The Republic of Nicaragua v The United States of America 1986

The Republic of Nicaragua v The United States of America 1986


There is no customary rule in International Law permitting a State to exercise the right of collective self-defense in another country on the basis of its own assessment of the sanitation


In July 1979 the Government of President Somoza collapsed following an armed opposition led by the Frente Sandinista de Liberacibn Nacional (FSLN) .  The new government began to meet armed opposition from supporters of the former Somoza Government and ex-members of the National Guard. The US – initially supportive of the new government.  In April 1981 it terminated United States aid to Nicaragua and in September 1981, according to Nicaragua, the United States “decided to plan and undertake activities directed against Nicaragua”.

The armed opposition to the new Government was conducted mainly by (1)  Fuerza Democratica Nicaragüense (FDN), and (2)Alianza Revolucionaria Democratica (ARDE). Initial US support to these groups fighting against the Nicaraguan Government was covert. Later, the United States officially acknowledged its support.

Nicaragua also alleged that some attacks were carried out by United States military – with the aim to overthrow the Government of Nicaragua. Attacks against Nicaragua included the mining of Nicaraguan ports and attacks on ports, oil installations and a naval base. Nicaragua alleged that aircrafts belonging to the United States flew over Nicaraguan territory to gather intelligence, supply to the contras in the field and to intimidate the population.

The United States did not appear before the ICJ at the merit stages, after refusing to accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction to decide the case. The United States at the jurisdictional phase of the hearing, however, stated that it relied on an inherent right of collective self-defence guaranteed in A. 51 of the UN Charter.


The main issues of the case were as follows:

  1. Whether the International Court of Justice had the jurisdiction to entertain such dispute.

Whether there is any rule in customary International Law permitting another State to exercise the right to collective self-defense on the basis of its own assessment of the situation;

  1. Where U.S.A had infringed the customary International Law regarding the use of force and intervention

Whether Nicaragua is entitled to any compensation.


In this case the U.S.A did not appear and on May 10,1984 in its interim measure the court held that U.S.A should immediately cease and refrain from any action restricting, blocking, or endangering access to or from Nicaragua ports and in Particular the laying of mines. The court further held that it had jurisdiction to entertain the application filed by Nicaragua. He court further said that there is no justification on the part of U.S.A to apply collective self-defense in connection with the military and Para- military activities in and against neither Nicaragua nor heirs any such international customary rule to do that. Therefore, Nicaragua is entitled to get compensation. But the court did not fix the amount of compensation.


In the decision the court considered the following reasons: According to the Art. 387 of the Statue of the International Court of Justice, the court is entitled to apply custom,‖ where there is an evidence of general practice of practice of that custom.‖ The general practice of the custom is accepted by law. Form th e fact of the case it appears that there is a custom regarding the non-use of force and non-intervention. As it is a generally practiced custom it is accepted by law. So the court has full power and jurisdiction to entertain the issues. There is no rule in customary International law permitting another state to use the right of collective self-defense until it is invoked. It is expected that the state for whose benefit this right is used will have declared itself to be victim of an armed attack and as it was there won internal factor, the U.S.A had no jurisdiction to exercise their power in the internal matter of Nicaragua. By laying mines in the internal or territorial waters or Nicaragua, U.S.A was in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another state, not to interrupt in maritime commerce.

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Rayhanul Islam

Advocate Rayhanul Islam is the founder and Editor in Chief of Law Help BD. He is also a researcher. Critical thinking is his main focus. He is on a quest to bring positive change to the legal sector of Bangladesh. He promotes legal knowledge and human rights concept to the root level. e-mail: [email protected]

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