International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (known colloquially as the World Court or ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Established in 1946, its main functions are to settle disputes submitted to it by states and to give advisory opinions on legal questions submitted to it by the General Assembly or Security Council, or by such specialized agencies as may be authorized to do so by the General Assembly in accordance with the United Nations Charter. The Statute of the International Court of Justiceis ( the main constitutional document constituting and regulating the Court.

This court is different from the International Criminal Court and the War Crimes Law (Belgium), both of which have been confused with the International Court of Justice.

The seat of the Court is in The Hague, the Netherlands. It is composed of fifteen judges elected by the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council from a list of persons nominated by the national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Judges serve for nine years and may be re-elected. No two may be nationals of the same country. One-third of the Court is elected every three years. Each of the five permanent members of the Security Council (France, the People's Republic of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have always had a judge on the Court. Questions before the Court are decided by a majority of judges present. Article 38 of the Statute provides that in arriving at its decisions the Court shall apply international conventions, international custom, the "general principles of law recognized by civilized nations". It may also refer to academic writing and previous judicial decisions to help interpret the law, although the Court is not formally bound by its previous decisions. If the parties agree, the Court may also decide ex aequo et bono, or "in justice and fairness", in which the Court makes a decision based on general principles of fairness rather than specific law.

There are two distinct types of cases upon which the court may rule: contentious issues between states in which the court produces binding rulings between states that agree, or have previously agreed, to submit to the ruling of the court, and advisory opinions, which provide reasoned, but non-binding, rulings on properly submitted questions of international law, usually at the request of the United Nations General Assembly. Advisory opinions do not have to concern particular controversies between states, though they often do.



Numerous international treaties specify the Court as the arbiter of disputes over interpretation and application of the agreement. For instance, Article 32(2) of the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances provides for mediation and other dispute resolution options, but also states that "[a]ny such dispute which cannot be settled . . . shall be referred, at the request of any one of the States Parties to the dispute, to the International Court of Justice for decision"[1] ( The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs[2] ( and Convention on Psychotropic Substances[3] ( contain similar provisions.

Some treaties that confer jurisdiction on the ICJ include[4] (

Contentious Issues

Only states may be parties in contentious cases before the International Court of Justice. This does not preclude private interests from being the subject of proceedings if one state brings the case against another. Jurisdiction of the court is limited only to cases where both parties have submitted their dispute to the court. Should either party fail "to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the Court", the Security Council may be called upon to "make recommendations or decide upon measures" if the security council deems such actions necessary.

In practice, the Court's powers have been limited by the unwillingness of the losing party to abide by the Court's ruling, and by the Security Council's unwillingness to enforce consequences.

However, in theory, "so far as the parties to the case are concerned, a judgment of the Court is binding, final and without appeal," and "by signing the Charter, a State Member of the United Nations undertakes to comply with any decision of the International Court of Justice in a case to which it is a party".

For example, in Nicaragua v. United States the United States of America had previously accepted the Court's compulsory jurisdiction upon its creation in 1946 but withdrew its acceptance following the Court's judgment in 1984 that called on the United States to "cease and to refrain" from the "unlawful use of force" against the government of Nicaragua. In a split decision, the majority of the Court ruled the United States was "in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use force against another state" and ordered the US pay reparations (see note 2), although it never did.

Examples of cases include:

The last example can be used as evidence of the Court's failure to take on politically controversial cases; as the Court has no means to enforce its rulings, its survival is dependent on its political legitimacy. That would be endangered if it constantly came with rulings which states have no interest of taking into consideration (which would have been the case in the event of a ruling in favour of FRY). This is one of the Court's major shortcomings: its rulings must be considered in a political context.

Advisory Opinion

An advisory opinion is a function of the court open only to specified United Nations bodies and agencies. On receiving a request, the Court decides which States and organizations might provide useful information and gives them an opportunity to present written or oral statements. The Court's advisory procedure is otherwise modelled on that for contentious proceedings, and the sources of applicable law are the same. In principle the Court's advisory opinions are consultative in character and as such do not generally result in judgments that aim to resolve specific controversies. Certain instruments or regulations can, however, provide in advance that the advisory opinion shall be specifically binding on particular agencies or states.

The advisory opinions of the court are influential and widely respected interpretations of the law, but they are not authoritative, and they are inherently non-binding under the Statute of the Court.

Examples of cases include:

Current Composition




In addition to President Shi Jiuyong (China) and Vice-President Raymond Ranjeva (Madagascar), the ICJ judges as of 2005 are:

See also


External links

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UN System
General Assembly | Security Council | Economic and Social Council |
Trusteeship Council | Secretariat | International Court of Justice

United Nations Resolutions
General Assembly Resolutions | Security Council Resolutions

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