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World Court Digest

I. Substantive International Law - First Part
2.5. Unilateral Acts

¤ Military and Paramilitary Activities
(Nicaragua/United States of America)
Merits. J. 27.6.1986
I.C.J. Reports 1986, p. 14

[pp. 132-133] Moreover, the Junta made it plain in one of these documents that its invitation to the Organization of American States to supervise Nicaragua's political life should not be allowed to obscure the fact that it was the Nicaraguans themselves who were to decide upon and conduct the country's domestic policy. The resolution of 23 June 1979 also declares that the solution of their problems is a matter "exclusively" for the Nicaraguan people, while stating that that solution was to be based (in Spanish, debería inspirarse) on certain foundations which were put forward merely as recommendations to the future government. This part of the resolution is a mere statement which does not comprise any formal offer which if accepted would constitute a promise in law, and hence a legal obligation. Nor can the Court take the view that Nicaragua actually undertook a commitment to organize free elections, and that this commitment was of a legal nature. The Nicaraguan Junta of National Reconstruction planned the holding of free elections as part of its political programme of government, following the recommendation of the XVIIth Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of American States. This was an essentially political pledge, made not only to the Organization, but also to the people of Nicaragua, intended to be its first beneficiaries. But the Court cannot find an instrument with legal force, whether unilateral or synallagmatic, whereby Nicaragua has committed itself in respect of the principle or methods of holding elections. The Organization of American States Charter has already been mentioned, with its respect for the political independence of the member States; in the field of domestic policy, it goes no further than to list the social standards to the application of which the Members "agree to dedicate every effort", including:
"The incorporation and increasing participation of the marginal sectors of the population, in both rural and urban areas, in the economic, social, civic, cultural, and political life of the nation, in order to achieve the full integration of the national community, acceleration of the process of social mobility, and the consolidation of the democratic system." (Art. 43 (f).)

It is evident that provisions of this kind are far from being a commitment as to the use of particular political mechanisms.

Moreover, even supposing that such a political pledge had had the force of a legal commitment, it could not have justified the United States insisting on the fulfilment of a commitment made not directly towards the United States, but towards the Organization, the latter being alone empowered to monitor its implementation. The Court can see no legal basis for the "special responsibility regarding the implementation of the commitments made" by the Nicaraguan Government which the United States considers itself to have assumed in view of "its role in the installation of the current Government of Nicaragua" (see paragraph 170 above). Moreover, even supposing that the United States were entitled to act in lieu of the Organization, it could hardly make use for the purpose of methods which the Organization could not use itself; in particular, it could not be authorized to use force in that event. Of its nature, a commitment like this is one of a category which, if violated, cannot justify the use of force against a sovereign State.