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Nicaragua-Honduras Border Dispute
Rebecca A. De Mar
ICE Case Study 91, June 2002

I. Case Background
II. Environment Aspect
III. Conflict Aspect
IV. Env. - Conflict Overlap
V. Related Information


1. Abstract

The Central American countries of Nicaragua and Honduras have a long history of territorial disputes, dating back to the year 1906, when they were in dispute over a coastal area. The dispute of these two countries continues today. They are now arguing over a tiny island in the Caribbean called Cayo Sur (South Cay), and island rich in natural resources, such as fish and oil. Recently, the case has been handled by the Organization of American States (OAS) and taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and a decision is pending.

2. Description

In 1986, the countries of Honduras and Colombia signed the Caribbean Sea Maritime Limits Treaty, which divided up 12,000 square miles of the Caribbean. In November of 1999, Honduras ratified the treaty, which sparked a dispute between that country and Nicaragua. Nicaragua claimed that part of this territory belonged to it, and Honduras did not have the right to sign this treaty with Colombia. Nicaragua did not want to loss its rights to a territory rich in resources, including petroleum and fish.1

Source: International Boundaries Research Unit, University of Durham

Nicaragua blamed Honduras for putting troops on the island of Cayo Sur, although a U.S. military attaché claimed that there was no military presence on the island. 2 For Nicaragua, the presence of soldiers on the island would be a security threat, and also a violation of a previous agreement between the two countries to not involve the military.

Legally, several actions have been taken. The OAS named Ambassador Luigi Einaudi a Special Representative to handle the dispute between the two countries.3 The Ambassador met with representatives from both countries and on Friday 16 March 2001, Vice Foreign Ministers from Nicaragua and Honduras signed an agreement before the Ambassador to ease the dispute between the two countries. The document "is aimed at promoting confidence and security between the two sides and establishing mechanisms of observation and international vigilance."4

Also, Nicaragua took the case to the International Court of Justice, which has handled previous territorial disputes between the two countries. On 8 December 1999, the Republic of Nicaragua submitted an application to the ICJ, in "accordance with Article 36, paragraph 1, and Article 40 of the Statute, and Article 38 of the Rules of the Court... to dispute legal issues subsisting between the Republic of Nicaragua and the Republic of Honduras concerning maritime delimitation."5 Nicaragua requested that the ICJ "determine the course of the single maritime boundary between areas of territorial sea, continental shelf and exclusive economic zone appertaining respectively to Nicaragua and Honduras, in accordance with equitable principles and relevant circumstances recognized by general international law as applicable to such a delimitation of a single maritime boundary."6

On 23 March 2000, the ICJ announced a fixed time limit for submitting any more pleadings to the case. The court decided that by 21 March 2002 that "Nicaragua would file a Memorial by 21 March 2001 and that Honduras would file a Counter-Memorandum by 21 March 2002."7 So far, the Court has not released its judgment.

3. Duration

Current conflict: 1986-present
Previous conflicts between countries: since 1906

History of Disputes between Nicaragua and Honduras
Source: Cascon Case NIH: Nicaragua-Honduras 1957-60

Date Conflict
1906 Dispute over the Mosquito Coast
1912 Nicaragua challenged an arbitral award of land given to Honduras in the above territory
1957 Nicaragua claimed some of its land had been included in Honduras' new state, Gracias a Dios
4/19/1957 50 Nicaraguan national guardsman occupied Mocoron in a disputed area claimed by both countries.
4/25/1957 Honduras recalled its Ambassador to Nicaragua
5/3/1957 5 Honduran planes bomb Morcoron
5/8/1957 Honduras charged a Nicaraguan attack in the Cifuentes region, 150 miles southwest of the disputed area
5/7/1957 OAS accepted Honduran plea for removal of Nicaraguan troops. Both sides encouraged to seek ICJ judgement
1960 ICJ upheld original arbitral award. Boundary demarcated by OAS sponsored offices
1986 Caribbean Sea Maritime Limits Treaty granted Honduras and Colombia a swath of waters claimed by Nicaragua.
12/8/1999 Nicaragua submits application to ICJ
2000 OAS assigns Ambassador to ease border dispute
3/16/2001 Nicaragua and Honduras sign agreement before OAS Ambassador


4. Location

Continent: North America
Region: Southern North America
Countries: Nicaragua and Honduras

5. Actors

Countries: Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia
Legal bodies: International Court of Justice (ICJ), World Trade Organization (WTO)

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Resource

7. Type of Habitat: Tropical/Ocean

8. Act and Harm Sites:

Act Site Harm Site Example
Honduras Nicaragua Fishing in Disputed Waters

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: International

10. Level of Conflict: Low

11. Fatality Level of Dispute: Minimal

IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Regional

14. Outcome of Dispute: Ongoing

V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases

KURILE The Kurile Islands Dispute
NAGORNO Nagorno War and Armenian Deforestation
LITANI Litani River and Israel-Lebanon

FALK The Falkland/Malvinas Conflict and Oil
AOZOU The AOZOU Strip, Urnaium and Libya-Chad Conflict
SPRATLY Spratly Islands Dispute and Oil
DANUBE Danube River Dispute
ALASKA The United States-Canada Border Dispute
AEGEAN Disputing the Continental Shelf Region in the Aegean Sea: The Environmental Implications of the Greek-Turkish Standoff
MORSPAIN Morocco, Spain and Fishing
IRANIRAQ Iran-Iraq War and Waterway Claims
KOREA-JAPAN-ISLANDS Korea and Japan Island Dispute

16. Relevant Websites and Literature

For information, news and publications on boundary disputes, please visit the International Boundaries Research Unit website:

*NOTE: The author of this webpage would like to give special thanks to Martin Pratt of the International Boundaries Research Unit at the University of Durham for providing information and maps for this website.*


Waving Flags:
Nicaragua/Honduras Map: American Memory Library of Congress


1. Garvin, Glenn, "Nicaragua, Honduras argue over tiny island," The Miami Herald, 22 February, 2000.
2. Ibid
3. "OAS Envoy Works to Reduce Tensions Between Honduras and Nicaragua," OAS News, January 2000.
4. "Nicaragua, Honduras Sign Agreement to Ease Border Dispute," People's Daily Online, 18 March, 2001.
5. International Court of Justice, Application Instituting Proceedings, "Maritime Delimitation Between Nicaragua and Honduras and the Caribbean Sea," 8 December, 1999. (To view Application click on link above, Adobe Acrobat required to open Application)

6. Ibid
7. International Court of Justice, "Press Communiqué 2000/10," 23 March 2000.