World Court says Bolivia-Chile dispute over river is settled

The Hague, Dec 1 (EFE).- The International Court of Justice (ICJ) said Thursday that the positions of the parties in the dispute between Chile and Bolivia over rights to the waters of a shared river have evolved to the point that there is no longer a legal issue to resolve.

By a vote of 15-1, the judges concluded in regard to each of the points raised by Santiago in its suit “that the claim made by the Republic of Chile in its final submission (a) no longer has any object and that, therefore, the Court is not called upon to give a decision thereon.”

Santiago filed suit with the ICJ in May 2016 asking that the Silala River be declared a international watercourse and that Chile be authorized to use its waters.

The brief also argued that Bolivia should be instructed to “cooperate with Chile” and to inform Santiago of any actions that could have an impact on water resources or the environment.

Bolivia countersued, maintaining that Silala waters came from underground springs in the Bolivian region of Potosi and had been artificially diverted to northern Chile via canals constructed in the 1920s by an Anglo-Chilean rail company operating in Potosi.

Over the course of the litigation, however, Bolivia came to accept that the Silala is an international watercourse, though La Paz continued to urge the ICJ to provide clarification on the rules governing use of an international watercourse for purposes other than navigation.

Water from the Silala has been crucial to the development of northern Chile’s Antofagasta region, which is home to rich deposits of copper.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric hailed the ICJ finding as solid, grounded and “categorical.”

“We have obtained the juridical certainty we sought and the issues in dispute have been resolved definitively,” he said during a news conference at the presidential palace where he was joined by members of his administration and lawmakers from across the political spectrum.

Bolivia recognizes that Chile’s use of Silala River waters “conforms to the equitable and reasonable use established by international law,” Boric said.

Aside from the period 1975-1978, the two countries have not had diplomatic relations since 1964, mainly due to tensions dating from the 1879-1884 War of the Pacific, which left Bolivia landlocked.

Chilean troops seized a portion of the Bolivian coastline and Santiago acquired the rest in the treaty that ended the conflict.

Bolivia sued Chile before the ICJ for ocean access, but the World Court ruled in 2018 that Santiago was under no obligation to negotiate with La Paz on the question of the lost coastline.

Even so, the atmosphere between Chile and Bolivia has improved in recent years and both governments have expressed interest in restoring diplomatic ties.

“We will push the continuity of the agenda of rapprochement with Bolivia. It is our intention to deepen and improve relations because it is a relevant neighbor for us,” Boric said Thursday.

Bolivia’s foreign minister, Rogelio Mayta, pointed out that the ICJ judgment referred to a Bolivian-commissioned study that confirmed the Silala’s status as an international watercourse, obviating the need for the court to rule on the matter.

He also noted that the judges unanimously rejected Chile’s claims of Bolivian failures to comply with its obligations under international law.

The ICJ, according to Mayta, likewise recognized Bolivia’s right to dismantle the canals built on its territory if deemed necessary for the preservation of wetlands.

Among the “many lessons” that should be drawn from the judgment, he said, is that “before going to courts, neighboring countries should probably talk more.” EFE ir-mmm-gb/dr

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