Hungary and Slovakia Told to Resolve Dam Tiff

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

Hungary and Slovakia both broke international law in a dispute over construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Danube River, the International Court of Justice ruled Thursday.

In a cautious and evenhanded decision, the 15-member panel ordered the two countries to work out their differences over a broken 1977 treaty during the next six months, paying special heed to the environmental consequences of the gigantic project at Gabcikovo, Slovakia.

Hungary signed the treaty with then-Czechoslovakia but backed out of the waterworks project in 1989. Slovakia, which became a nation after the breakup of Czechoslovakia, later diverted the Danube--which formed the Slovak-Hungarian border--without Hungarian consent.

Thursday’s ruling did not order the closing of the $1-billion waterworks, as many conservationists had advocated, nor did it give Slovakia free rein to ignore Hungarian objections about environmental damage caused by diversion of the river into a 20-mile concrete channel in 1992.


“Hungary and Slovakia must negotiate in good faith . . . and must take all necessary measures to ensure the achievement of the objectives of the 1977 treaty,” said Presiding Judge Stephen Schwebbel of the United States.

Reading from the ruling, Schwebbel said the two countries were being instructed to operate the project jointly--it is currently run only by Slovakia--and take environmental issues into account.

International conservation groups welcomed the court’s unprecedented emphasis on the environment, which they say will set an example for water disputes worldwide. But the groups complained that the ruling will only prolong the impasse because of the two nations’ poor relations.

Because the world court has no enforcement power and relies on states to voluntarily comply with settlements reached as a result of its rulings, several groups immediately called on European Union officials to intervene. The European Union may hold greater sway with Slovakia and Hungary because both are aspiring members.