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International Court of Justice


As Thucydides exemplifies in the Melian Dialogue, there is no worldwide regulatory authority that regulates state power and mediates state-related issues. In response, the international community built numerous mechanisms to conduct collective action in global governance via international law. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the embodiment of this effort to promote peaceful ties between nations.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the United Nations' principal judicial body (UN). It was founded in June 1945 by the United Nations Charter and began working in April 1946.

The Court's headquarters are located at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). It is the only one of the six primary United Nations organs not situated in New York (United States of America).

The role of the Court is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes brought by States and to render advisory opinions on legal issues addressed to it by authorised United Nations institutions and specialised agencies.

The Court's establishment marked the completion of a lengthy process of devising procedures for the peaceful resolution of international conflicts, the beginnings of which can be traced back to classical times. Article 33 of the United Nations Charter specifies the following means for the peaceful resolution of conflicts between states: negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, and recourse to regional agencies or arrangements, to which good offices should be added.


The Court is comprised of fifteen judges elected for nine-year periods by the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Judges are eligible for re-election. Should a judge die or resign during his or her term of office, a special election is held as soon as possible to choose a judge to fill the unexpired part of the term. It is assisted by its administrative organ, the Registry. There are two official languages: English and French.


There are two categories of jurisdictions at the ICJ:

Contentious cases

In the exercise of its jurisdiction in contentious cases, the International Court of Justice resolves legal issues brought before it by states in conformity with international law. A legal dispute on the international level can be defined as a disagreement over an issue of law or fact, a conflict, or a collision of legal perspectives or interests.

Only States may apply to and appear before the International Court of Justice. International organisations, other authorities, and private parties are not permitted to file lawsuits with the Court.

Advisory opinions

Since only states are permitted to appear before the Court, international public organisations cannot be parties to a lawsuit before it. However, such organisations have access to a special method, the advisory procedure, which is available exclusively to them. Five United Nations organs, fifteen specialised agencies, and one linked entity have access to this method. The advisory opinions of the Court are not binding. The requesting organ, agency, or organisation is free to determine the relevance of these opinions as it sees proper.

Although non-binding, the Court's advisory opinions carry significant legal weight and moral influence. They are often an instrument of preventive diplomacy and help to keep the peace. Advisory opinions contribute in their own manner to the clarity and development of international law and hence to the maintenance of peaceful relations between states.


No suo-motu power

A dispute can only be heard by the Court upon the request of one or more States. It cannot settle a conflict on its own initiative. Neither is it authorised by its Statute to investigate and rule on the actions of sovereign states at its discretion. The States involved in the dispute must also have access to the Court and have accepted its jurisdiction, in other words they must consent to the Court’s considering the dispute in question. Since states are sovereign and free to choose how to resolve their problems, this is a fundamental premise controlling the settlement of international disputes.

Can't assure Compliance

Under the terms of the Charter, guaranteeing compliance is not within the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, but rather falls under the purview of the Security Council, the key political body for maintaining peace and security. Thus, Article 94(2) provides: "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 deems necessary, make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken to give effect to the judgement."

The classic case of non compliance and abuse of power

Thus, states can violate international law without any consequences. In Nicaragua v. United States of America (1986), the International Court of Justice ruled that the United States had violated international law by supporting the Contras in their rebellion against the Nicaraguan government and by mining Nicaragua's harbours. In particular, the Court determined that the United States violated its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another state, not to intervene in its internal affairs, not to violate its sovereignty, and not to disrupt peaceful maritime commerce, as well as its obligations under Article XIX of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation between the Parties.

When the United States refused to comply with the Judgment of the Court, Nicaragua turned to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) “to consider the non-compliance with the Judgment of the International Court of Justice dated 27 June 1986.” In response, the UNSC drafted a resolution that, as a permanent member of the Security Council, the United States vetoed. The unique veto power of the UNSC's five permanent members makes it difficult to enforce International Court of Justice (ICJ) decisions and gives some states greater influence than others over decisions.


Given transnational transportation, multinational corporations, and Internet communications that has added to interconnectedness with no geographical limits, the world is becoming considerably smaller. With increased exchanges between people and nations across the globe, there are inevitably more international disputes that must be resolved. Today's world order necessitates a method for conducting interstate relations, and international law fills that void. International law exists to promote justice, prosperity, and peace throughout the world. It is the most effective tool for preventing armed conflicts between countries and assisting them in strengthening their mutual relations. Law is a component of society that contributes to the development of a framework within which rights and duties can be established.


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