Costa Rica reiterates its adherence to the rule of law and its commitment to the preservation of marine biodiversity
No person, domestic or foreign may take the law into his or her own hands in violation of Costa Rica’s laws to defend the causes he or she considers just.
Paul Watson, a Canadian citizen, has been accused in the Costa Rican courts by Costa Rican citizens of violation of the law as a result of acts he allegedly committed in 2002. He is accused of presumably putting a ship at risk of sinking and threatening the lives and physical wellbeing of those aboard. As in any other occurrence involving a land or sea vehicle incident, the affected parties may resort to the Costa Rican courts to present their grievances and protect their rights.
The alleged acts for which Mr. Paul Watson is being prosecuted in Costa Rica occurred in 2002 in Guatemalan waters where Mr. Watson attempted to take the law into his own hands. Mr. Watson has claimed that his attempt to sink the Costa Rican fishing boat was motivated by the fact that the Costa Rican vessel was presumably fishing with the purpose of illegal shark “finning”, which involves cutting the shark's fins and subsequently releasing its body back into the ocean. Mr. Watson, however, has yet to establish or prove his claim or any other defense.
On the contrary, what is demonstrated by a video prepared by Mr. Watson’s own assistants is that he rammed his boat against the Costa Rican fishing vessel, and subsequently tied it to his own, allegedly causing injuries to the crew and threatening their lives and physical wellbeing.
These are the facts as understood by the Costa Rican Government regarding Mr. Watson, who after being required to appear before the Costa Rican judicial authorities to respond to the complaint of the alleged victims, disappeared from Costa Rican territory and failed to appear in court when summoned. Mr. Watson’s refusal to appear in court, and his departure from Costa Rica, have led to a warrant for his arrest.
In adherence to the principles of due process and judicial independence, Costa Rican courts act independently from the Executive Branch.
As such, Costa Rica offers full guarantees for due process, without any political interference and the trial of Mr. Watson will be no exception.
Costa Rica is internationally recognized for its leadership and its tradition of environmental conservation. The national passion for the environment - and Costa Rica’s commitment to its preservation - have remained steadfast over several decades, resulting in the development of strong environmental protection policies, acknowledged and valued worldwide.
This small country's exceptional environmental performance is encased in a policy matrix that pursues development in harmony with nature in recognition of the basic right, inscribed in its Constitution, that all people are entitled to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. As a result, Costa Rica now ranks among the top five countries in the world in promoting protection of the environment.
As far back as the 1970s, Costa Rica created, and has since been strengthening, an extensive network of national parks that now cover 25% of the national territory. Costa Rica has complemented this effort with a variety of public policies that have succeeded in reversing its deforestation rate to the point that it was the first tropical country on the planet to see its forest coverage grow, now reaching 52% of its national territory.
Costa Rica’s conservation efforts reach out to the oceans as well. The government recently signed the Nagoya Protocol and expanded protection of marine areas from nominal levels to 10% of its oceans currently covered. With respect to the protection of specific marine species, Costa Rica also stands out for its efforts both at the national and international levels. Costa Rica’s commitment to the protection of sharks is supported by extensive legislation designed to conserve marine wildlife, control fishing, and assure a sustainable use of resources.
Furthermore, Costa Rican legislation directly addresses the practice known as "finning". Together with other countries in the region, Costa Rica has undertaken administrative, judicial and political efforts to eradicate this practice, forming part of the "Regional Action Plan for the Management and Conservation of Sharks in Central America". Additionally, the country is leading a proposal at the Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) to include hammerhead sharks in a list that protects them from international trafficking trade. This effort has been supported by local NGOs, such as PRETOMA and MARVIVA, and international organizations such as TNC; and it has also benefitted from growing support by countries such as Honduras and Colombia that have joined Costa Rica’s efforts within CITES toward protection of this species.
Along with these accomplishments, it must be noted that there are significant limitations in personnel and other resources to address the multiple threats facing the environment as a whole, and in particular, to advance the fight against illegal shark finning, an obvious threat to Costa Rica's exceptionally rich oceans. Despite these difficulties, the Costa Rican Judicial Tribunals recently set an example by sanctioning illegal fishing in national waters, particularly within Cocos Island National Park, which is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There have been several criminal cases initiated against Costa Rican and foreign vessels that were caught fishing illegally in protected areas.
Significantly, these credentials in the areas of environmental protection and conservation have been earned in the broader context of Costa Rica's worldwide recognition for its respect for the rule of law, human rights and due process. Not surprisingly, Costa Rica is home to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
As to shark finning, or any other harmful activity, Costa Rica’s legal framework provides institutional backing for the government's commitment to prevent and combat this practice. Nonetheless, even this fight to preserve valued marine life must be undertaken in accordance with existing laws.