Foley Hoag Secures Victory for Nicaragua in Boundary Dispute Against Costa Rica

February 5, 2018

In a unanimous ruling, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has fixed the maritime boundary between Nicaragua and Costa Rica in the southwestern Caribbean Sea by awarding roughly three-quarters of disputed waters and seabed to Nicaragua. The Court’s judgment, by a vote of 16-0, was delivered in The Hague on February 2. It was immediately hailed as a victory for Nicaragua.

Nicaragua was represented by Foley Hoag, LLP, which specializes in international litigation and arbitration before the ICJ and other international tribunals. Foley Hoag partners Paul Reichler and Lawrence Martin, respectively the chair and vice chair of the firm’s International Litigation group, argued Nicaragua’s case.

“As it always does, the ICJ resolved the dispute before it in an equitable manner,” Reichler said, “applying well established legal principles to the specific circumstances of the case. We are deeply gratified to have produced a result that Nicaragua celebrates as a victory.”

At stake were more than 27,000 km sq (16,777 square miles) of sea and continental shelf, and exclusive access to natural resources, including fish and potential oil and gas deposits. The boundary line established by the Court, which both States are obligated to accept, left approximately 20,000 km sq (12,427 sq miles) on Nicaragua’s side.

In so doing, the Court rejected Costa Rica’s argument that the boundary line should be adjusted in its favor to avoid a “cutoff” of its maritime reach due to the “concave shape” of its coastline, and that Nicaragua’s Corn Islands were insignificant features that should be ignored in the construction of the line. The boundary fixed by the Court largely follows the “equidistance line” proposed by Nicaragua.

By the same 16-0 vote, the Court also determined the maritime boundary between the two States in the Pacific Ocean. There, the disputed area was smaller, with both parties proposing that it be divided based on equidistance. However, Nicaragua argued that a strict equidistance line would be inequitable, and the Court agreed, ordering that the line should be adjusted in Nicaragua’s favor. Nicaragua hailed that result, as well.

The Court’s Judgment also addressed the status of a remote, 1.5 km long bank of sand at the mouth of the San Juan de Nicaragua River, which constitutes the land border between the two States. The disputed area, which is uninhabitable and part of an internationally protected wetland, was awarded to Costa Rica.

In addition to Reichler and Martin, Nicaragua’s legal team was composed of its Agent, Ambassador Carlos Arguello Gomez, and law professors Alain Pellet (France), Vaughan Lowe (England), Antonio Remiro (Spain) and Alex Oude Elferink (Netherlands). It also included attorneys Benjamin Samson (France) and Yuri Parkhomenko of Foley Hoag.

Ambassador Arguello underscored Nicaragua’s satisfaction with the result: “Today’s Judgment, coupled with Nicaragua’s historic success in its maritime delimitation case against Colombia in 2012, leave Nicaragua with abundant maritime areas and continental shelves off both of its coasts, and exclusive entitlement to all natural resources that are present there. Our government is very pleased.”

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