Much as was anticipated, Uruguay and Argentina celebrated as favourable the ruling of the International court of Justice regarding a long standing pulp mills dispute, while environmentalists were totally disappointed and promised to continue and intensify their protests and pickets.
The Tuesday ruling in The Hague from the International Court of Justice pointed out that Uruguay failed in complying with all procedural steps of consulting with neighbouring Argentina, as established in a 1975 shared waters management agreement, on allowing the establishment of a pulp mill on its side of a border river.
However Uruguay did not violate the substantial obligations of the agreement since it had effectively complied with all previous procedures and repeatedly invited Argentina to jointly monitor the environmental impact of the pulp mill, another of Argentina’s complaints that finally took the case to The Hague in 2006.
The ruling also calls on both sides to work jointly in the framework of CARU the Management Committee of the River Uruguay, which was not informed on time and content of Uruguay’s decision to authorize the construction of the pulp mill based on the domestic approval of an environment impact assessment.
“The role of CARU is essential to the shared waters statute and can’t be limited to a simple facultative mechanism to be disposed as best suits either side. CARU is responsible for everything related to the river’s water management”.
As to Argentina’s claim that Uruguay did not assess other possible locations for the pulp mill the Court ruled that Uruguay repeatedly pointed out that it had effectively considered re-location, which is supported by a study from the International Financial Corporation.
Therefore the Court was not convinced with Argentina’s arguments that there was no attempt to consider re-location, nor was it convinced with Argentina’s claims that there was “a direct link between climate change and the construction of the pulp mill”.
Further more there is not visual or sound contamination because of the pulp mill and there are no proven links between occasional “bad smells” and the pulp mill.
However the Court calls for a “rational and optimal” utilization of the River Uruguay through shared means so as to ensure “sustained development that guarantees the protection of the river and the economic rights of both neighbouring countries.
But the Court also points out that Uruguay has undertaken the necessary measures contemplated in the agreement regarding the quality of water and environmental residues. Argentina on the other hand has not shown evidence that the pulp mill to avoid water contamination is using state of the art technology.
In conclusion, Uruguay breached procedural mechanisms, there will be no re-location of the pulp mill and Argentina has not proven environmental, visual or sound contamination.
“The non compliance of Uruguay is what brought us to The Hague, and this has been proven. We are satisfied. Uruguay in the future will not be able to allow the construction of any other pulp mill along the River Uruguay with out consulting us”, said Susana Ruiz Cerruti legal advisor to the Argentine delegation.
Uruguay’s reaction was more sober with an only spokesperson Foreign Affairs minister Luis Almagro: “tomorrow we will retake bilateral talks with Argentina to fix a date for the presidential meeting of Cristina Kirchner and Jose Mujica”.
Meanwhile pickets in Gualeguaychú, across from the Uruguayan pulp mill at the heart of the decision were disappointed and frustrated with the ruling and have scheduled an open assembly in the coming days to prepare “a plan of action”.
“We had some remote expectations, but that’s over. Now we must prepare to defend our rights, our environment and our tourism industry more vigorously than before”, promised Joe Pouler one the picket leaders.
“Our commitment with March for Life is now stronger than ever”, he added.
The Court ruling established by 13 votes to 1 that Uruguay has breached its procedural obligations under Articles 7 to 12 of the 1975 Statute of the River Uruguay (during the development of plans for the ENCE and Orion (Botnia) pulp mills) and that the declaration by the Court of this breach constitutes appropriate satisfaction;
IN FAVOUR: Vice-President Tomka, Acting President; Judges Koroma, Al-Khasawneh, Simma, Abraham, Keith, Sepúlveda-Amor, Bennouna, Skotnikov, Cançado Trindade, Yusuf, Greenwood; Judge ad hoc Vinuesa;
AGAINST: Judge ad hoc Torres Bernárdez;
By 7 votes to 3, Finds that Uruguay has not breached its substantive obligations (for the protection of the environment) under Articles 35, 36 and 41 of the 1975 Statute of the River Uruguay by authorizing the construction and commissioning of the Orion (Botnia) plant;
IN FAVOUR: Vice-President Tomka, Acting President; Judges Koroma, Abraham, Keith, Sepúlveda-Amor, Bennouna, Skotnikov, Cançado Trindade, Yusuf, Greenwood; Judge ad hoc Torres Bernárdez;
AGAINST: Judges Al-Khasawneh, Simma; Judge ad hoc Vinuesa;
Finally and unanimously, rejects all other submissions by the Parties.