THE HAGUE – Today, in the hotly-contested Silala River case, representatives of the Bolivian government presented their written pleadings to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Ever since Chile went to court in 2016 over the use of the waters of the Silala River, the two countries have been in a paper war, filing claims and counterclaims. Chile can still present a final written pleading after the Bolivian pleading is reviewed.
Today was the deadline for the Bolivian government to deliver its pleading to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague regarding the use of the Silala River, after Chile presented its own earlier this year.
The Silala River originates in Bolivia and flows through Chile before ending in the Pacific Ocean. Just like numerous rivers around the world, it is one shared by different countries. But the points of view from Chile and Bolivia differ in a way that is crucial in the claims filed against each other.
According to Chile, the Silala river naturally flows towards Chile; according to Bolivia, the river has been artificially diverted to Chile. And this difference is crucial.
Chile argues the Silala River is an international river. Therefore, Chile has the right to use its waters according to international law. This would mean that Bolivia has the obligation to cooperate with Chile on any planned measures regarding the river.
But Bolivia stresses that it has the exclusive right to the Silala River, as it has only artificially been diverted to Chile. Therefore, Chile must pay for the rights to use the river.
The underlying reason Bolivia, and especially President Evo Morales, are championing this argument is because they want sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean, something they failed to achieve at the end of 2018 through a different ICJ dispute with Chile.
Now that Bolivia has delivered its pleading, Chile can present its final pleading in this second stage of the international lawsuit. The next phase in the process will be the oral phase, consisting of public hearings in which agents and counsel address the ICJ.
Chile’s Foreign Minister Roberto Ampuero said that “Chilean representatives will meet next May 23 and 24 in Geneva with international lawyers to study in depth the document submitted by Bolivia to see what steps will be taken by Chile.”
He added that “denying that the Silala River is an international river with a natural flow, is denying the law of gravity.”
A History In Lawsuits
The Silala River case started in 2016. Chile went to the ICJ to establish that the Silala River is an international river due to its natural flow.
A year later, the country presented its evidence, and then Bolivia responded with its own pleading in September 2018.
Earlier this year, Chile filed a further pleading in response with scientific documents showing the position of Chile. “It is an irrefutable position based on international law and scientific evidence,” said Ampuero then.
Bolivia has responded today right on time. The next step is for Chile to decide whether to wait for the third stage of the process (the oral phase) or to present a final writing.
The battle for Bolivian sea access is far from over.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and made appearances on BBC World Services and ABC News during major events in Chile.