International Court of Justice
International Court of Justice
2517 KJ The Hague
Telephone +31(0)70 302 23 23
Telefax +31(0)70 364 99 28
The International Court of Justice
The International Court of
Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Its seat is at the
Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). It began work in 1946, when it
replaced the Permanent Court of International Justice which had functioned in
the Peace Palace since 1922. It operates under a Statute largely similar to that
of its predecessor, which is an integral part of the Charter of the
Functions of the Court
The Court has a dual role: to
settle in accordance with international law the legal disputes submitted to it by States,
and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by duly authorized
international organs and agencies.
The Court is composed of
15 judges elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations
General Assembly and Security Council sitting independently of each other. It may not
include more than one judge of any nationality. 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.
The judges must possess the
qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to the highest
judicial offices, or be jurists of recognized competence in international law. The
composition of the Court has also to reflect the main forms of civilization and the
principal legal systems of the world.
When the Court does not include a
judge possessing the nationality of a State party to a case, that State may appoint
a person to sit as a judge ad hoc for the purpose of the case.
The present composition of the
Court is as follows: President Shi Jiuyong (China); Vice-President Raymond Ranjeva
(Madagascar); Judges Gilbert Guillaume (France); Abdul G. Koroma (Sierra Leone) ;
Vladlen S. Vereshchetin (Russian Federation); Rosalyn Higgins (United Kingdom); Gonzalo
Parra-Aranguren (Venezuela); Pieter H. Kooijmans (Netherlands); Francisco Rezek (Brazil);
Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh (Jordan); Thomas Burgenthal (United States of America);
Nabil Elaraby (Egypt); Hisashi Owada (Japan); Bruno Simma (Germany) and
Peter Tomka (Slovakia).
The Registrar of the Court is Mr.
Philippe Couvreur, of Belgian nationality, and the Deputy-Registrar is
Mr. Jean-Jacques Arnaldez, of French nationality.
Contentious cases between States
Only States may apply to and
appear before the Court. The Member States of the United Nations (at present
numbering 191) are so entitled.
The Court is competent to
entertain a dispute only if the States concerned have accepted its jurisdiction
in one or more of the following ways:
- by the conclusion between them of a special
agreement to submit the dispute to the Court;
- by virtue of a jurisdictional clause, i.e.,
typically, when they are parties to a treaty containing a provision whereby,
in the event of a disagreement over its interpretation or application, one of
them may refer the dispute to the Court. Several hundred treaties or conventions contain a
clause to such effect;
- through the reciprocal effect of declarations made
by them under the Statute whereby each has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court as
compulsory in the event of a dispute with another State having made a similar declaration.
The declarations of 63 States are at present in force, a number of them
having been made subject to the exclusion of certain categories of dispute.
In cases of doubt as to whether
the Court has jurisdiction, it is the Court itself which decides.
The procedure followed by the
Court in contentious cases is defined in its Statute, and in the Rules of Court adopted by
it under the Statute. The latest version of the Rules dates from 5 December 2000. The
proceedings include a written phase, in which the parties file and exchange
pleadings, and an oral phase consisting of public hearings at which agents and counsel
address the Court. As the Court has two official languages (English and French)
everything written or said in one language is translated into the other.
After the oral proceedings the
Court deliberates in camera and then delivers its judgment at a public sitting. The
judgment is final and without appeal. Should one of the States involved fail to comply
with it, the other party may have recourse to the Security Council of the
The Court discharges its duties
as a full court but, at the request of the parties, it may also establish a special
chamber. The Court constituted such a chamber in 1982 for the first time, formed a
second one in 1985, constituted two in 1987 and two more in 2002. A Chamber of
Summary Procedure is elected every year by the Court in accordance with its Statute. In
July 1993 the Court also established a seven-member Chamber to deal with any
environmental cases falling within its jurisdiction
Since 1946 the Court has
delivered 76 Judgments on disputes concerning inter alia land frontiers and maritime
boundaries, territorial sovereignty, the non-use of force, non-interference in the
internal affairs of States, diplomatic relations, hostage-taking, the right of asylum,
nationality, guardianship, rights of passage and economic rights.
Sources of applicable law
The Court decides in accordance
with international treaties and conventions in force, international custom, the general
principles of law and, as subsidiary means, judicial decisions and the teachings of the
most highly qualified publicists.
The advisory procedure of the
Court is open solely to international organizations. The only bodies at present authorized
to request advisory opinions of the Court are five organs of the United Nations
and 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations family.
On receiving a request, the Court
decides which States and organizations might provide useful information and gives them an
opportunity of presenting 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
are therefore not binding as such on the requesting bodies. Certain instruments or
regulations can, however, provide in advance that the advisory opinion shall be
Since 1946 the Court has given
24 Advisory Opinions, concerning inter alia admission to United Nations
membership, reparation for injuries suffered in the service of the United Nations,
territorial status of South-West Africa (Namibia) and Western Sahara, judgments
rendered by international administrative tribunals, expenses of certain
United Nations operations, applicability of the United Nations Headquarters
Agreement, the status of human rights rapporteurs, and the legality of the threat or use
of nuclear weapons.
Web site: http://www.icj-cij.org