Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay)
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Overview of the case
On 4 May 2006, Argentina filed an Application instituting proceedings against Uruguay concerning alleged breaches by Uruguay of obligations incumbent upon it under the Statute of the River Uruguay, a treaty signed by the two States on 26 February 1975 (hereinafter “the 1975 Statute”) for the purpose of establishing the joint machinery necessary for the optimum and rational utilization of that part of the river which constitutes their joint boundary. In its Application, Argentina charged Uruguay with having unilaterally authorized the construction of two pulp mills on the River Uruguay without complying with the obligatory prior notification and consultation procedures under the 1975 Statute. Argentina claimed that those mills posed a threat to the river and its environment and were likely to impair the quality of the river’s waters and to cause significant transboundary damage to Argentina. As basis for the Court’s jurisdiction, Argentina invoked the first paragraph of Article 60 of the 1975 Statute, which provides that any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of that Statute which cannot be settled by direct negotiations may be submitted by either party to the Court.
Argentina’s Application was accompanied by a request for the indication of provisional measures, whereby Argentina asked that Uruguay be ordered to suspend the authorizations for construction of the mills and all building works pending a final decision by the Court ; to co-operate with Argentina with a view to protecting and conserving the aquatic environment of the River Uruguay ; and to refrain from taking any further unilateral action with respect to the construction of the two mills incompatible with the 1975 Statute, and from any other action which might aggravate the dispute or render its settlement more difficult. Public hearings on the request for the indication of provisional measures were held on 8 and 9 June 2006. By an Order of 13 July 2006, the Court found that the circumstances, as they then presented themselves to it, were not such as to require the exercise of its power under Article 41 of the Statute to indicate provisional measures.
On 29 November 2006, Uruguay in turn submitted a request for the indication of provisional measures on the grounds that, from 20 November 2006, organized groups of Argentine citizens had blockaded a “vital international bridge” over the River Uruguay, that that action was causing it considerable economic prejudice and that Argentina had made no effort to end the blockade. At the end of its request, Uruguay asked the Court to order Argentina to take “all reasonable and appropriate steps . . . to prevent or end the interruption of transit between Uruguay and Argentina, including the blockading of bridges or roads between the two States” ; to abstain “from any measure that might aggravate, extend or make more difficult the settlement of this dispute” ; and to abstain “from any other measure which might prejudice the rights of Uruguay in dispute before the Court”. Public hearings on the request for the indication of provisional measures were held on 18 and 19 December 2006. By an Order of 23 January 2007, the Court found that the circumstances, as they then presented themselves to it, were not such as to require the exercise of its power under Article 41 of the Statute.
Argentina filed its Memorial and Uruguay its Counter-Memorial within the time-limits fixed by the Order of 13 July 2006. By an Order of 14 September 2007, the Court authorized the submission of a Reply by Argentina and a Rejoinder by Uruguay. Those pleadings were filed within the prescribed time-limits.
Following public hearings held between 14 September 2009 and 2 October 2009, the Court delivered its Judgment on 20 April 2010. With respect to Argentina’s argument that projects had been authorized by Uruguay in violation of the mechanism for prior notification and consultation laid down by Articles 7 to 13 of the 1975 Statute (the procedural violations), the Court noted that Uruguay had not informed the Administrative Commission of the River Uruguay of the projects as prescribed in the Statute. The Administrative Commission of the River Uruguay — commonly referred to by its Spanish acronym “CARU” — is a body established under the Statute for the purpose of monitoring the river, including assessing the impact of proposed projects on the river. The Court concluded that, by not informing CARU of the planned works before the issuing of the initial environmental authorizations for each of the mills and for the port terminal adjacent to the Orion (Botnia) mill, and by failing to notify the plans to Argentina through CARU, Uruguay had violated the 1975 Statute.
With respect to Argentina’s contention that the industrial activities authorized by Uruguay had had, or would have, an adverse impact on the quality of the waters of the river and the area affected by it, and had caused significant damage to the quality of the waters of the river and significant transboundary damage to Argentina (the substantive violations), the Court found, based on a detailed examination of the Parties’ arguments, that there was
“no conclusive evidence in the record to show that Uruguay has not acted with the requisite degree of due diligence or that the discharges of effluent from the Orion (Botnia) mill have had deleterious effects or caused harm to living resources or to the quality of the water or the ecological balance of the river since it started its operations in November 2007”.
Consequently, the Court concluded that Uruguay had not breached substantive obligations under the Statute. In addition to this finding, however, the Court emphasized that, under the 1975 Statute, “[t]he Parties have a legal obligation . . . to continue their co-operation through CARU and to enable it to devise the necessary means to promote the equitable utilization of the river, while protecting its environment”.
This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.
Institution of proceedings
Request for the Indication of Provisional Measures submitted by Argentina
(French version only)
4 May 2006
(French version only)