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Central American Court Of Justice - Description [2003] PICTRes 14 (17 November 2003)

Central American Court Of Justice

Since the demise of the Spanish empire in the 1820s, the edifice of Central America has been shaken by centrifugal and centripetal forces. Central America States periodically coalesce into sub-regional organizations or federal unions which, so far, have broken down as rapidly as they have been built. This is the case of the Central American Federal Republic, created in 1824; the United States of Central America founded in 1898, and the Central American Republic, of 1921. A common feature of all these endeavors is the presence of a common judicial body, a Supreme Court of Justice, to guard and enforce the system's rules.

In a sense, Central America can be regarded as the cradle of the international judicial system. Not only was it the first region of the world to have established regional international (or, even better, supra-national) judicial fora; it was also the region in which one of the first permanent international arbitral tribunals was created. The Central American Court of Justice (Corte de Justicia Centroamericana) was established in 1907 to maintain peace and resolve disagreements among Central American states.

The Corte de Justicia Centroamericana functioned for 10 years in Costa Rica, and was made up of five judges (one each from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). The Corte de Justicia Centroamericana is also notable because it was the first instance of an international judicial forum which heard disputes not only between states but also between states and nationals of any of the Central American republics. Although during its time it was involved in 10 cases, the Court was rather ineffectual, as only a few cases actually reached the merits phase, and with only meager results.

After the second World War, Central American integrationist efforts got a new start. On October 14, 1951, the Charter of the Organization of Central American States was signed by Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, creating the Organization of Central American States (Organizacion de Estados Centroamericanos-ODECA). This Charter was modified on December 12, 1962 with the creation of a new Central American Court of Justice (Corte Centroamericana de Justicia), which had no time limitations . The new court remained idle for the next three decades. It was only in 1991 that the Protocol of Tegucigalpa injected new life into the ODECA by creating the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana_SICA). Panama joined as a member State, and Belize as an observer. The Central American Court of Justice (CACJ) was accordingly reconfigured.

Today, the mission of the CACJ is to realize a closer integration between its members and thereby establish a free, democratic, and peaceful region. Its jurisdiction encompasses three key areas: first, disputes between member States or between a member State and a State which is not a member but agrees to the Court's jurisdiction; second, disputes between States and any natural or legal person who is a resident of any member State; third, disputes about the integration process arising between Central American Integration System's Organs and member States or natural or legal persons. Finally, much like its regional predecessors but unlike most of the bodies included in this matrix, the CACJ is characterized by strong supra-national features. It acts as a permanent consultative organ for Supreme Courts of the region and can, upon request of a party, hear disputes between constitutional organs of member States.

PICT Data obtained from the Project on International Courts and Tribunals (PICT)

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