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World Court Digest

I. Substantive International Law - First Part
8.1. General Questions

¤ Gabcíkovo-Nagymaros Project
(Hungary / Slovakia)
Judgment of 25 September 1997
I.C.J. Reports 1997, p. 7

[pp. 38-39] 47. Nor does the Court need to dwell upon the question of the relationship between the law of treaties and the law of State responsibility, to which the Parties devoted lengthy arguments, as those two branches of international law obviously have a scope that is distinct. A determination of whether a convention is or is not in force, and whether it has or has not been properly suspended or denounced, is to be made pursuant to the law of treaties. On the other hand, an evaluation of the extent to which the suspension or denunciation of a convention, seen as incompatible with the law of treaties, involves the responsibility of the State which proceeded to it, is to be made under the law of State responsibility.

Thus the Vienna Convention of 1969 on the Law of Treaties confines itself to defining - in a limitative manner - the conditions in which a treaty may lawfully be denounced or suspended; while the effects of a denunciation or suspension seen as not meeting those conditions are, on the contrary, expressly excluded from the scope of the Convention by operation of Article 73. It is moreover well established that, when a State has committed an internationally wrongful act, its international responsibility is likely to be involved whatever the nature of the obligation it has failed to respect (cf. Interpretation of Peace Treaties with Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, Second Phase, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1950, p. 228; and see Article 17 of the Draft Articles on State Responsibility provisionally adopted by the International Law Commission on first reading, Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1980, Vol. II, Part 2, p. 32).

[p. 54] 78. Moreover, in practice, the operation of Variant C led Czechoslovakia to appropriate, essentially for its use and benefit, between 80 and 90 per cent of the waters of the Danube before returning them to the main bed of the river, despite the fact that the Danube is not only a shared international watercourse but also an international boundary river.

Czechoslovakia submitted that Variant C was essentially no more than what Hungary had already agreed to and that the only modifications made were those which had become necessary by virtue of Hungary's decision not to implement its treaty obligations. It is true that Hungary, in concluding the l977 Treaty, had agreed to the damming of the Danube and the diversion of its waters into the bypass canal. But it was only in the context of a joint operation and a sharing of its benefits that Hungary had given its consent. The suspension and withdrawal of that consent constituted a violation of Hungary's legal obligations, demonstrating, as it did, the refusal by Hungary of joint operation; but that cannot mean that Hungary forfeited its basic right to an equitable and-reasonable sharing of the resources of an international watercourse.

The Court accordingly concludes that Czechoslovakia, in putting Variant C into operation, was not applying the 1977 Treaty but, on the contrary, violated certain of its express provisions, and, in so doing, committed an internationally wrongful act.

79. The Court notes that between November 1991 and October 1992, Czechoslovakia confined itself to the execution, on its own territory, of the works which were necessary for the implementation of Variant C, but which could have been abandoned if an agreement had been reached between the parties and did not therefore predetermine the final decision to be taken. For as long as the Danube had not been unilaterally dammed, Variant C had not in fact been applied.

Such a situation is not unusual in international law or, for that matter, in domestic law. A wrongful act or offence is frequently preceded by preparatory actions which are not to be confused with the act or offence itself. It is as well to distinguish between the actual commission of a wrongful act (whether instantaneous or continuous) and the conduct prior to that act which is of a preparatory character and which "does not qualify as a wrongful act" (see for example the Commentary on Article 4l of the Draft Articles on State Responsibility, "Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its forty-eighth session, 6 May-26 July l996", Official Records of the General Assembly, Fifyflrst Session, Supplement No. 10 (A/Sl/l0), p. l4l and Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1993, Vol. II, Part 2, p. 57, para. l4).

[pp. 80-81] 149. The Permanent Court of International Justice stated in its Judgment of l3 September l928 in the case concerning the Factory at Chorzów:

"reparation must, as far as possible, wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and reestablish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act had not been committed" (P.C.I.J. , Series A, No. 17, p. 47).

l50. Reparation must, "as far as possible", wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act. In this case, the consequences of the wrongful acts of both Parties will be wiped out "as far as possible" if they resume their co-operation in the utilization of the shared water resources of the Danube, and if the multi-purpose programme, in the form of a co-ordinated single unit, for the use, development and protection of the watercourse is implemented in an equitable and reasonable manner. What it is possible for the Parties to do is to re-establish co-operative administration of what remains of the Project. To that end, it is open to them to agree to maintain the works at Cunovo, with changes in the mode of operation in respect of the allocation of water and electricity, and not to build works at Nagymaros.

151. The Court has been asked by both Parties to determine the consequences of the Judgment as they bear upon payment of damages. According to the Preamble to the Special Agreement, the Parties agreed that Slovakia is the sole successor State of Czechoslóvakia in respect of rights and obligations relating to the Gabcíkovo-Nagymaros Project. Slovakia thus may be liable to pay compensation not only for its own wrongful conduct but also for that of Czechoslovakia, and it is entitled to be compensated for the damage sustained by Czechoslovakia as well as by itself as a result of the wrongful conduct of Hungary.

l52. The Court has not been asked at this stage to determine the quantum of damages due, but to indicate on what basis they should be paid. Both Parties claimed to have suffered considerable financial losses and both daim pecuniary compensation for them.

It is a well-established rule of international law that an injured State is entitled to obtain compensation from the State which has committed an internationally wrongful act for the damage caused by it. In the present Judgment, the Court has concluded that both Parties committed internationally wrongful acts, and it has noted that those acts gave rise to the damage sustained by the Parties; consequently, Hungary and Slovakia are both under an obligation to pay compensation and are both entitled to obtain compensation.

Slovakia is accordingly entitled to compensation for the damage suffered by Czechoslovakia as well as by itself as a result of Hungary's decision to suspend and subsequently abandon the works at Nagymaros and Dunakiliti, as those actions caused the postponement of the putting into operation of the Gabcíkovo power plant, and changes in its mode of operation once in service.

Hungary is entitled to compensation for the damage sustained as a result of the diversion of the Danube, since Czechoslovakia, by putting into operation Variant C, and Slovakia, in maintaining it in service, deprived Hungary of its rightful part in the shared water resources, and exploited those resources essentially for their own benefit.

153. Given the fact, however, that there have been intersecting wrongs by both Parties, the Court wishes to observe that the issue of compensation could satisfactorily be resolved in the framework of an overall settlement if each of the Parties were to renounce or cancel all financial claims and counter-claims.

154. At the same time, the Court wishes to point out that the settlement of accounts for the construction of the works is different from the issue of compensation, and must be resolved in accordance with the 1977 Treaty and related instruments. If Hungary is to share in the operation and benefits of the Cunovo complex, it must pay a proportionate share of the building and running costs.