Argentina lashes out at Metsä-Botnia and Uruguay at UN Court
Argentina took the offensive at the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague on Thursday, accusing Uruguay and the Finnish forest products company Metsä-Botnia of endangering the environment with its pulp mill project on the Uruguay River, which forms the between the two countries.
"The river is important, and it is under threat", said lawyer Philippe Sands, Professor of International Law at London University, who represents Argentina in the court.
Argentina took the case to The Hague, claiming that Uruguay is in violation of the border treaty between the two countries, dating back to 1975.
Metsä-Botnia is not officially a party to the case, but Argentina’s representatives also attacked the Finnish pulp mill project in Fray Bentos, as well as another plant being built nearby by the Spanish company Ence.
The massive project is crucial for Metsä-Botnia. Argentina wants the judges in The Hague to suspend the project pending more environmental studies.
Uruguay stated its case in the afternoon. Speaking on behalf of Uruguay, Alan E. Boyle, Professor of International Law at the University of Edinburgh dismissed Argentina’s attack as portraying a nonsensical image of a "dark and satanic pulp mill".
The legal process is moving forward slowly. After the initial hearing which is to be concluded on Friday, the judges will retire to deliberate the case. It will take at least weeks before a decision is announced.
Argentina is now calling for a temporary suspension of the construction to keep the mill from opening before a final decision on the larger case, which is not expected until 2007.
A suspension of construction would be a bitter blow for Metsä-Botnia. The company’s owners, Metsäliitto and UPM-Kymmene, are nevertheless optimistic that Argentina’s arguments will not persuade the judges in The Hague, and that the Fray Bentos mill will be ready to start by September next year.
Metsä-Botnia has sent representatives to The Hague, although the company’s lawyers will not be making arguments before the judges.
Timo Piilonen, head of the Fray Bentos project did not want to comment on the case. He said that Metsä-Botnia has suffered "small" financial losses over the row.
Metsä-Botnia has said that it is not paying for any of the considerable court costs. Uruguay has hired the US law firm Foley Hoag to represent its interests.
Argentina has enlisted the help of the British firm Matrix Changers, whose founding members include Cherie Blair, the lawyer wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Uruguay government reiterates support for Metsä-Botnia (30.5.2006)
Metsä-Botnia gives Argentine journalists tour of Finnish pulp industry (22.5.2006)
Argentine environmentalists stage protest at Finnish Embassy in Buenos Aires (18.5.2006)
Argentina to bring pulp mill dispute before Hague court (5.5.2006)