World Court may hear Bolivia case on ocean access

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled (PDF) 14-2 Sept. 24 that it has jurisdiction to hear the case between Bolivia and Chile regarding land-locked Bolivia's access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia argued to the ICJ that Chile failed in its obligation to negotiate in good faith to grant Bolivia "fully sovereign access" to the Pacific, but Chile filed a preliminary objection that the ICJ had no authority to judge the dispute. The court reached its decision by relying on the Pact of Bogotá, in which Bolivia and Chile both agreed that the ICJ will have jurisdiction over matters regarding breach of an international obligation between American states. The court disagreed with Chile's argument that the dispute was one of territorial sovereignty and held that the subject matter of the dispute was a question of Chile's obligation to negotiate in good faith regarding access to the Pacific, granting the court the possibility of jurisdiction. Since the issue was not already decided by prior arrangement by the parties or by treaty in force at the time of the Pact of Bogotá, the ICJ ruled that it ultimately can hear the case.

The dispute between Bolivia and Chile regarding the coast has been ongoing since the 1970s. Bolivian President Evo Morales filed the current case with the ICJ in April 2014, arguing it should have access to a 240-mile area in Chile that would connect Bolivia to the Pacific.

From Jurist, Sept. 25. Used with permission.

Note: In addition to the ongoing conflict over sea access, Bolivia is also pressing claims against Chile over control of water. Tensions between the two countries have resulted in border incidents in recent years, some verging on armed conflict. Bolivia is also backing Peru in its maritime dispute with Chile.