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World Court: Bolivia, Chile close in river dispute

 


THE HAGUE (AP) The International Court of Justice on Thursday found little to decide in a long-running dispute over a small river that flows from Bolivia to Chile, after the Latin American neighbors had largely resolved their conflict during the proceedings.

The United Nations’ top court spent most of the hour-long hearing explaining that the two countries’ legal claims over the Silala River – a short waterway in the Atacama Desert – were unchallenged as the two countries have now agreed how water should be managed.

It’s an international watercourse, as both sides now agree, said U.S. Judge Joan E. Donoghue, who serves as the court’s president. Bolivia initially rejected this designation as international law requires international water resources to be managed cooperatively.

Chile filed the claim with the Hague-based court in 2016, arguing that Bolivia was violating international water laws by blocking the river’s flow. During hearings in April, Bolivia claimed that the waterway is not a river at all, but a series of underground springs forced above ground by Chilean construction.

A 1997 UN convention on water rights requires countries whose borders intersect major waterways to share natural resources equally.

In the last six years of legal proceedings in the case, the two countries narrowed the scope of their dispute significantly through diplomatic efforts, eventually agreeing on all but a few minor technical points.

Chile requested that Bolivia notify it before carrying out certain activities in the waterway, but the court rejected this request as it had no basis in international law.

Chile said Thursday’s decision was a victory.

The court is now only reaffirming the fact that Bolivia has accepted everything Chile came for, Ximena Fuentes, Chile’s deputy foreign minister, told reporters after the hearing.

Bolivia’s legal team left the court without commenting on the verdict.

It is recognized that Chile’s historical use and its current use of the waters of the Silala River is in accordance with the fair and reasonable use defined by international law, Chilean President Gabriel Boric said after the decision.

Our country can rest easy with this court decision, he said. We have received the legal certainty we were looking for and the disputed issues have been finally resolved.

Bolivian President Luis Arce said in a tweet that Bolivia has resolved a dispute with a brother nation. The decision of the International Court of Justice ratifies our rights over the Silala waters and our sovereignty over the dismantling of artificial channels, he wrote.

Bolivian Foreign Minister Rogelio Mayta said that the decision gives us important security. The court made it clear that Bolivia has the right to the canalization that has been done in its territory to improve the flow of water and to recover the wetlands that have been degraded by these works, Mayta said.

The court called on the two countries, which have not had diplomatic relations since 1978, to work together to manage Silala waters. Chile and Bolivia should conduct consultations on an ongoing basis, in a spirit of cooperation, said panel president Donoghue.

This is the second time the two Latin American neighbors have taken a dispute to the International Court of Justice. In 2018, judges sided with Chile, finding that the country was not legally bound to grant access to the sea to its landlocked neighbor.

Bolivia has not always been cut off from the ocean. It lost part of its coastline to Chile in a war of 1879-1883 and has been unhappy with the outcome ever since.

Sources

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2/ https://apnews.com/article/europe-united-nations-chile-bolivia-international-law-d6422dea0295ec179447ec1589960de4

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