The 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 reelections.
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 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
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 ...
court...in any case to which it is a party" and a further
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
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
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
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
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
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 disputes.
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
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.