Nicaragua v. United States Case Summary

Nicaragua V United States [1986]

Full Case Name: Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (The Republic of Nicaragua V. The United States of America)

Parties: Nicaragua, United States of America

Court: The International Court of Justice

Citation: 1986 I.C.J. 14

Facts of Nicaragua Vs USA

In 1984 a dispute arose between Nicaragua and the USA on the ground of US responsibility for military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua. In the same year on 9 April  Nicaragua initiated an application instituting proceedings against the USA, together with a request for the indication of provisional measures. One of these measures needed the USA immediately to cease and refrain from any action restricting access to Nicaraguan ports, and the laying of mines. The Court also recommended that the ‘right to sovereignty’ and ‘right to political independence’ possessed by Nicaragua must be fully appreciated and must not be prejudiced by activities contrary to the principle prohibiting the threat or use of force and to the principle of non-intervention in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of a State. The USA supported the Contras in their rebellion against the Sandinistas and by mining Nicaragua’s harbours. Contras was a rebel group established for the aim of suppressing the Sandinista (FSLN) Movement and continuing with the dictatorship rule.

Issues of the Case

1. Whether the International Court of Justice has jurisdiction to entertain the dispute if both the country accept the court’s jurisdiction?

2. Whether the USA had infringed the customary International Law?

3. Whether Nicaragua is entitled to any compensation?

Rule of Law

Article 2 Para 4 of the UN Charter, 1945

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

Article 18 of the Charter on the Organization of the American States

The American States bind themselves in their international relations not to have recourse to the use of force, except in the case of self-defence in accordance with existing treaties or in fulfilment thereof.

Article 20 of the Charter on the Organization of the American States

All international disputes that may arise between the American States shall be submitted to the peaceful procedures set forth in this Charter, before being referred to the Security Council of the United Nations.

Article 8 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, 1933

No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.

Analysis of Nicaragua Vs USA

(1) It is not permitted in customary international law that a state will use the right of collective self-defense until it is invoked. It is expected that the state for whose profit this right is used will have mentioned itself to be a victim of an armed attack and as it was their internal factor, the USA had no jurisdiction to exercise their power in the internal matter of Nicaragua. Under Art. 387 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, the court is empowered to apply custom where there is proof of the general practice of that custom. The general practice of the custom is accepted by law. From the facts of the case it is visible that there is a custom regarding the non-use of force and non-intervention. As it is a practiced custom it is granted by law. So, the court can entertain and has jurisdiction to resolve the issues. The questions of jurisdiction and admissibility are mainly based on the rule that the ICJ has only as much power as that agreed to by the parties, these can be quite confusing. The 1946 declaration of the United States and the 1929 declaration of Nicaragua were the prime focus of the case on declaration and each of these declarations pointed out the respective parties’ intent as it connected to the ICJ’s jurisdiction.

(2) The ICJ  has endorsed verbal acts of states as evidence of state practice in its reference to the UN Resolution in determining the rules of customary international law on the use of force in the Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua, 1986. International law requires states not to do certain acts and when states refrain from those acts, their inaction can be a state practice. This seems to imply that state practice includes both what states say and what they do, particularly when their words and actions are in synergy. The ICJ stretched the limits of the law prohibiting the use of force in international relations to include indirect or covert use of force established by circumstances beyond doubt. Thus, the USA has breached international law by violating the obligations imposed by customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State, not to use force against another State, not to infringe the sovereignty of another State, and not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce.

(3) Breaches from obligations owed to the country of Nicaragua occurred with the United States that caused an issuance of reparations in monetary value through international law. Nicaragua has suffered severe injury due to the USA’s armed operations, mining, military and paramilitary activities. Nicaragua has revived a claim against the United States for compensation in amounts of $17 billion for reparations in 2017. The ICJ has declared that the country is under an obligation to ensure reparations are made to the Republic of Nicaragua due to injury caused.


The court upheld that it had jurisdiction to entertain the application filed by Nicaragua. Further said that there is no justification on the part of the USA to use collective self-defense connected with the military and para-military activities in and against Nicaragua. Nicaragua is entitled to compensation.

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Malik Fariha Mehnaz

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