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World Court Digest

III. The International Court of Justice
1.4. Political Questions/
Determination of the Existence of a Dispute

¤ Border and Transborder Armed Actions
Jurisdiction and Admissibility,
Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 1988, p. 69

[pp. 91-92] Honduras's first objection to the admissibility of the Application is that "It is a politically-inspired, artificial request which the Court should not entertain consistently with its judicial character"; it claims that Nicaragua is attempting to use the Court, or the threat of litigation before the Court, as a means of exerting political pressure on the other Central American States.
As regards the first aspect of this objection, the Court is aware that political aspects may be present in any legal dispute brought before it. The Court, as a judicial organ, is however only concerned to establish, first, that the dispute before it is a legal dispute, in the sense of a dispute capable of being settled by the application of principles and rules of international law, and secondly, that the Court has jurisdiction to deal with it, and that that jurisdiction is not fettered by any circumstance rendering the application inadmissible. The purpose of recourse to the Court is the peaceful settlement of such disputes; the Court's judgment is a legal pronouncement, and it cannot concern itself with the political motivation which may lead a State at a particular time, or in particular circumstances, to choose judicial settlement. So far as the objection of Honduras is based on an alleged political inspiration of the proceedings, it therefore cannot be upheld.
The second aspect of the first objection of Honduras is its claim that the request is artificial. In its Memorial Honduras explains that in its view the overall result of Nicaragua's action is "an artificial and arbitrary dividing up of the general conflict existing in Central America", which "may have negative consequences for Honduras as a defendant State before the Court", because, it is said, certain facts appertaining to the general conflict "are inevitably absent from the proceedings before the Court", and other facts have already been in issue before the Court in the case concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America). Honduras contends that no real distinction can be made between the general situation of tension in the region and the various bilateral disputes which Nicaragua claims to exist there, and that the "procedural situation" created by Nicaragua's splitting-up of the overall conflict into separate disputes is contrary to the requirements of good faith and the proper functioning of international justice.
The Court cannot uphold this contention. It is not clear why any facts should be "inevitably absent" from the proceedings, since it is open to Honduras to bring to the Court's attention any facts which in its view are relevant to the issues in this case. Nor can it be accepted that once the Court has given judgment in a case involving certain allegations of fact, and made findings in that respect, no new procedure can be commenced in which those, as well as other, facts might have to be considered. In any event, it is for the Parties to establish the facts in the present case taking account of the usual rules of evidence, without it being possible to rely on considerations of res judicata in another case not involving the same parties (see Article 59 of the Statute).
There is no doubt that the issues of which the Court has been seised may be regarded as part of a wider regional problem. The Court is not unaware of the difliculties that may arise where particular aspects of a complex general situation are brought before a Court for separate decision. Nevertheless, as the Court observed in the case concerning United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran, "no provision of the Statute or Rules contemplates that the Court should decline to take cognizance of one aspect of a dispute merely because that dispute has other aspects, however important" (I.C.J. Reports 1980, p. 19, para. 36).