May 7, 2009
Professor Steve McCaffrey, one of the world’s foremost authorities on water law, represented Nicaragua this spring in a case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.
McCaffrey was part of a Nicaraguan legal team that opposed Costa Rica in a dispute over control of the San Juan River, which forms a large section of the border between the two Central American countries. The case was heard from March 2-12, 2009, at the Peace Palace, seat of the court.
The dispute goes back to a treaty signed in 1858 between the two small countries, which granted sovereignty over the waters of the river to Nicaragua, recognizing at the same time certain rights for Costa Rica. An 1888 arbitral award later confirmed those rights. Nicaragua argues that it should regulate the navigation of Costa Rican tourist boats within the border waters.
Nicaraguan authorities prohibited Costa Rican police from conducting patrols along the river in 1998. After fruitless negotiation, Costa Rica filed an application instituting ICJ proceedings against its neighbor.
McCaffrey, the former International Law Commission chairman who drafted a major UN treaty on non-navigational uses of international watercourses, was retained by Nicaragua in 2005. He traveled to Managua to help prepare a counter-memorial and worked on the case for more than three years.
McCaffrey has been involved in numerous international water projects. As a consultant to the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework, he has worked with 10 African countries for nearly a decade to form an agreement on the usage of the world’s longest river. In 2007, he was awarded The White Dual Cross Order for his service to Slovakia in an ICJ dispute with Hungry over a Danube River dam project.