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Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia v. Chile)

  • Alonso Gurmendi Dunkelberg (a1)

More than thirteen decades after Chile annexed Bolivia's coastal regions, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) denied Bolivia's longstanding claim that Chile had undertaken a legal obligation to negotiate granting it sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean.

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1 Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between Chile and Bolivia, October 20, 1904, Memorial of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Annex 100 [hereinafter 1904 Treaty].

2 Treaty of Peace with Germany (June 28, 1919), 13(S2) AJIL 136, Art. 19: “The Assembly may from time to time advise the reconsideration by Members of the League of treaties which have become inapplicable and the consideration of international conditions whose continuance might endanger the peace of the world.”

3 It was even suggested as a solution by the United States in 1926.

4 Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bol. v. Chile), Preliminary Objections, 2015 ICJ 16, para. 32 (Sept. 24).

5 Stephanie van den Berg & Aislinn Laing, World Court: Chile Not Forced to Negotiate Over Bolivia Sea Access, Reuters (Oct. 1, 2018), at

6 Id.

7 It was described by Julian Ku as “the weakest case ever filed at the ICJ” and a “major waste of time for the ICJ.” See Julian Ku, Bolivia's Ridiculously Weak ICJ Case Against Chile, Opinio Juris (Apr. 29, 2013), at

8 Aegean Sea Continental Shelf (Greece v. Turk.), 1978 ICJ 3, para. 96 (Dec. 19) (stating that the Court “knows of no rule of international law which might preclude a joint communiqué from constituting an international agreement”).

9 Case Concerning Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions Between Qatar and Bahrain, 1994 ICJ 112, para. 30 (July 1) (finding that minutes can “constitute an international agreement creating rights and obligations for the Parties”).

10 ALADI, Acta de la 1192 Sesión Extraordinaria del Comité de Representantes, ALADI/CR/Acta 1192 (Dec. 2, 2014), available at

11 ALADI, Acuerdo Sobre Transporte Internacional Terrestre, ALADI/AAP/A14TM/3 (Sept. 26, 1990), available at

12 1904 Treaty, supra note 1, Art. 6.

13 See Convención Sobre Tránsito Suscrita Entre la República de Chile y la República de Bolivia, Cl. – Bl. (Jul. 25, 1942), available at

14 ALADI, Annex II, Appendix 1 of the Agreement on International Ground Transportation, available at

15 See El Libre Tránsito de Bolivia. La Realidad, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile (aide memoire prepared by the Chilean Government addressing Bolivia's complaints), available at

16 See supra note 10.

17 The controversy gave rise to heated diplomatic exchanges between Chile and Bolivia. See diplomatic Notes, “Comunicado de reunion sobre la aplicación del Acuerdo sobre Transporte Internacional Terrestre entre Chile y Bolivia en Montevideo” (Feb. 23, 2015), available at and “Comunicado: Rechazo afirmaciones de la Cancillería de Chile sobre reunión en Montevideo” (Mar. 4, 2015), available at

18 See especially Convenio Marco Proyecto Binacional de Amistad, Cooperación e Integración “Gran Mariscal Andrés de Santa Cruz” (Jan. 24, 1992), Convenio Sobre la Participación de Empresas Bolivianas en la Zona Franca Industrial de Ilo (Jan. 24, 1992), Convenio Sobre la Participación de Bolivia en la Zona Franca Turística de Playa en Ilo (Jan. 24, 1992), Convenio Sobre Facilidades para el Tránsito de Personas Entre los Territorios del Perú y Bolivia (Jan. 24, 1992), Declaración de Ilo (Jan. 24, 1992), available at

19 Unofficial translation. See original text: “El Gobierno del Perú concede a Bolivia bajo regímenes especiales las más amplias facilidades para la utilización del Puerto de Ilo tanto para canalizar sus operaciones de importación y exportación de mercancías como para el apoyo al desarrollo de la Zona Franca Industrial de Ilo.” The Agreement on Participation of Bolivian Companies in the Ilo Industrial Free Zone, Art. 11.

20 Stefania Gozzer, Fallo de La Haya: Bolivia Mar, la Playa que Perú le Cedió a Bolivia y que Lleva 26 Años en Abandono, BBC Mundo (Oct. 1, 2018), at

21 Which is, after all, a Constitutional mandate in Bolivia. See Article 267(II) of Bolivia's 2009 Constitution: “La solución efectiva al diferendo marítimo a través de medios pacíficos y el ejercicio pleno de la soberanía sobre dicho territorio constituyen objetivos permanentes e irrenunciables del Estado boliviano” (unofficial translation: “The effective solution to the maritime dispute through peaceful means and the full exercise of sovereignty over said territory constitute permanent and inalienable objectives of the Bolivian state”).

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American Journal of International Law
  • ISSN: 0002-9300
  • EISSN: 2161-7953
  • URL: /core/journals/american-journal-of-international-law
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