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World Court Digest

III. The International Court of Justice
3.8. Duty of the Court to Seek Further Clarification

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

[pp. 38-39] One of the Court's chief difficulties in the present case has been the determination of the facts relevant to the dispute. First of all, there is marked disagreement between the Parties not only on the interpretation of the facts, but even on the existence or nature of at least some of them. Secondly, the respondent State has not appeared during the present merits phase of the proceedings, thus depriving the Court of the benefit of its complete and fully argued statement regarding the facts. The Court's task was therefore necessarily more difficult, and it has had to pay particular heed, as said above, to the proper application of Article 53 of its Statute. Thirdly, there is the secrecy in which some of the conduct attributed to one or other of the Parties has been carried on. This makes it more difficult for the Court not only to decide on the imputability of the facts, but also to establish what are the facts. Sometimes there is no question, in the sense that it does not appear to be disputed, that an act was done, but there are conflicting reports, or a lack of evidence, as to who did it. The problem is then not the legal process of imputing the act to a particular State for the purpose of establishing responsibility, but the prior process of tracing material proof of the identity of the perpetrator. The occurrence of the act itself may however have been shrouded in secrecy. In the latter case, the Court has had to endeavour first to establish what actually happened, before entering on the next stage of considering whether the act (if proven) was imputable to the State to which it has been attributed.

A further aspect of this case is that the conflict to which it relates has continued and is continuing. It has therefore been necessary for the Court to decide, for the purpose of its definition of the factual situation, what period of time, beginning from the genesis of the dispute, should be taken into consideration. The Court holds that general principles as to the judicial process require that the facts on which its Judgment is based should be those occurring up to the close of the oral proceedings on the merits of the case. While the Court is of course very well aware, from reports in the international press, of the developments in Central America since that date, it cannot, as explained below (paragraphs 62 and 63), treat such reports as evidence, nor has it had the benefit of the comments or argument of either of the Parties on such reports.