NicaNotes: World Court Israel Ruling and the 1986 Judgment against the US in the Nicaragua Case

By Nat Parry

[This article was first published in Consortium News on January 29, 2024.]

Nat Parry is the author of the forthcoming book Samuel Adams and the Vagabond Henry Tufts: Virtue Meets Vice in the Revolutionary Era. He is editor of American Dispatches: A Robert Parry Reader.

On Nov. 26, 1984, the Court of International Justice in The Hague considered the case of Nicaragua vs. the United States concerning military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua. (UN Photo)

Now that the International Court of Justice has ruled that South Africa’s claims of genocide against Israel are plausible and ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope” of the U.N. Convention on Genocide, the question is how Israel and its backers will respond.

Israel has one month to submit a report on the steps it is taking to comply with the court’s orders. Although the court has no enforcement mechanism, the orders are mandatory and substantially increase the international pressure on Israel and its supporters. ICJ judgments are final and without appeal.

If Israel does not comply, the issue may go to the U.N. Security Council where the United States will have to decide whether to exercise its veto. If that effort fails, it could then go to the General Assembly, where the U.S. has no veto, and the result could be an overwhelming — and deeply embarrassing — vote supporting the ICJ’s ruling.

Some allies of Israel have called for compliance with the ruling. “The International Court of Justice did not rule on the merits of the case but ordered provisional measures in interim proceedings,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said. “These are binding under international law. Israel must also comply with them.”

The United States, on the other hand, dismissed the notion that actions in the Gaza Strip constitute genocide. “We continue to believe that allegations of genocide are unfounded and note the court did not make a finding about genocide or call for a ceasefire in its ruling and that it called for the unconditional, immediate release of all hostages being held by Hamas,” a State Department spokesperson said.

So far, the reaction from Israel has been predictably bellicose, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying on Saturday that the allegations of genocide against Israel are “ridiculous” and demonstrate “that many in the world have not learned a thing from the Holocaust.” The main lesson of the Holocaust, he said, “is that only we will defend ourselves by ourselves. Nobody will do it for us.”

Looking to the Past

For an idea of how this might play out, it could be useful to look to the past, in particular a World Court case from 40 years ago.

In 1984, Nicaragua brought suit against the U.S. in the World Court in relation to U.S. policies of arming, training and financing the contra rebels who were fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, as well as mining the harbors of the small Central American nation.

The United States, in justifying its policies, claimed that it was acting in Nicaragua only in “collective self-defense,” a justification that the court rejected by a vote of 12-3 in its 1986 ruling.

The court further overwhelmingly ruled that the United States, “by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces … has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.”

It determined that the United States had been involved in the “unlawful use of force,” with violations including attacks on Nicaraguan facilities and naval vessels, the invasion of Nicaraguan air space and the training and arming of the contras.

The court also found that President Ronald Reagan had authorized the C.I.A. “to lay mines in Nicaraguan ports” and “that neither before the laying of the mines, nor subsequently, did the United States Government issue any public and official warning to international shipping of the existence and location of the mines; and that personal and material injury was caused by the explosion of the mines.”

The U.S. was ordered to cease its activities and pay reparations.

The response of the United States to this ruling was revealing. The U.S. essentially dismissed the ICJ judgment on the grounds that the United States must “reserve to ourselves the power to determine whether the Court has jurisdiction over us in a particular case” and what lies “essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the United States.”

In other words, the Reagan administration considered armed attacks against the sovereign state of Nicaragua within its “domestic jurisdiction.”

Undeterred, Nicaragua then brought the matter to the U.N. Security Council, where the Nicaraguan representative argued that recourse at the ICJ was one of the fundamental means of peaceful solution of disputes established by the U.N. Charter.

He further emphasized that it was essential for the Security Council and the international community to remind the United States of its obligation to abide by the court’s ruling and cease its war against Nicaragua.

The United States responded that the jurisdiction of the ICJ was a matter of consent and that the U.S. had not consented to the jurisdiction of the ICJ in this case. The ambassador asserted that U.S. policy towards Nicaragua would be determined solely by the national security interests of the United States, noting that Nicaragua maintained close security ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union.

On Oct. 28, 1986, the U.S. vetoed the resolution calling for full and immediate compliance with the ICJ’s judgment, with France, Thailand and the United Kingdom abstaining.

Following this decision, Nicaragua turned to the General Assembly, which passed a resolution 94-to-3 calling for compliance with the World Court ruling. Only two states, Israel and El Salvador, joined the U.S. in opposition.

A year later, on Nov. 12, 1987, the General Assembly again called for “full and immediate compliance” with the ICJ decision. This time only Israel joined the United States in opposing adherence to the ruling.

Needless to say, the United States never recognized its obligation to adhere to the ruling, continuing to assert that it did not consent to the ICJ’s jurisdiction.

