International House of Dan: Argentina vs. Uruguay

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Argentina vs. Uruguay

On May 4, Argentina filed a claim against Uruguay at the International Court of Justice over the construction of two paper mills along the River Uruguay. The suit alleges that the operation of the mills would:
"damage the environment of the River Uruguay and its area of influence zone", affecting over 300,000 residents, who are concerned at the "significant risks of pollution of the river, deterioration of biodiversity, harmful effects on health and damage to fisheries resources", and the "extremely serious consequences for tourism and other economic interests"
In 1975, Argentina and Uruguay entered into the Statute of the River Uruguay and formed the Administrative Commission for the River Uruguay (CARU) to oversee the environmental protection of the river. Argentina had appealed to CARU and the Uruguayan government before initiproceedingsedings at The Hague, but Uruguay continued the construction of the first paper mill and began building the second one.

The treaty mainly governs navigation on the river, but Article 7 provides that "If one Party plans to ... carry out any other works which are liable to affect navigation, the regime of the river or the quality of its waters" it must first seek approval from the Commission. Chapter X of the treaty further mandates that parties must protect against pollution. The proceedings at the ICJ will settle, among other things, whether Uruguay has violated these provisions of the treaty. Chapter XV allows either party to bring disputes before the ICJ for adjudication. Both Argentina and Uruguay have ratified the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Uruguay has accepted compulsory jurisdictioniction at the ICJ, but only on the basis of reciprocity. Since Argentina has not accepted compulsory jurisdiction, the court can only hear the case because of Chapter XV of the River Uruguay Statute.

In less enlightened times, or under less enlightened leaders, this dispute would likely have led to open warfare. It is truly remarkable and it gives me hope to see nations submitting their disputes to the World Court in the spirit of justice and the preservation of peace. Following an adverse ruling at the ICJ in the Avena case two years ago, our administration chose to withdraw from a treaty protocol giving the ICJ jurisdiction to hear disputes with the U.S. over the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. What would it be like to instead have a president who says things like: "Let us show the world that we have that minute of reflection, and let us not allow ourselves to be pushed by nationalisms devoid of content, which instead of uniting Latin America separated it permanently"?

How different would the road to Iraq have been if President Bush had de-escalated the conflict by making an appeal such as Kirchner's? "I beg Uruguay to hear me, to accept this humble request. Only 90 days for the best environmentalists in the world to help two brother peoples to resolve this matter. Ninety days are a mere sigh in the long history of Argentina and Uruguay."

All translations by Dan.



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