International Court Of Justice


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This article was written by Arunima Banerjee a student of University of Calcutta.

United Nations came into existence in the year 1945 with the aim of bringing all the nations of the world together and to work international peace and development based on the principles of justice, human dignity and the well-being of all people. The United Nations has six principal organs and the International Court of Justice is one of the principal organs of the United Nations.


Established in 1945 by the United Nations Charter, the International Court of Justice started functioning in the year 1946. It is the only principal organ of the United Nation which is not located in New York, United States of America. The seat of the International Court of Justice is placed in Peace Palace in Hague (Netherlands). Ronny Abraham of France is the current President of the International Court of Justice.


The International Court of Justice consists of fifteen judges who are elected for a term of nine years. The UN General Assembly and the Security Council elects the judges of the International Court of Justice from the nominations filed by the National Groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Articles 4-19 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice gives the procedure to be followed in the election of the Judges. The election of the judges takes place in phrases with five judges being selected every three years. This is done to ensure the constancy and stability of the Court. It should also be mentioned that no two judges can be nationals of the same country and in case a judge dies while serving his term, the normal practice is to elect a judge through a special election to complete the term of his predecessor. The judges of the International Court of Justice are elected keeping in mind equitable geographical distribution. However, the five permanent members if the United Nations Security Council (France, Germany, Russia, United States of America and United Kingdom) always have a judge in the Court.

Powers and Functions

The International Court of Justice primarily has two major functions:

  1. Contentious Functions, and
  2. Advisory Functions

Contentious Functions of the International Court of Justice includes the function of the International Court to decide on disputes of legal nature that are brought to them by any of the States. It is important in this matter that the Court should resolve the disputes according to the existing International Law. Any conflict or disagreement between the States on a question of law or fact or any legal view or interest can be defined as an international dispute. It is also important to note that no international organization or private person can institute a proceeding in the International Court of Justice. Only a State can apply and appear before the Court.

Advisory Functions of the International Court of Justice includes the opinion of the Court on any legal question if any of the organs of the United Nations or any other specialized agencies who are authorized to do so, make a request of legal nature before the International Court. Just like contentious functions, advisory functions of the International Court of Justice is available only to the States and the organs of United Nations. However, a special procedure, the advisory procedure is exclusively available to the international organization or private persons. On receiving a request from any of the States, the International Court of Justice draws a list of those States and international organization who are more likely to furnish information on the given question within a specific period of time. These States submit written statements on the question and if the Court thinks it is necessary, it may follow the written statements with written comments. These statements are made available to the public before the oral proceedings if the Court thinks it is necessary to have an oral statement at all. The advisory opinions of the Court have no binding effect but carry great legal weight and moral authority.

The role of the International Court of Justice in the Contemporary World

Established in 1945 after the Second World War, the International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). The International Court of Justice succeeded the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) that was in power at the time of the League of Nations. As mentioned earlier, the ICJ plays dual role of settling legal disputes submitted by any of the member States of the UN in compliance with International Law and to give advisory opinions on legal disputes submitted to it by the States. The Court also gives advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by certain organs of the UN or other authorized specialized agencies.

The world has changed immensely since the International Court of Justice came into existence. Many newly independent States of Asia and Africa have entered the world stage. Along with them, the Gulf States of the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain also gained independence and entered the world picture. With the increase in the number of participating States, the International Court of Justice had to deal with the real-world changes and more and more States appealed before the Court for relief and advisory opinion. In its 70 years of existence, the Court has handled more than 150 cases and more than 300 treaties refer to the Court in relation to the settlement of disputes arising from their application or interpretation and there have been distinct trend for the States to withdraw reservations they have made to such treaties in earlier year.

The UAE and more generally the Gulf States are very important to the International Court of Justice. Since its establishment in 1971, the UAE has played an important role in the affairs of religion and has framed most of its foreign policy based on the principles outlined in the Charter of the United Nations. It has not only formed ties with countries throughout Middle East and Asia but has also formed strong ties with the Western Nations. The Court appreciates the UAE’s interest in its work and as with all parties to the Statute, stands ready to assist the States of the region in conformity with its charter role.

Case Laws

The Lockerbie Controversy

In 1988, Pan American Flight 103 which had 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board exploded mid-air over Lockerbie, Scotland. Investigations proved that two Libyan were to be blamed for the event. As a consequence of this, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on the Libyan Government because it failed to cooperate with the extradition requests of the United States of America and the United Kingdom. As a result of this the Libyan government turned to the International Court of Justice for help in this matter. Libya asked the Court to declare that Libya was not obliged to extradite its citizens to the United States of America or the United Kingdom. Further, it requested the Court to stop USA and UK from using threats or force against Libya. The International Court of Justice realised that it had jurisdiction over this matter which brought the two of the main organs of the United Nations (International Court of Justice and the Security Council) face to face.

USA v/s Nicaragua, 1986

In this case the main concern was the support given by the United States of America for the anti- Sandanista “Contras” in Nicaragua. Ruling in favour of Nicaragua, the Court said that America’s intervention in the internal matters has affected the sovereignty of Nicaragua. The American Congress and government had claimed that at that point of time Nicaragua was about to establish a “totalitarian communist dictatorship” in order to justify their intervention. However, the International Court of Justice found nothing that could justify an intervention in the internal political arrangements of the State and ruled against United States of America.

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