ICJ determines first ever compensation claim for environmental harm

On 2 February 2018, the International Court of Justice (the “ICJ” or the “Court”) delivered judgment in the case concerning Certain Activities Carried Out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v Nicaragua), determining the amount of compensation due to Costa Rica for environmental harm caused by Nicaragua’s activities in the northern part of Isla Portillos. This judgment, along with the related judgment delivered the same day in the joined cases concerning Maritime Delimitation in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean and Land Boundary in the Northern Part of Isla Portillos (Costa Rica v Nicaragua) aims to bring to a conclusion the boundary dispute between the two neighbouring states stretching back to the 1850s.

The judgment is particularly noteworthy as it is the first time the Court has determined a damages claim for environmental harm. While the award fell short of the amount claimed by Costa Rica, both states have hailed the judgment as an important step in the normalisation of the relations between the two states.

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International Criminal Court to prioritise prosecution of crimes involving destruction of the environment, illegal exploitation of natural resources and land-grabbing


The International Criminal Court ("ICC") intends to prioritise the prosecution of cases involving the destruction of the environment, illegal exploitation of resources and land-grabbing, according to a new Policy Paper on Case Selection and Prioritisation published by the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor ("OTP") in September.  A number of NGOs declared the announcement to be a "warning shot" to company executives and investors that they might be tried for their role in these crimes.

The Policy Paper follows a recent trend of calls for international tribunals – including the ICC – to investigate corporate involvement in land-grabbing and environmental destruction committed during peacetime. At the present time, the risk of a company or its executives being prosecuted at the ICC for these crimes seems remote; there are serious practical and jurisdictional hurdles to any prosecution actually taking place.  Nonetheless, the reputational risks for a company of being associated with an investigation into any of the crimes that fall within the ICC's jurisdiction – genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – could be devastating.

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