The case led to a flurry of criticism from international law experts, with Noreen M. Tama writing in the Penn State International Law Review that “the International Court of Justice is the final authority on the issue of its own jurisdiction.”

She pointed out that “the Court was clearly seized of the requisite incidental jurisdiction necessary to indicate interim measures in the case of Nicaragua v. United States.”

Anthony D’Amato, writing in The American Journal of International Law, argued that “law would collapse if defendants could only be sued when they agreed to be sued, and the proper measurement of that collapse would be not just the drastically diminished number of cases but also the necessary restructuring of a vast system of legal transactions and relations predicated on the availability of courts as a last resort.”

This, he said, would be “a return to the law of the jungle.”

Whether the current case against Israel plays out similarly to the 1984 case is a major test for the international system, and specifically about which reigns: the law of the jungle or the “rules-based international order” that the U.S. frequently champions.


By Nan McCurdy

Nicaragua Urges Governments Supporting Israel to Stop the Genocide in Gaza
A fundamental part of the Sandinista ethos is to speak clearly and act accordingly. On February 2, the Nicaraguan government released a statement confirming that. The statement points to several countries that it says are co-responsible for the genocide in Gaza: the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. The Nicaraguan Government urged the governments of each of these countries “to immediately stop the supply of arms, ammunition, technology and/or components to Israel, since it is plausible that they have been [or will be] used to facilitate or commit violations of the Genocide Convention.” The statement then added: “Nicaragua has given written notice to these governments that it will adopt all measures it considers appropriate in accordance with international law, including recourse to the International Court of Justice, to guarantee respect for these fundamental international texts and customary international law.” See the English translation of the full statement here: (La Primerisima, 1 February 2024)

UN Approves Cooperation Program with Nicaragua
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), approved a new cooperation program with Nicaragua, for the period 2024-2028, for US$8.8 million. This program is focused on strengthening national capacities for the integral development of the population with emphasis on sexual and reproductive health. Jaime Hermida Castillo, permanent representative to the United Nations, said that this program has been built with the coordination of the government and UNFPA, and will reinforce the current public policies of the National Plan for the Fight against Poverty and for Human Development 2022-2026. He also reiterated the government’s commitment to a development model focused on poverty reduction, integral development, progress, and welfare of all Nicaraguans, with inclusion and without distinctions. The Regional Director of the UNFPA for Latin America and the Caribbean, Susana Sottoli, expressed her gratitude to the Nicaraguan Government for its commitment to continue strengthening its national capacities. (La Primerisima, 2 February 2024)

3,000 Families in Extreme Poverty Received New Housing in 2023
The Sandinista Government, through the Institute of Housing, handed over more than 3,300 new houses to an equal number of families living in extreme poverty in 2023.

Gabriela Palacios, co-director of INVUR stressed that the families have received the homes with great joy as they have drastically changed their lives. These are 42 square meter homes (452 sq. ft.), built using a prefabricated construction system with electricity and plumbing. Palacios said the municipalities help identify the neediest families who go through a legal, technical and social qualification process.

Palacios explained that the government has financing with the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) for US$171 million over several years for the housing program for extremely poor families. The families do not contribute any money; The homes are valued at about US$8,300. More than 135,000 Nicaraguan families have received homes in the 17 years from 2007 to date. (La Primerisima, 5 February 2024)

Labor Force Stability
On January 31 the Nicaragua Institute for Development Information published the Monthly Employment Survey Report for December 2023. The report stated that the unemployment rate was 3.9%, and the national net employment 96.1%. It also stated that the labor force participation rate nationwide stood at 67.5%, an increase of 0.3% over the same month in 2022. (Nicaragua News, 1 February 2024)

Improvements in Potable Water
The Nicaragua Water and Sewage Company inaugurated a project to improve and expand the potable water system in four Managua neighborhoods, benefiting 10,500 inhabitants. The US$382,513-dollar project was financed by the General Budget. (Nicaragua News, 1 February 2024)

Mayor’s Office Inaugurates Park in La URSS Neighborhood 
The Managua Mayor’s Office inaugurated the La URSS park in District Four of the capital, a recreational space that will benefit 8,500 inhabitants of that sector. Mayor Reyna Rueda said that the construction of the park includes toilets, artificial grass, a basketball court, lighting, perimeter fence, sidewalks and more. “We ask the families to take care of the park, because these are the taxes that with great confidence the people of Managua deposit in our mayor’s office and are spent on beautiful projects like these,” Rueda said. She added that in the district there are 32 parks, of which eight will be renovated this year.  See photos: (La Primerisima, 1 February 2024)

