The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice, located in The Hague (Netherlands), is the primary judiciary branch of the United Nations. The ICJ was established in 1945 by the UN Charter and its rulings are enforced by the UN Security Council. The ICJ has 193 member parties and is constituted of 15 judges, each serving 9 years.

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The International Court of Justice, located in The Hague (Netherlands), is the primary judiciary branch of the United Nations. The ICJ was established in 1945 by the UN Charter and its rulings are enforced by the UN Security Council. The ICJ has 193 member parties and is constituted of 15 judges, each serving 9 years. The current president of the Court is Judge Peter Tomka from Slovakia. The judges are elected every 3 years by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council and there cannot two judges of the same nationality in the Court at the same time. The aim of the International Court of Justice is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorised United Nations organs and specialised agencies.

The Court entertains two types of cases which are ‘contentious cases’ and ‘advisory proceedings’. On the one hand, contentious cases are the cases involving a dispute between two member parties and they must be submitted by them. In order to entertain a contentious case, the ICJ states that States involved in the dispute have to accept its jurisdiction in one of the following ways:

1. by entering into a special agreement to submit the dispute to the Court;

2. 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 dispute of a given type or disagreement over the interpretation or application of the treaty, one of them may refer the dispute to the Court;

3. 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. A number of these declarations, which must be deposited with the United Nations Secretary-General, contain reservations excluding certain categories of dispute.

In every contentious case, both parties can elect a Judge ad hoc if none of the fifteen judges is a national of any of the two member parties.

On the other hand, advisory proceedings are requests for advisory opinions on legal questions raised by the five bodies of the UN, such as the General Assembly, and its sixteen specialised agencies which include the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation, among others.

Currently, the ICJ has 12 cases pending: 7 of them (6 of these seven cases concern Latin American countries) involve questions on violations, possible illegal activities and delimitation of terrestrial and maritime borders; 3 of them involve nuclear disarmament and nuclear arms race, Marshall Island is the accuser in all three cases; and the other 2 cases involve armed activities on the territory of the Congo and the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project. Like for any other court, some cases can be pending for a number of years, especially since international law is one of the most complex and undefined fields in law.

The ICJ is an important player in international relations nevertheless one of the main critiques towards the Court is that it does not enjoy full separation of powers, as permanent members of the Security Council can veto enforcement of the rulings made by the Court. Moreover, the ICJ does not entertain cases involving corporations of individuals. In conclusion, the ICJ is yet to become a strong judiciary body.

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