Chile to open fight against Bolivia over water dispute in top UN court

Chile files a lawsuit against Bolivia in the UN’s highest court on Friday over a river to which both countries claim rights, the latest installment of water-related disputes between their South American neighbors.

Chile wants the International Court of Justice to declare the Silala River, which flows from Bolivia an “international watercourse”, and give it equal rights to its waters.

Santiago claims that these water rights have been denied since 1999.

In 2016, it dragged La Paz before the Hague-based ICJ – created after World War II to govern disputes between countries.

In a legal game of ping-pong, Bolivia then counter-sued Chile, asking the ICJ to determine that it had “sovereignty… Chile pays compensation.

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales has also sought to use the river dispute as a bargaining chip in Bolivia’s larger struggle to gain access to the Pacific Ocean, which it lost to Chile in a 19th-century war.

But the ICJ in 2018 foundered Bolivia’s attempt to enter the sea, saying that Chile “had no case to answer” as it “was not legally obligated to negotiate such a move”.

At the time, Morales threatened to reduce the flow of Silala in Chile’s Atacama Desert and impose fees for its use.

Connections between neighbors remained frayed.

Chile and Bolivia have not had diplomatic relations since 1978, when Bolivia’s last attempt to negotiate a passage to the Pacific failed.

The new hearings, starting at 13:00 GMT on Friday at the ICJ headquarters at the Peace Palace in The Hague, are expected to continue into the next week.

A final judgment can take years.

Once rendered, ICJ judgments are binding and cannot be appealed.

International expert Gilberto Aranda said he believes there are “well-founded legal reasons” that make Chile’s argument “more solid.”

“Among other things, Bolivia has changed its argument over time, with Chile’s position being historically more coherent,” Aranda, an academic at the University of Chile, told AFP.

He highlighted that the current case, unlike the struggle for access to the Pacific Ocean, which had intense lobbying and media campaigns on both sides, was being fought less in the public eye.

“This is being done much more through the expected international legal channels,” Aranda said.

Chile in 2000 proposed formally negotiating the use of Silala’s waters and was willing to pay for it, but these discussions stopped when Bolivia raised the price.

(Source: AFP)

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