20 April 2010 – Court ruling on pulp mills dispute

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The International Court of Justice in The Hague has issued a split ruling on the dispute brewing for several years between Uruguay and Argentina over the building of two pulp mills. According to the Court, Uruguay violated a bilateral agreement in force since 1975 which stipulates that each of the two countries must consult with the other on issues that will have an impact on the Uruguay River, which forms part of the border between Uruguay and Argentina. However, there has been no contamination of the river, as claimed by Argentina, and Uruguay duly fulfilled its environmental obligations. As a result, the pulp mills may continue their operations and Uruguay will not be required to pay any of the compensation demanded by Argentina.

The International Court of Justice did not pass judgment on the border closures resulting from roadblocks set up by Argentine activists. Uruguay’s request for the issue to be addressed by the Court was turned down.

The ruling essentially found both countries in the right to some extent, and politicians on both sides of the border expressed their conformity with the Court’s decision. But there still appears to be no possibility of a solution to the conflict, especially with regard to the bridge closures.

“The struggle will continue!” declared the Argentine environmental activists after hearing the ruling. They labelled Uruguay and the company UPM as “environmental terrorists” and pledged to maintain their roadblocks on the bridges connecting the two countries as long as the pulp mill remains in operation, despite the court’s decision. Activists in the Argentine border city of Gualeguaychú in particular had hoped for a much harsher ruling and believed that the mill would be ordered to shut down.