Central American Court of Justice

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Central American Court of Justice

Central American Court of Justice, a body created at the Central American Conference held in Washington, D.C., in November and December 1907. Escalating isthmian political turmoil and the threat of international conflict prompted the United States and Mexico—nations with specific interests in Central America—to host the meeting. Once the conference began, however, the host powers played a passive role in the proceedings, thus allowing the Central Americans to resolve their outstanding differences without any significant outside interference. Luis Anderson Morúa of Costa Rica, elected president of the conference, advocated the adoption by the Central American nations of the principle of obligatory arbitration of international disputes. With the support of the Salvadoran delegation, Anderson was able to convince the other delegates of the need to establish a Central American Court of Justice.

The court was the first international tribunal requiring mandatory adjudication of international disputes among the contracting parties, and thus represented a precedent-breaking step in international jurisprudence. The promise of the court, however, was never really fulfilled as political partisanship, more often than not, tended to influence the decisions of the judges who represented the various isthmian nations. The court ceased to function in 1918 following Nicaragua's denunciation, in the previous year, of the 1907 Washington Treaties. The Nicaraguan action came as the result of the Central American Court's ruling on the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty. The court decreed that Nicaragua, by signing the treaty with the United States, had violated preexisting treaty rights held by Costa Rica and El Salvador. Rather than accept the court's interpretation of the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, the Nicaraguan authorities chose in effect to destroy the 1907 treaty system, and with it the Central American Court of Justice.

Though the Organization of Central American States created a regional court system in 1962, it was the Protocol of Tegucigalpa in December 1991 whereby Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua officially reestablished the Central American Court of Justice. At this time, Panama joined as a new member and Belize obtained observer status. The Protocol of Tegucigalpa established the Central American Integration System (SICA), which promoted the economic, political, and social integration of the region. As an intra-governmental decision-making body, the court contributes to this goal. Headquartered in Managua, Nicaragua, the court's principal mandate is to resolve conflicts between member nations, member and nonmember countries, and states and individuals. It also hears disputes between constitutional organs of member states. The formation of the court spurred the development of consistent norms, procedures, and jurisdictions throughout the isthmus. Headed by a secretary general, the court is run by a president and vice president from different countries.

See alsoBryan-Chamorro Treaty (1914); Central America; Organization of Central American States (ODECA); United States-Latin American Relations.


Dana G. Munro, Intervention and Dollar Diplomacy in the Caribbean, 1900–1921 (1964), esp. pp. 152-153, 402-403.

Carlos José Gutiérrez Gutiérrez, La corte de justicia centroamericana (1978).

Additional Bibliography

Archivo Nacional (Costa Rica); Corte de Justicia Centroamericana. Guía del fondo documental Corte de Justicia Centroamericana: 1908–1918. Madrid: Fundación Histórica Tavera, 2000.

Chamorro Mora, Rafael. La Corte de Justicia de la Comunidad Centroamericana. Managua: R. Chamorro M., 2000.

Corte de Justicia Centroamericana; Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras. El tribunal centroamericano: La Corte Centroamericana de Justicia. Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Editorial Universitaria, 1995.

Corte Centroamericana de Justica. La Competencia de la Corte Centroamericana de Justicia. Managua: La Corte, 1996.

Giammattei Avilés, Jorge Antonio. Conciencia centroamericana. 2 vols. Managua: Editorial Somarriba, 1996–2000.

Metcalf, Katrin Nyman, and Ioannis Papageorgiou. Regional Integration and Courts of Justice. Antwerp, Belgium: Intersentia; Holmes Beach, FL: Gaunt Inc., 2005.

                                    Richard V. Salisbury

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Central American Court of Justice

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Central American Court of Justice