What is the ICJ for, and how does it work?
The ICJ, which is situated in the Peace Palace in The Hague, a city in The Netherlands, was established in 1945 as a way of settling disputes between countries. The Court also provides advisory opinions on legal questions that have been referred to it by other authorized UN organs.The ICJ is the only international court that settles disputes between the 193 UN Member States. This means that it makes an important contribution to global peace and security, providing a way for countries to resolve issues without resorting to conflict.It is up to the States concerned to apply the decisions of the Court in their national jurisdictions, and, in most cases,they honour their obligations under international law and comply. The Court can rule on two types of case: “contentious cases” are legal disputes between States; and “advisory proceedings” are requests for advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by United Nations organs and certain specialized agencies.There is frequent confusion between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).Cases open with the parties filing and exchanging pleadings containing a detailed statement of the points of fact and of law on which each party relies, and an oral phase consisting of public hearings at which agents and counsel address the Court. The countries involved appoint an agent to plead their case, someone who has the same rights and obligations as a solicitor in a national court. Occasionally, a leading politician may defend their country, as in the 2020 Gambia/ Myanmar case (see below).
Why is the ICJ important?
What kind of cases are brought before the Court?
Another relatively recent case that gained international attention involved a ruling against Myanmar in January 2020, ordering the country to protect its minority Rohingya population and the destruction of evidence related to genocide allegations. That case, which was brought by The Gambia, was notable for the appearance of Aung San Suu Kyi, then the de facto leader of Myanmar, making an appearance at The Hague to defend her country.Aung San Suu Kyi appears at the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 11 December 2019.Unlike the Court of Justice of the European Union, the ICJ is not a supreme court to which national courts can turn: it can only hear a dispute when requested to do so by one or more States.
South Africa contends that “acts and omissions by Israel . . . are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent . . . to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group”. The rulings of the ICJ are final and there is no possibility of appeal. If a country fails to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment, the only remaining recourse is to turn to the Security Council which can vote on a resolution, per the UN Charter. This happened in a case brought by Nicaragua against the United States in 1984, demanding reparations for the US support for Contra rebels. The ICJ ruled in Nicaragua’s favour, but the US refused to accept the finding. Nicaragua then took the matter to the Security Council, where a relevant resolution was vetoed by the United States.
Who can bring a case to the Court?
After this stage, the judges deliberate in camera (in private, behind closed doors), and then the Court delivers its verdict. The length of time this takes can be anything from a few weeks, to several years.
What are the consequences of a Court ruling?
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivers its judgement in a case involving the US and Iran in 2019.The Court is composed of 15 judges, all of whom are elected to nine-year terms of office by the UN General Assembly and Security Council. Elections are held every three years for one-third of the seats, and retiring judges may be re-elected. The Members of the Court do not represent their governments but are independent magistrates, and there is only ever one judge of any nationality on the Court.As for “advisory proceedings”, On 20 January 2023, the General Assembly requested an advisory opinion from the Court on “Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” and, in March 2023, the UN General Assembly adopted, in March 2023, a resolution to ask the court to deliver an advisory opinion on the obligations of States in respect of climate change, with most speakers in the resulting debate hailing the move as a milestone in their decades-long struggle for climate justice. Both advisory proceedings are ongoing.
How is the ICJ different from the ICC?
South Africa seeks to found the Court’s jurisdiction on the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, to which both countries are signatories. Israel rejects the allegations.Widely known as the ‘World Court’, the ICJ is one of the six “principal organs” of the United Nations, on the same footing as the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Trusteeship Council and the Secretariat, and the only one that is not located in New York.Civilians died in the small village of Hroza in eastern Ukraine following an attack.ICJ/Frank van Beek