International Court of Justice


The International Court Of Justice (ICJ) is the principal 
judicial organ of the United Nations, which succeeded the Permanent
court of International Justice after World War Two. It gains its 
legitimacy from Article 92 of the UN Charter which allows it to
function " in accordance with the annexed Statute, which is based upon 
the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice and forms 
an integral part of the present Charter".

 By Article 93 all members of the UN are ipso-facto members of 
the Statute and that states not members may become parties, on 
conditions to be determined in each case by the UN General Assembly on 
recommendation of the Security Council. Therefore allowing countries 
such as Switzerland and San Marino, though not members of the UN, to 
be parties to the Statute of the Court.

 The court consist of 15 judges, no two of whom may be 
Nationals of the same state, elected by the General assembly and the
Security Council. They are elected for 9 years and are eligible for 

 The seat of the court is in Hague, Holland, but it may hold 
sessions elsewhere whenever it considers desirable. It is a continuing
body. The Statute provides that it is permanently in session except 
during judicial vacations. It is also an autonomous body. It elects 
its president and vice- president, appoints its registrar, and 
provides for the appointment of other officers and clerical staff.

 Its function is to pass judgement on disputes between states, 
as such only states may bring their cases before the court. It is open 
to all states that are party to the statute and those who agree to the 
conditions laid down by the SC. The proceedings of the court are 
carried out in French and English; either may be used by the parties. 
Written pleading and oral presentations presented in one language are 
translated into the other. The judgements and opinions are both in 
French and English.

 Cases are brought before the court either by the notification 
to it of a special agreement concluded by the parties or by the
unilateral action of one of them through a written appeal to the 
registrar. Its proceedings are in two parts, written and oral.

 The Court may also hear witnesses and appoint commissions of 
experts to make investigations and reports when necessary. These 
procedures were used in the Corfu Channel, Temple of Preah Vihear and 
in South West Africa(1966). The deliberation of the court are held in 
private, but the judgements, which are by majority vote, are read in 
open court. In the case of a tie, the President may cast a deciding 
vote; this was done in the South West Africa Case where a 7-7 vote was 
cast. Any judge may file a separate opinion if he does not agree in 
whole or part with the judgement. The decision of the court is final
and without appeal.

 Although the ICJ has no enforcement powers, Article 94 of the 
Charter incorporates an undertaking on the part of each member of the 
UN "to comply with the decision of the ... any case to 
which it is a party" and a further provision that:

 IF any party to a case fails to perform the obligations 
incumbent upon it under a judgement rendered by the court, the other
party may have recourse to the Security Council, which may, if it deem 
necessary, make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken to 
give effect to the judgement.

 The court is authorised by Article 65 of the Statute to give 
advisory opinions on any legal questions at the request of whatever
body may be authorised by or in accordance with the UN Charter to make 
such a request. Article 96 of the Charter provides that such opinions 
may be requested by the General Assembly or the SC and by other organs 
of the UN and specialized agencies, when authorised by the GA. Such 
requests must be made by means of a written request containing an 
exact statement of the questions, accompanied by all documents likely 
to shed light upon them. >From this point on, the procedure before the 
court is somewhat analogous to contentious cases.

 In its role as and advisory body, the court has given some 
important opinions with regard to the costs of peacekeeping, which
could be reckoned as normal expenses. It also gave opinions concerning 
admissions into the UN. Because of the ICJ's limited powers, its 
strict need to adhere to its charter and its impotency of action 
unless approached we must consider its ability to resolve cases 
brought before it successfully, its failures to do so when approached 
and its shortcomings, in accessing its effectiveness, keeping in mind 
its role in maintaining World peace.

 Since its founding in 1946, the ICJ has dealt with 41 
contentious cases between states and has also delivered 21 advisory
opinions. It has a mixed record of successes and failures, with a 
surprisingly high degree of compliance with the verdict of the ICJ. 
(Only two cases involving the Corfu Channel Case and the US-Nicaragua 
case did the countries refuse to comply with the ICJ judgement.) One 
reason for this compliance is the use of the ICJ on a voluntary basis. 
Hence States would not seek the ICJ's verdict without having first 
accepted the court's verdict in advance, be it in their favour of not, 
as a matter of obligation.

