ICJ Hears Pulp Mill Dispute between Uruguay Argentina

Beginning this week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, will hear three weeks of final arguments in a closely watched dispute over sustainable development between Uruguay and Argentina over a paper mill on the Uruguay River.

The case is only the second environmental dispute to be decided by the ICJ, and the first since the 1990s.

Uruguay is represented by a team from Washington, D.C.-based Foley Hoag LLP, led by international law specialist Paul Reichler. Arguments will be heard by 17 judges from around the world, who are expected to issue a decision sometime next spring.

Reichler and Foley Hoag have represented Uruguay since Argentina first brought the case in May 2006. The Uruguay River forms part of the border between the two nations, and Argentina argues that the mill, in Uruguayan territory, releases harmful contaminants into the river as part of the production of pulp used in the manufacture of paper.

Uruguay contends that the mill, approved through a thorough permitting process and built by a Finnish company, is a model of eco-responsibility that has not damaged water quality or aquatic life.

Uruguay won the first round before the ICJ, which by a near-unanimous vote in July 2006 refused to order that construction of the mill be halted. The facility opened in November 2007 and has been operating for nearly two years.

The mill, funded through the International Finance Corporation arm of the World Bank, was also subject to a rigorous environmental review and approval process at the IFC. The mill is the largest foreign-investment project in Uruguay’s history.

During the final hearing process, Argentina, as plaintiff, will argue first, this week. Uruguay will follow, Sept. 21-24. The third week is reserved for rebuttals, with Argentina presenting on Sept. 28-29, and Uruguay on Oct. 1-2.

“This is a very important case, and not only for Uruguay and Argentina,” says Reichler, "because it addresses the concept of sustainable development – encouraging economic development that ensures protection of the environment. It is a tribute to the ICJ, and shows the respect the two nations have for the Court.”

Uruguay's legal team also includes Foley Hoag partners Lawrence Martin, Adam Kahn, and Andrew Loewenstein, along with Professor Alan Boyle of the University of Edinburgh, a leading environmental lawyer; and Professor Luigi Condorelli, a public international lawyer from the European University of Florence.

Argentina’s legal team is led by Professor Alain Pellet of the University of Paris; Professor Philippe Sands of the University College London; and Marcelo Kohen of the Graduate Institute Geneva.

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