THE HAGUE – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on Monday in a 12-3 vote that Chile is not legally obliged to negotiate with Bolivia to give the landlocked nation “sovereign access” to the Pacific Ocean.
The ICJ ruled that the all documents, notes and declarations exchanged between the two countries over the last 116 years imply that Chile has been willing to negotiate but that does not mean that Santiago has a legal obligation to do so.
The ICJ justices also did not support the argument put forward by La Paz that the different contacts between the two parties had created “legitimate expectations” that such negotiations would continue or bear fruit, since they may only do so in arbitration between a private investor and a state but not in matters between two nation-states.
In addition, the high court added that the different resolutions by the Organization of American States compelling the two countries to negotiate do not constitute a legal basis for establishing the obligation to negotiate, thus rejecting another of Bolivia’s arguments.
However, the ICJ magistrates added in their general conclusions that the ruling handed down on Monday should not hinder the countries from re-entering negotiations “in the spirit of good neighborliness.”
That dialogue ideally should lead toward a bilateral resolution of “issues arising from the ‘land-lockedness’ of Bolivia, the solution of which, they have both recognized to be a matter of mutual interest.”
La Paz brought the case to the World Court in April 2013 after concluding that Santiago was unwilling to concede anything beyond an existing arrangement which gives Bolivia duty-free access to the northern Chilean port of Arica.
Bolivia lost 400 kilometers (250 miles) of coastline and 120,000 sq. kilometers (46,330 sq. miles) of territory to Chile as a consequence of the 1879-1880 War of the Pacific.
Chile has argued that 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between La Paz and Santiago settled the border issue.
Santiago tried to get the ICJ to throw out the suit in 2015, but the judges refused, insisting that the court did have jurisdiction in the case.