Published: Tuesday 15 April 1997

In the coming months, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, Netherlands, will be the centre of the world's, and particularly Europe's, attention. It is the scene of the first environmental lawsuit in the history of the court, which began on March 3 between Hungary and Slovakia. The former filed a case with the ICJ in 1992 when Slovakia diverted about 32 km of the Danube river along the Hungary-Slovakia border onto its territory. The diversion of the Danube is not only killing Hungarian wetlands but is also wiping out rare species of plants and animals.

The ICJ has to decide on four issues: Was it legal for Slovakia to divert the water of the Danube onto its territory? Was it legal for Slovakia to build the C-variant facility (a structure which diverted the river)? Did the 1977 contract (between Hungary and Czechoslovakia to construct the Nagymoros-Gabcikovo barrage system) become invalid after Hungary cancelled it in 1989? Did Hungary have the right to terminate construction of the Nagymoros dam which was to be built as per the 1977 contract (Down To Earth, Vol 5, No 19)?

Hungary, presenting its environmental position before the court, has pointed out that the diversion violated the international agreement on border rivers in 1976 and the 1992 Rio agreement on the protection of biological diversity. International and Hungarian scientists showed that even the original plans of the Gabcikovo project in Slovakia would have damaged the environment; construction of the C-variant by Slovakia after Hungary cancelled the contract for the project in Nagymoros has worsened matters. They also argued that the danger of earthquakes and of floods has increased because of the rerouting of the Danube. At the time of going to press, a group of judges were scheduled to visit the environmentally decimated region in Szigetkoz, Hungary.

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