ICJ Rules for Chile against Bolivia in the Case Obligation to Negotiate Sovereign Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia v. Chile)
Oct. 15, 2018
In the fall of 2016, American University Washington College of Law Dean Emeritus Claudio Grossman accepted to serve as Chile’s Agent (chief lawyer) in a case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), after serving as dean of the law school for more than 20 years. As Agent, Grossman’s responsibilities included designing, strengthening and implementing the strategy for the defense—in particular for the Rejoinder and Oral Pleadings—completing the legal team, appointing a judge ad-hoc, and advocating before the Court. To appear before the ICJ as Agent is considered the highest honor for any international lawyer in defense of a country.
On October 1, 2018, the ICJ delivered its judgment in the case between Bolivia and Chile rejecting all eight of Bolivia’s arguments claiming that Chile had an “obligation to negotiate” sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean. Grossman, together with his excellent legal team of international jurists—including his colleagues, former Deans Harold Ko from Yale University and Monica Pinto from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina—focused on arguing the case on sound legal grounds, without being dragged into political discussions surrounding Bolivia’s claim.
The case stemmed from the consequences of the “Saltpeter War” or “War of the Pacific” (1879-1884) that took place between Bolivia and Peru against Chile. After winning the war, Chile expanded its coastline to include most of the Atacama Desert, rendering Bolivia landlocked. A 1904 Peace Treaty between Chile and Bolivia sealed the territorial status quo, while granting to Bolivia an unrestricted right of access to the sea through Chilean ports, especially Arica and Antofagasta, where Bolivia currently deploys its customs officials. Among other advantages for Bolivia, Chile had to build a railroad linking La Paz with the Chilean harbor Arica. In its October 1 judgment, the Court confirmed that after the 1904 Peace Treaty, Chile never accepted any legal obligation to negotiate a sovereign access to the ocean. In consequence, Bolivia cannot hold Chile to any such obligation and impose any negotiations that would question the territorial integrity of Chile.
Before becoming the Agent, Grossman served as co-Agent in this case, while continuing to tirelessly serve the Washington College of Law. Among other activities as Dean, he inaugurated the new 8.5 acre Tenley Campus, developed new programs—including online education—and advocated for the law school in the U.S. and in his travels around the world. He also served as Chairperson of the U.N. Committee against Torture until 2015, and in January 2017 was elected member of the International Law Commission, the U.N.’s prestigious expert panel for the codification and progressive development of international law.