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Nicaragua v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary. Nicaragua (P) brought a suit against the United States (D) on the ground that the United States (D) was responsible for illegal military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua. The jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to entertain the case as well as the admissibility of Nicaragua’s (P) application to the I.C.J. was challenged by the United States (D).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Nicaragua (P) brought a suit against the United States (D) on the ground that the United States (D) was responsible for illegal military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua. The jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice to entertain the case as well as the admissibility of Nicaragua’s (P) application to the I.C.J. was challenged by the United States (D).

    Facts. The United States (D) challenged the jurisdiction of the I.C.J when it was held responsible for illegal military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua (P) in the suit the plaintiff brought against the defendant in 1984. Though a declaration accepting the mandatory jurisdiction of the Court was deposited by the United States (D) in a 1946, it tried to justify the declaration in a 1984 notification by referring to the 1946 declaration and stating in part that the declaration “shall not apply to disputes with any Central American State….”
    Apart from maintaining the ground that the I.C.J lacked jurisdiction, the States (D) also argued that Nicaragua (P) failed to deposit a similar declaration to the Court. On the other hand, Nicaragua (P) based its argument on its reliance on the 1946 declaration made by the United states (D) due to the fact that it was a “state accepting the same obligation” as the United States (D) when it filed charges in the I.C.J. against the United States (D).  Also, the plaintiff intent to submit to the compulsory jurisdiction of the I.C.J. was pointed out by the valid declaration it made in 1929 with the I.C.J’s predecessor, which was the Permanent Court of International Justice, even though Nicaragua had failed to deposit it with that court. The admissibility of Nicaragua’s (P) application to the I.C.J. was also challenged by the United States (D).

    Issue. (1) Is the jurisdiction to entertain a dispute between two states, if they both accept the Court’s jurisdiction, within the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice?
    (2) Where no grounds exist to exclude the application of a state, is the application of such a state to the International Court of Justice admissible?

    Held. (1) Yes. The jurisdiction of the Court to entertain a dispute between two states if each of the States accepted the Court’s jurisdiction is within the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. Even though Nicaragua (P) declaration of 1929 was not deposited with the Permanent Court, because of the potential effect it had that it would last for many years, it was valid.
    Thus, it maintained its effect when Nicaragua became a party to the Statute of the I.C.J because the declaration was made unconditionally and was valid for an unlimited period. The intention of the current drafters of the current Statute was to maintain the greatest possible continuity between it and the Permanent Court. Thus, when Nicaragua (P) accepted the Statute, this would have been deemed that the plaintiff had given its consent to the transfer of its declaration to the I.C.J.

    (2) Yes. When no grounds exist to exclude the application of a state, the application of such a state to the International Court of Justice is admissible. The five grounds upon which the United States (D) challenged the admissibility of Nicaragua’s (P) application were that the plaintiff failed because there is no “indispensable parties” rule when it could not bring forth necessary parties, Nicaragua’s (P) request of the Court to consider the possibility of a threat to peace which is the exclusive province of the Security Council, failed due to the fact that I.C.J. can exercise jurisdiction  which is concurrent with that of the Security Council, that the I.C.J. is unable to deal with situations involving ongoing armed conflict and that there is nothing compelling the I.C.J. to decline to consider one aspect of a dispute just because the dispute has other aspects due to the fact that the case is incompatible with the Contadora process to which Nicaragua (P) is a party.

    Discussion. Although the questions of jurisdiction and admissibility are primarily based on the principle that the I.C.J. has only as much power as that agreed to by the parties, these can be quite complicated. The 1946 declaration of the United States and the 1929 declaration of Nicaragua was the main focus of the case on declaration and each of these declarations pointed out the respective parties’ intent as it related to the I.C.J’s jurisdiction.


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