Central American Court of Justice

The Central American Court of Justice (Corte Centroamericana de Justicia) is an international tribunal of general jurisdiction, created in the interest of promoting peace and regional unity, under the auspices of the Central American Integration System. The Central American Court of Justice sits in Managua, Nicaragua and has four Member States: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The Court of Justice does not have competence to hear individual complaints of alleged violations of the American Convention of Human Rights.

The Central American Court of Justice was first established in 1907 to maintain peace and resolve disagreements among Central American states, and operated for 10 years in Costa Rica. In 1991, the Statute of the Court was reconfigured under the newly created Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (SICA)).

The SICA was established on December 13, 1991, when the Protocol to the Charter of the Organization of Central American States (ODECA) or Tegucigalpa Protocol was signed (amending the Charter of ODECA, signed on December 12, 1962. ODECA formally came into operation on February 1, 1993). The SICA was “designed taking into account past attempts for regional unification as well as lessons learned from a history of political crisis, belligerent conflict and dictatorial rule in Central America. These considerations, coupled to internal constitutional transformations and the existence of democratic regimes in the region, were contemplated in establishing the fundamental objective of realizing the integration of Central America in order to transform the area into a region of Peace, Liberty, Democracy and Development, based firmly on the respect, tutelage and promotion of human rights.”

Today, the Central American Court of Justice has jurisdiction, inter alia, to resolve: legal disputes on any issue arising between States, actions challenging the legitimacy or compliance of State law or actions with SICA agreements, disputes between government organs, and actions by individuals affected by a SICA agreement or actor. See Statute of the Central American Court of Justice, art. 22. The Court also issues opinions on the interpretation of SICA instruments, when requested by a national court in a pending case or by a State. Id., art. 22(k), 23.

However, Article 25 of the Court’s statute states, “The Court’s competence does not include jurisdiction over human rights matters, which belongs exclusively to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights”. Accordingly, the Court will not hear human rights claims against States that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights and accepted the Inter-American Court’s contentious jurisdiction, which encompasses all SICA Member States. See, e.g., Ricardo Duarte Moncada v. Nicaragua et al., Judgment of January 13, 1995. However, it may decide complaints arising under community law that involve individual rights. See, e.g., Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera v. Guatemala, Judgment of May 5, 2008 (finding that Guatemala violated community law by failing to request the suspension of a Central American Parliament member’s immunity before prosecuting him).

The Central American Court of Justice’s rules of procedure are outlined in its Legal Regime agreement.