The International Court of Justice today ruled that the United States has violated international law on seven counts by its operations in support of the rebels, or contras, fighting the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
Although the World Court's decisions are not binding or enforceable, the court further ruled that the United States "is under an obligation to make reparations" to Nicaragua for damages caused by U.S. activities.
In a judgment on charges brought by the Nicaraguan government more than two years ago, the World Court ruled that U.S. activities against Nicaragua constituted illegal intervention.
The court found the U.S. government at fault for "training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces;" the 1984 mining of three Nicaraguan harbors; a series of armed attacks on these harbors and adjacent oil storage facilities in 1983 and 1984; and the staging of intelligence overflights in Nicaraguan airspace.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said that the "opinion demonstrates what we have stated all along: the court is simply not equipped to deal with a case of this nature involving complex facts and intelligence information." He told reporters, "Nicaragua is engaged in a substantial, unprovoked and unlawful use of force against its neighbors."
The court finding on the illegality of U.S. support for the contras came only 36 hours after the House of Representatives approved a long-sought bid by President Reagan to provide the contras with $100 million in aid, $70 million of it military. In the past, Congress had limited U.S. assistance to humanitarian aid because of doubts about supporting a rebel army against a government with whom Washington still has diplomatic relations.
In addition to reparations, the court stated that the United States should "immediately cease and refrain" from all acts that violate international law.
After Court President Nagendra Singh of India read the judgment, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto said: "This is a day that shall never be forgotten, a day that shall be proudly remembered by all peace-loving people in the world."
In Managua, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega called the decision "a moral and political victory for the Nicaraguan people" and said that "from this moment on, the U.S. government becomes a criminal, acting outside of the law."
There was no official U.S. representative in the courtroom, and the table prepared for the American legal team remained empty throughout the proceedings.
The United States, which argued that the court had no jurisdiction over the Nicaraguan political charges, decided in early 1985 to boycott its proceedings.
The Reagan administration announced last October that it would not abide by the court's decisions.
The court rejected U.S. arguments that there was substantial proof of Nicaraguan arms smuggling to El Salvador to indicate that Nicaragua had a major role in El Salvador's guerrilla war.
The court strongly criticized the U.S. government for the mining of the harbors of Corinto, Puerto Sandino and El Bluff early in 1984.
"After examining the facts, the court finds it established that, on a date in late 1983 or early 1984, the President of the United States authorized a United States government agency to lay mines in Nicaraguan ports," Justice Singh read. "That in early 1984 mines were laid in or close to the ports of El Bluff, Corinto and Puerto Sandino either in Nicaraguan internal waters or in its territorial sea or both, by persons in the pay and acting on the instructions of that agency, under the supervision and with the logistic support of United States agents."
According to Washington sources, the "agency" referred to by the World Court was the Central Intelligence Agency, which has been charged by Washington with organizing and supporting the contras, an army based along the Honduran-Nicaraguan border that is said to contain from 10,000 to 20,000 men.
The court, however, refused to accept the Nicaraguan contention that the U.S.-supported contras are controlled by Washington and that their acts can be attributed to the United States.
"The court is not satisfied that all the operations launched by the contra force, at every state of the conflict, reflected strategy and tactics solely devised by the United States," the court ruled. "The court, however, finds it clear that a number of operations were decided and planned, if not actually by United States advisers, then at least in close collaboration with them and on the basis of the intelligence and logistic support which the United States was able to offer."
In spite of that, the court said, "There is no clear evidence that the United States actually exercised such a degree of control as to justify treating the contras as acting on its behalf.
"The court finds it clearly established that the United States intended, by its support of the contras, to coerce Nicaragua in respect of matters in which each state is permitted to decide freely and that the intention of the contras themselves was to overthrow the present government of Nicaragua."
Of the 16 issues voted on by the 15-man court, nine key issues were passed with a 12 to 3 vote -- with Judges Stephen M. Schwebel of the United States, Shigeru Oda of Japan and Sir Robert Jennings of Britain dissenting. Four issues were decided with 14 to 1 votes, with either Justices Oda or Schwebel dissenting. One procedural question received an 11 to 4 vote, and the court concluded its judgment with a unanimous vote that "recalls to both parties their obligation to seek a solution to their dispute by peaceful means in accordance with international law."
The court urged both parties to negotiate by themselves on reparations but said if they could not reach agreement, the court would set the damages.