened in November 2007 and has been operating for nearly two years.

The mill, funded through the International Finance Corporation arm of the World Bank, was also subject to a rigorous environmental review and approval process at the IFC.  The mill is the largest foreign-investment project in Uruguay’s history.

During the final hearing process, Argentina, as plaintiff, will argue first, September 14-17. Uruguay will follow, September 21-24. The third week is reserved for rebuttals, with Argentina presenting on Monday and Tuesday, September 28-29, and Uruguay on Thursday and Friday, October 1-2.

“This is a very important case, and not only for Uruguay and Argentina,” says Mr. Reichler, "because it addresses the concept of sustainable development – encouraging economic development that ensures protection of the environment. It is a tribute to the ICJ, and shows the respect the two nations have for the Court.”

Mr. Reichler specializes in representing nations before the International Court of Justice and international courts and arbitral tribunals around the world. Earlier this year he successfully represented Nicaragua at the ICJ in a case that reaffirmed Nicaragua’s exclusive sovereignty over the river boundary between it and Costa Rica, and Nicaragua's right to control navigation on the river.

In addition to Mr. Reichler, the legal team for Uruguay consists of Foley Hoag partners Lawrence Martin, Adam Kahn, and Andrew Loewenstein, along with Professor Alan Boyle of the University of Edinburgh, a leading environmental lawyer; and Professor Luigi Condorelli, a public international law from the European University of Florence.

Argentina’s legal team is led by Professor Alain Pellet of the University of Paris; Professor Philippe Sands of the University College London; and Marcelo Kohen of the Graduate Institute Geneva.

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