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1986: US guilty of backing Contras

VIDEO : Washington ignores court's decision

The United States has been found guilty of violating international law by supporting armed Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

The International Court of Justice ruled that the US should compensate the country, although it has not yet fixed an amount.

But the Reagan administration has boycotted the case and says it will ignore the verdict of the United Nations court.

In the US there have been demonstrations against a vote by Congress in favour of aid to the Contras.

About 40 people were arrested during a protest in Minneapolis, and in Cleveland a group of demonstrators lay on the pavement to block the entrance to the federal building.

The UN court found the US guilty of contravening law by training, arming and financing paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua.

These activities included the laying of mines in Nicaraguan waters in early 1984, as well as attacking a naval base and patrol boats.

The court held, by 12 votes to three, that the US was "in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State, not to intervene in its affairs, not to violate its sovereignty and not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce".

It ruled the US was under an obligation "to make reparation to the Republic of Nicaragua for all injury caused" by the breaches.

In Context
The US persisted with its refusal to recognise the court's judgement until it was announced in 1991 that, at Nicaragua's request, proceedings for compensation would be dropped.

America's illegal paramilitary campaign of the 1980s was aimed at overthrowing Nicaragua's left-wing government.

The Sandinistas had begun redistributing property and made notable progress in the sphere of education.

But the US regarded them with suspicion, fearing their policies were hostile to American interests.

Former Secretary of State George Schultz is reported to have warned, in March 1986, that if the Sandinistas "succeed in consolidating their power," then "all the countries in Latin America, who all face serious internal economic problems, will see radical forces emboldened to exploit these problems".

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