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Nicaragua v. United States
The Republic of Nicaragua v. The United States of America was a case heard by the International Court of Justice in which it was alleged that the United States had violated international law by supporting Contra guerrillas in their war against the Nicaraguan government and by mining Nicaragua's harbors. The Court ruled in Nicaragua's favor, but the United States refused to abide by the Court's decision, even though it was obligated to do so under international law. After the Court's decision, the United States withdrew its declaration accepting the Court's compulsory jurisdiction.
U.S. defense and response
The United States refused to participate in the merits phase of the proceedings, but the Court found that the US refusal did not prevent it from deciding the case. The Court also rejected the United States defense that its action constituted collective self-defense.
The United States argued that the Court did not have jurisdiction, with U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick dismissing the Court as a "semi-legal, semi-juridical, semi-political body which nations sometimes accept and sometimes don't." The court disputed such claims, although among the judges themselves significant debate centered around the court's powers and jurisdictions.
On November 3rd 1986 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in order to pressure the U.S. to pay the fine. Only El Salvador, which also had disputes with Nicaragua, and Israel (which receives US$4 billion a year in aid from the U.S.) voted with the U.S. In spite of this resolution, the U.S. still elected not to pay the fine.
- The United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the Contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.
- The United States of America, by certain attacks on Nicaraguan territory in 1983-1984, namely attacks on Puerto Sandino on September 13 and October 14 1983, an attack on Corinto on October 10 1983; an attack on Potosi Naval Base on January 4 and 5 1984, an attack on San Juan del Sur on March 7 1984; attacks on patrol boats at Puerto Sandino on March 28 and 30 1984; and an attack on San Juan del Norte on April 9 1984; and further by those acts of intervention referred to [above] which involve the use of force, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use force against another State.
- The United States of America, by directing or authorizing over Rights of Nicaraguan territory, and by the acts imputable to the United States referred to [above], has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to violate the sovereignty of another State.
- By laying mines in the internal or territorial waters of the Republic of Nicaragua during the first months of 1984, the United States of America has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State, not to intervene in its affairs, not to violate its sovereignty and not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce.
- The United States of America, by the attacks on Nicaraguan territory referred to [above], and by declaring a general embargo on trade with Nicaragua on May 1 1985, has acted in breach of its obligations under Article XIX of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Parties signed at Managua on January 21 1956.
- The United States of America, by producing in 1983 a manual entitled 'Operaciones sicológicas en guerra de guerrillas', and disseminating it to Contra forces, has encouraged the commission by them of acts contrary to general principles of humanitarian law; but [the Court] did not find a basis for concluding that any such acts which may have been committed were imputable to the United States of America as acts of the United States of America.
The ruling did in many ways clarify issues surrounding prohibition of the use of force and the right of self-defence (UN Charter art.2(4) and art. 51, both considered to be customary international law). Arming and training the Contra was found to be in breach with principles of non-intervention and prohibiton of use of force, so was laying mines in Nicaraguan territorial waters. Nicaraguas dealings with the armed opposition in El Salvador, although it might be considered a breach with the principle of non-intervention and the prohibiton of use of force, did not constitute "an armed attack" which is the wording in art. 51 justifying the right of self-defence. The Court also considered the United States claim to be acting in collective self-defence of El Salvador, and found the conditions for this not reached, as El Salvador never requested the assistance of the United States on the grounds of self-defence.
How the Judges voted
|Votes of Judges - Nicaragua v. United States|
|President Nagendra Singh (India)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Vice-President de Lacharričre (France)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Ago (Italy)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Bedjaoui (Algeria)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Elias (Nigeria)||N||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Lachs (Poland)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Mbaye (Senegal)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Ni (China)||N||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Oda (Japan)||Y||N||N||N||N||N||Y||N||N||N||N||N||N||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Ruda (Argentina)||N||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Schwebel (United States)||Y||N||N||N||N||N||N||Y||Y||N||N||N||N||N||N||Y|
|Judge Sette-Camara (Brazil)||N||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge Sir Robert Jennings (United Kingdom)||Y||N||N||N||N||N||Y||Y||Y||N||N||N||N||Y||Y||Y|
|Judge ad hoc Colliard (France)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
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