 An example of a successful case where the ICJ is effective is 
in territorial waters and fishing rights in the "Fisheries" case
(1951). In it, the ICJ verdict in favour of Norway settled a 
long-standing Dispute between the United States and Norway involving 
British fishing vessels operating inside Norwegian claimed waters. 
Another success of the ICJ were the "North Sea Continental Shelf" 
cases (1969) involving Denmark, the Netherlands, and West Germany. 
This successful settlement was crucial to the drilling of oil and gas 
in the North Sea later. A further example is the "Fisheries 
Jurisdiction" case between the UK and Iceland (1974). In this case, 
the ICJ contributed to the development of the Law of the Sea in that 
it advocated the Conservation of the 'living resources of the sea".

 It was also effective in the territorial cases, which included 
the small group of uninhabited islands in the channel islands 
(Minquier and Ecrehou islands), disputed by UK and France. One 
longstanding dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras since 1906, 
concerning villages on their border and a dispute over the sovereignty 
Preah Vihear temple by Cambodia and Thailand which was found to be in 
Cambodian territory. More recently, the ICJ resolved a border clash 
between Burkina Faso and Mali in the 1986 "Frontier Dispute" Case. It 
also ruled on two pieces of land disputed by Belgium and Holland which 
was found to be Belgium's.

 However the ICJ is noted for its failures to successfully 
resolve inter-state disputes. To date there are more than 30 
unresolved frontier cases concerning land of greater value, which has 
never been submitted to the ICJ, because one party's claim is not on
legal grounds. In some cases, like the above, one or more of the 
involved parties refuse to accept the jurisdiction of the court, thus 
resulting in the court being ineffective. For example the aircraft 
incidents between the US and USSR in respect of aircraft shot down off 
Japan and one forced down in Hungry, here both parties refused ICJ 
jurisdiction. In 1955 Israel, US and the UK brought a case against 
Bulgaria for the shooting down of an Israeli civilian aircraft over 
its territory. Bulgaria rejected ICJ jurisdiction. The Courts hands 
were tied.

 Another example of the ICJ's ineffectiveness was in 1960 when 
Ethiopia and Liberia brought a case to the ICJ claiming that South Africa had violated the human rights of the natives of Namibia, which 
had been a mandate under the league of Nations and which it ruled. 
After a long and tedious process, the ICJ proclaimed that the case of 
Ethiopia and Liberia was illegal, and thus, the case was dismissed on 
a "procedural point".

 Other instances of the ICJ's limitations in its effectiveness 
was its 1979 verdict that ordered the release of US diplomats held
Hostage in Teheran, and payment of reparations. In this case Iran 
contested and duly ignored the ICJ's jurisdiction. In 1984 Nicaragua 
complained that the US had helped the Nicaraguan Contra rebels against 
the Sandinista government. Two years later, the ICJ ruled in favour of 
Nicaragua's claims, but in 1985, a year before, the US had already 
withdrawn its acceptance of the ICJ's jurisdiction. All these examples 
reflect the limitations of the ICJ in helping to settle interstate 

 Also, some cases may take several years to be heard. the Court 
may require certain provisional measures before a final judgement. 
Hence it is very time consuming to go through the ICJ.

 However, the blame for the limited effectiveness of the ICJ 
cannot be laid on the court itself. The ICJ's neutrality has been
maintained as far as possible, no two ICJ judges may be of the same 
nationality, but prejudices are impossible to eliminate totally due to 
human bias. In addition, major issues of peace and security between 
the more powerful states are rarely submitted as most governments tend 
to "consider the recognition of the jurisdiction of the court as 
infringing on their sovereignty". Indeed the average yearly number of 
decisions has not been more than two. Furthermore, there is no real 
means of enforcing the ICJ's verdict. THe ICJ has also been criticized 
as time consuming with little usefulness. However, it cannot be wholly 
blamed as parties involved in claims often request for more time to 
prepare their cases. Since its use is totally voluntary, it cannot be 
expected to resolve cases not brought to court and thus cannot be 
responsible for legal skirmishes not brought to its doorstep.

 Despite of its shortcomings and the many failures it has 
experienced, the ICJ has had a positive effect on the development of
International Law and the propagation of the principals of 
sovereignty, non-conquest, human rights and the rights of existence
and self-defence of a state. In addition the ICJ has helped resolve 
disputes between states with some degree of success, and given the 
numerous difficulties it faces, its achievements are respectable and 
its usefulness is undeniable. Most importantly, the ICJ, at the very 
least, provides an additional option for states to settle their 
disputes peacefully through third party intervention, and this has 
reduced the threat of open war.


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