Uruguayan mill can operate despite breach of treaty, UN World Court rules

The Uruguay River seen from the Argentine side. Photo: Pablo D. Flores

20 April 2010 – A pulp mill at the centre of an environmental dispute between Uruguay and neighbouring Argentina can stay open even though Uruguay breached a treaty between the two countries by constructing it, the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled today.

The ICJ found, by a vote of 14 to one, that Uruguay breached procedural obligations under a 1975 pact by failing to inform and negotiate with Argentina during the planning phase before the mill – and another mill that has not yet been built – could be constructed on the banks of the River Uruguay, which the two countries share as a border.

But the judges ruled that the mill that has already been built can continue operating and that Argentina does not deserve compensation for any impact to its economy in sectors such as tourism and agriculture.

Argentina filed suit in 2006 at the ICJ, a court that adjudicates disputes between States, claiming that pollution from the mills will cause serious environmental damage and that they were being erected in breach of the 1975 border treaty.

The judges voted by 11 to three that Uruguay did not breach its substantive obligations regarding the environment under a separate section of the 1975 treaty, known as the Statute of the River Uruguay.

Those obligations include ensuring that the management of soil and woodland does not impair the quality of the river’s waters and coordinating measures to avoid changes in the ecological balance of the area.

The court also dismissed all other claims by the two countries, saying that dismantling the mill “would not constitute an appropriate remedy” given that Uruguay breached no substantive obligations under the treaty.

It also found it could not uphold Argentina’s claim for compensation nor a request that Uruguay give guarantees that in future it will not prevent the treaty from being applied.

The ICJ, which is also known as the World Court, is based in The Hague in the Netherlands. Its decisions are binding and cannot be appealed.


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