UN court turns down Uruguayan request to order Argentina to end blockade

23 January 2007 –

The United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) today rejected Uruguay’s request to force Argentina to prevent or end citizen-led blockades of their mutual border that have emerged during the dispute between the two nations over the construction of two Uruguayan pulp mills.

Sitting in The Hague, the ICJ ruled 14 to one that the current circumstances do not “require the exercise of its power” under the 1975 treaty between Argentina and Uruguay – which is at the centre of the dispute – because it is not convinced that Uruguay’s rights are at imminent, irreparable risk from the blockades.

The ICJ, a United Nations court that adjudicates disputes between States, is already hearing the wider case over the legality of the two pulp mills after Argentina filed suit against Uruguay in May of last year.

On 29 November Uruguay sought an interim order asking the ICJ to require Argentina to take “all reasonable and appropriate steps” to end or prevent the interruption of transit between the two nations, including the blockading of bridges and roads.

Nine days earlier, groups of Argentines began blockading a bridge over the River Uruguay, which separates the countries and adjoins the site of the pulp mills. Argentina has said pollution from the mills will cause serious environmental damage and they are being built without the consultation and notification required under the 1975 treaty.

In a press statement accompanying the Court’s decision, the majority of judges noted that, despite the bridge blockade, construction of one of the pulp mills was continuing and had “progressed significantly since the summer of 2006.”

They added that the Court’s power to intervene and order provisional measures is designed only to ensure there is no irreparable prejudice to either side’s respective rights pending the final decision in the broader case.

In July, the ICJ also turned down an Argentine request to order an immediate halt to construction until the final decision is delivered.

The ICJ reiterated its call to Argentina and Uruguay, made in a separate order last July, to fulfil their obligations under international law, implement in good faith the consultation and cooperation procedures under the 1975 pact and refrain from taking actions which might make it more difficult to resolve the current dispute.

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