Nicaragua’s Hospital Network Continues to Expand
The presidential advisor on health issues, Dr. Sonia Castro, said that the country has built 25 new hospitals since 2007 when the Sandinistas regained the presidency. In 2024 there are plans to continue expanding the public health system with more than one hospital per year. More hospitals are being designed, among which Castro mentioned Masaya, Carazo, Nagarote and Jalapa. She added that the Aldo Chavarría Hospital is going to be rebuilt and that the design is already in place. Recently the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital in Boaco was rebuilt; the hospital in Rivas has a new emergency room; the Manolo Morales hospital in Managua has new operating rooms, air conditioning, and the emergency room is in the process of renovation. “President Daniel Ortega said that we should have a mammogram machine in every municipality of the country to improve early diagnosis of breast cancer. So that also means building specialized rooms so that radiation is not transmitted. The Prinzapolka hospital was remodeled last year for almost one million dollars; Río Coco, and Mulukukú are included in the 2024 public investment plan for major maintenance,” Castro said. (La Primerisima, 2 February 2024)

In Nicaragua Cancer No Longer a Death Sentence
In the framework of World Cancer Day this February 4, the Ministry of Health shared some of its achievements in the 16 years of the “Pueblo Presidente,” including a 34 percent reduction in cervical cancer mortality in the period from 2007 to 2023. In addition, 505,602 free radiation therapy sessions were carried out from 2007 to 2023. There are currently seven centers where chemotherapy sessions take place. Twenty-three pathology laboratories are equipped for the timely diagnosis of cancer; unlike in 2006, when there were only five laboratories. There are 105 specialized clinics nationwide for the early detection and treatment of cervical cancer; in 2006 there was only one. In 2023, the Ministry of Health reported 1,200,670 studies for the early detection of cervical cancer, which is six times more than in 2006, when only 181,491 studies were performed. Likewise, 87,149 mammograms were performed in 2023 to identify breast cancer in a timely manner; in 2006 only 50 mammograms were performed in public hospitals.

Moreover, 216,580 children with cancer were treated from 2007 to 2023. At this moment, 328 children are being treated. MINSA reports 67,230 prostate ultrasounds for cancer screening performed in 2023 and 20,348 endoscopies to detect stomach and colon cancer. Also, in 2023 there were 3,146 sessions of radioactive iodine therapy for the treatment of thyroid cancer. In 2006, this type of care was not performed in the country.

The Sandinista government has acquired two linear accelerators, two magnetic resonators, one gamma camera and eight tomography scanners. There are also 43 mammography units; in 2006 there was only one. There are now thirty endoscopy towers for the diagnosis of stomach and colon cancer; 300 cryotherapy machines for the diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer in women. There are 400 ultrasound machines for diagnosis of prostate and breast cancer; in 2006 there were fewer than 50.
(La Primerisima, 4 February 2024)

More Clean Energy for Nicaragua
The Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) held a technical information conference for the international tender for the drilling of three commercial diameter wells with a depth of 2,500 meters for the Cosigüina Volcano Geothermal Development Project in El Viejo municipality, in Chinandega Department. MEM Vice minister Estela Martínez stated that the US$46 million-dollar project financed by the General Budget with support from the IDB has support for environmental impact studies, improvement of access roads, geoscientific studies of the subsoil and the development of plans for the use of geothermal sources located in three municipalities near the volcano. For her part, IDB Representative in Nicaragua Shirley Cañete noted that “in Nicaragua, the transformation of the energy grid constitutes a strategic pillar of the 2022-2026 national plan to fight poverty, which is central to the development of the country. Today we are at 75% and with the implementation of projects like this one we hope to have the cleanest energy grid in Latin America and the region.” (Nicaragua News, 6 February 2024)

Father Miguel D’Escoto Remembered
The House of Sovereignty of the UNAN-Managua held a conference on the occasion of the 91st anniversary of the birth of Father Miguel D’ Escoto where the ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Javier Arrué de Pablo, was one of the speakers.

At the commemoration, the continuing work carried out by the House of Sovereignty, inspired by the action and thought of the Heroes and Martyrs and in particular the example of Father Miguel, was highlighted. Speakers related his biography and humanist work from his position as Nicaragua’s foreign minister during the 1980s. His struggles for the welfare of the great majorities and the care of Mother Earth were also emphasized. Father Miguel D’Escoto was a diplomat and served as President of the United Nations General Assembly from September 2008 to September 2009. He was also a politician, a Maryknoll priest, a community leader, and a strong advocate of multilateralism and respect for international law.

As President of the UN General Assembly, D’Escoto criticized the veto power wielded by the permanent members of the UN Security Council. He said “I hope my presidency will address what has become a universal clamor all over the world for the democratization of the United Nations. I promise to give full support to the working group on the revitalization of the General Assembly.”  His actions and thoughts continue to be present in the defense of peace, security, self-determination and the restauration of rights promoted by the Nicaraguan government. (La Primerisima, 6 February 2024)