Ecuador files suit against Colombia over aerial coca fumigation
The Republic of Ecuador has filed suit against the government of Colombia in an effort to stop or restrict aerial anti-coca spraying that has allegedly sickened people on the Ecuadorean side of the border and harmed livestock, farmland, and sensitive, ecologically diverse jungle areas. The suit follows seven years of Ecuador's unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to convince its neighbor to establish a 10 km no-spray zone along their shared border...
• Foley Hoag represents Ecuador in suit against Colombia, seeking to stop aerial coca spraying that has dispersed into Ecuador, sickening villagers and livestock, damaging croplands and poisoning ecosystems
WASHINGTON, DC, and THE HAGUE, March 31, 2008 -- The Republic of Ecuador has filed suit at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, against the government of Colombia, in an effort to stop or restrict aerial anti-coca spraying that has allegedly sickened people on the Ecuadorean side of the border and harmed livestock, farmland, and sensitive, ecologically diverse jungle areas.
Ecuador's legal team is led by Paul S. Reichler, a partner in the Washington, DC, office of law firm Foley Hoag LLP who specializes in public international law, which governs relations among sovereign nations.
The suit follows seven years of persistent but ultimately unsuccessful diplomatic efforts on Ecuador's part to convince its neighbor to the north to establish a 10-kilometer no-spray zone along their shared border. Since spraying began in 2000, Colombia has consistently refused to consider such measures, the suit asserts; instead, its herbicide-loaded planes and helicopters have flown right up to and sometimes directly over the border, releasing chemicals specifically designed to eradicate all forms of plant life.
Inevitably, the spray has drifted to the Ecuadorean side, where villagers have reported feeling the mist settle on to their skin. People in Ecuadorean border communities, many of them poor subsistence farmers or those raising small cash crops, have suffered symptoms such as skin lesions and rashes, burning eyes, nausea, dizziness, respiratory problems, and intestinal bleeding; some have died.
Ecuador also alleges that the spraying has killed livestock and crops, forcing the abandonment of villages, while harming ecologically sensitive areas of high biodiversity. (Nearly one third of the country's territory is protected or park land, and Ecuador is estimated to have the highest average biological diversity of any nation on earth.)
According to the suit, Colombia has steadfastly refused to even disclose the exact makeup of the herbicide it uses, though the active ingredient is known to be glyphosate (N-phosphonomethyl), an indiscriminate killer of plant life. The active ingredient is reportedly combined with other chemicals to make aerial sprays more potent.
In a press conference announcing the suit, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister María Isabel Salvador said, "With the purpose of establishing the existence and dimensions of the afflictions suffered by Ecuador as a result of these and past fumigations, last year President Rafael Correa created the Ecuadorian Scientific Commission, comprised of eminent scientists from our country. The results of the commission's work have been crucial to reaching the irrefutable conclusion that Colombian aerial fumigations have had noxious effects on our people and our environment.
She continued, "There is no doubt that the fumigations conducted by the Government of Colombia constitute a grave violation of the sovereignty of Ecuador and of the most basic principles of international law, which prohibits a State from causing harm to the population, land and well-being of a neighboring State."
Ecuador protested the violation of its territory as soon as spraying began in 2000, and has consistently sought to resolve the countries' dispute through negotiation and diplomacy. As a last resort, it submits its argument to the International Court of Justice, whose jurisdiction is confirmed by the American Treaty for the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, also known as the Pact of Bogotá, to which both Ecuador and Colombia are parties.
Specifically, Ecuador's suit seeks three things: a) a declaration by the court that Colombia has violated Ecuador's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the manner in which it has sprayed herbicides; b) an order by the court that Colombia no longer spray in a manner that affects Ecuadorean territory; and c) an order that Colombia pay reparations to Ecuador for damage caused by the spraying.
(The filing of Ecuador's suit is unrelated to the cross-border attack undertaken by Colombia on March 1, which killed a commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the anti-government guerrilla group that had taken refuge in the hinterlands of Ecuador. The raid was condemned in resolutions by the Organization of American States and by the Rio Group, an organization of Latin American states. Colombia apologized in both resolutions, and promised not to violate Ecuadorean sovereignty again.)
Although resorting to litigation, Ecuador confirms its role as a partner against the cultivation and trafficking of illegal drugs. It is the only Andean country with virtually no coca crop. Ironically, Colombian government officials have come to agree with recent reports by the International Crisis Group that aerial spraying against coca plants is largely ineffective -- yet Colombia still refuses to alter its spraying practices along the border with Ecuador.
As part of its case before the ICJ, Ecuador has appointed as its agent Diego Cordovez, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and former Ecuadorean foreign minister. Leading the legal team is Reichler, along with prominent international law experts Prof. Pierre-Marie Dupuy, of the European International University, in Florence; Prof. Philippe Sands Q.C., of University College, London; Prof. Alan Boyle of the University of Edinburgh; and Prof. Iñigo Salvador, of Pontifical Catholic University in Quito, Ecuador.
In 2007, Reichler successfully represented Guyana before an arbitral tribunal in a maritime boundary dispute with neighboring Suriname that was resolved under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Reichler is also counsel in three other current cases before the International Court of Justice. He represents Uruguay in a dispute with Argentina concerning the River Uruguay, which forms part of their joint border. He also represents Nicaragua in separate disputes with Colombia, over maritime borders, and with Costa Rica, over navigation rights on the San Juan River.
Foley Hoag LLP is a leading law firm in international law, litigation, and arbitration of disputes among sovereign states and between sovereign states and foreign investors.