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Preserving Tradition that is Necessary to Exercising Essential Rights: Some Reflections on the ICJ Decision on Navigational Rights on the San Juan River

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Abstract In 2009 the ICJ delivered a decision on the interpretation of the 1858 Treaty of Limits between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. While the main issue concerned commercial navigation on the San Juan River, a small part of the Court’s decision dealt with private navigational rights that benefit the few riparian inhabitants of the Costa Rican bank. On the basis of humanitarian concerns, the Court decided that the treaty implicitly guarantees also private navigational rights, originating in a tradition predating the Treaty of Limits, and necessary nowadays to access schools and medical practices. The article takes the Court’s interpretation as the starting point for a reflection on the importance of human rights law in the preservation of communal traditions that cannot rely on international rules protecting groups according to their identity.

Affiliations: 1: Edinburgh University UK


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