Resolving the militarised territorial dispute between Honduras and Nicaragua


The Organisation of American States helped to prevent a territorial dispute between Honduras and Nicaragua from escalating into armed conflict while the International Court of Justice investigated the case and resolved the dispute peacefully.

The 700km Honduras-Nicaragua land border has been a source of dispute since the end of Spanish colonial rule in the 1820s. Although several wars have taken place between the two states, many of the disputes have been settled by international arbitration. Indeed, various resolutions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and before that, the King of Spain, had resolved several areas of contention, but the maritime boundary remained a major point of contention. In 1999, the Honduran parliament ratified a 1985 treaty with Colombia which implicitly recognised Colombian sovereignty over maritime territory claimed by Nicaragua. Almost immediately, the Nicaraguan government raised a case with the ICJ regarding the delimitation of its maritime border with Honduras.1 With the dispute escalating, the governments of Honduras and Nicaragua requested that the Organisation of American States (OAS) hold a special session to address the crisis.

In response to the dispute, the OAS dispatched a Special Representative to mediate negotiations between the two governments. The talks resulted in a series of agreements to ensure peaceful relations, culminating in March 2000 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, which noted that the two countries should restrict military activities along the border and conducting joint maritime patrols.2 In February 2001, tensions were heightened again amidst claims of violations of the measures outlined in the Memorandum. The OAS once again hosted talks, and the agreement that was reached included an invitation for technical experts and observers from the international community to monitor the border. In June 2001, the OAS formed a small Observer Mission with staff from its secretariat and military personnel from Argentina and Brazil. The Mission, which was entirely financed by the Fund for Peace, verified both the land and maritime border, providing assurances to both sides and encouraging cooperation between them. At a ceremony at OAS headquarters in December 2001, representatives of both governments signed additional agreements aimed at improving relations between them.3 In October 2007, the ICJ concluded its investigation, and its findings were accepted by both parties, bringing a peaceful end to the dispute.4

1 ICJ. Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea (Nicaragua v. Honduras). (ICJ, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 09/11/2020)

2 OAS. Agreements. (OAS Peace Fund, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 09/11/2020)

3 OAS. Peace Fund – Honduras and Nicaragua. (OAS Peace Fund, 2009) Available at: (Accessed 09/11/2020)

4 ICJ. Territorial and Maritime Dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea.

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UN Regional Group

Latin America and the Caribbean

Type of Conflict

Risk of an interstate conflict

Type of Initiative

Diplomacy, Monitoring, observation, political, and verification missions, Resolution of a militarised territorial dispute

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The Organisation of American States and the International Court of Justice




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