International Court of Justice

views updated May 21 2018

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). As such, its primary role is to assist the other organs of the UN achieve the objective of the United Nations Charter (UN Charter); namely, the peaceful resolution of disputes between states. The Court fulfills this responsibility by resolving legal questions so that either the parties or the UN can find a political solution. The Court sits in the famous Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands.


The ICJ is the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), which was forced to relocate to Geneva during World War II (1939–1945). Although the PCIJ continued with administrative matters, its operations effectively ceased. No mention of a world court occurred in the initial planning for postwar reconstruction (the Atlantic Charter and the Four Nations Declaration on General Security in Moscow). Instead, separate committees in Latin America, the United States, and Great Britain began discussions on the subject, the key issue being whether to retain the PCIJ or create a new international court.

The Inter-American Juridical Committee formed in January 1942 emphasized the need to maintain continuity with the PCIJ. In late 1942 the U.S. Special Subcommittee on Legal Problems favored the creation of a new court based on a revised statute of the PCIJ. A report of the Informal Inter-Allied Committee of Experts in England concluded in May 1943 that the PCIJ Statute should form the basis for a world court; however, it viewed a decision on whether the PCIJ should be that court as beyond the committee's competence. Even the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals remained inconclusive, despite mentioning an international court of justice.

Some consensus emerged when the Committee of Jurists, comprising representatives from a total of forty-four nations, as well as the PCIJ, met in Washington, D.C., on April 9, 1945, and drafted a new statute for the forthcoming San Francisco Conference. At San Francisco it was decided that a new court would be created, but one having continuity with the PCIJ by referring to the PCIJ Statute in Article 92 of the new court's statute, itself an integral part of the UN Charter.

On April 18, 1946, the League of Nations voted itself and the PCIJ out of existence. The very same day the ICJ held its inaugural session at the Peace Palace and heard its first matter, the Corfu Channel case, on May 22, 1947.

structure and jurisdiction

The ICJ is comprised of fifteen full-time judges, each a different nationality. In accordance with Article 9 of its Statute, the Court must represent the main forms of civilization and the world's principal legal systems. Thus, seats on the bench are allocated as follows: Western Europe and other states, five seats; Asia, three seats; Africa, three seats; Eastern Europe, two seats; and Latin America, two seats.

Members are elected independently by a majority in both the Security Council and the General Assembly and serve for nine years. Elections are staggered so that they are held every three years for five members, unless a member dies or resigns. The Court elects its president and vice president by absolute majority, and each holds office for three years. The president may cast a vote in split decisions.

In addition, ad hoc judges may be appointed to ensure that one member of the bench is the same nationality as each party in a dispute. This procedure has been criticized on the grounds that it destroys the international character of the Court and contravenes the legal principle that no man or woman should be a judge in his or her own cause.

To shorten resolution times, the ICJ Statute permits the creation of chambers: the Chamber of Summary Procedure, established annually and consisting of a president and vice president ex officio, and three other members; a special chamber, consisting of three or more members; and an ad hoc chamber that can be set up as required with as many judges as the Court determines and the parties approve.

Pursuant to its Statute, the Court can consider only questions of international law in both its advisory (Article 65) and contentious jurisdictions (Article 36). The Court exercises its advisory jurisdiction when a principal organ of the UN, such as the General Assembly, requests advice on a question of international law. Only states have standing to appear in the contentious jurisdiction, and a state must be a party to the ICJ Statute (all members of the UN are automatically a party). Further, this jurisdiction is consensual. Parties consent by a compromise, a special agreement between parties, or when a bilateral or multilateral treaty contains a clause referring disputes to the Court, and by a unilateral declaration made in advance accepting jurisdiction in a range of matters listed in Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute (on compulsory jurisdiction). Such consent is usually subject to reservations excluding specific matters.

Article 37 of the ICJ Statute enables the ICJ to hear disputes that the PCIJ was entitled to hear by way of treaty. The Court resolves any questions regarding its jurisdiction.

strengths and weaknesses

Consensual jurisdiction is the Court's greatest weakness, since not all states have granted their consent. States can also withdraw their consent, and their reservations to Article 36(2) often render their consent meaningless. Second, when the Court seeks to invoke its compulsory jurisdiction, the risk of nonappearance by parties exists. There were many incidents of nonappearance during the 1970s and 1980s, the most famous being the U.S. absence in the Nicaragua case. The nonappearance of parties raises concerns that justice has not been done, arguably weakening the final decision. Alternatively, the legal process could be stymied.

States also have a history of noncompliance with the Court's rulings. Although the Court's judgments can be enforced through a Security Council resolution, no international police force exists to ensure compliance. Instead, enforcement is achieved by peer group pressure from other states.

Other criticisms include the following: the Court's reluctance to use provisional measures; its alleged lack of proactivity; its slow progress in hearing cases on the docket; and most controversial, the lack of standing for non-state entities.

The ICJ has one important advantage over the UN political organs: All parties are guaranteed a fair and impartial hearing. Despite concerns that its judges may be biased, studies have shown that in their decisions, they (even the ad hoc judges) willingly vote against their own national governments. One example involved Justice Stephen M. Schwebel (b. 1929) of the United States in the case concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary in the Gulf of Maine Area (Canada v. United States of America). In his dissenting opinion, Judge Schwebel voted against the United States' position and held it was correct to divide the Georges Bank between the United States and Canada. He disagreed with the Chamber's line of delimitation because it gave the United States a significantly greater proportion of the Gulf of Maine, and therefore was "inequitable." Moreover, no evidence exists of judges ever having been influenced by their national government. By restricting itself to the legal issues involved, the Court remains free from the political considerations and entanglements found elsewhere within the UN. This enables the Court to fully exploit its expertise and significantly aids its ability to sift through dubious statements made by national representatives in the guise of evidence, crucial when assisting parties or advising the political organs of the UN. The integrity of the Court is its greatest strength.

the court's success

The ICJ, like any court, has been criticized for its individual decisions or advice given: for example, the controversial South West Africa cases, second phase (1966); the East Timor case (1995); or the nuclear weapons opinion (1986). However, the major criticism has been that the Court is ineffective. Given the consensual nature of the Court's jurisdiction and the highly political environment of international relations, this is no surprise. In the Nicaragua case (1986), for example, the United States withdrew from the case, revoked its Article 36(2) consent, and ignored the Court's determination of its liability.

Such criticisms ignore the results the Court can achieve [e.g., as a consequence of the Court's determination in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Chad case (1994), a peace agreement was signed, and Libyan forces withdrew from disputed territory], and its often subtle successes. The Court's decision in the Nicaragua case played a crucial role in the U.S. government's decision to change its policy in Nicaragua and may have hastened the subsequent end to the conflict. Furthermore, many smaller states viewed the ICJ as standing firm against the world's most powerful state.

nicaragua v. united states

Nicaragua v. United States was a case heard by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1986 concerning the United States' support of the Contra guerillas in Nicaragua's civil war and the mining of the country's harbors. The United States initially denied that the ICJ had jurisdiction in the matter. The ICJ disputed this claim, although the judges differed considerably among themselves regarding the extent of the court's powers.

The court issued its ruling in favor of Nicaragua on June 27, 1986. It found that the United States had broken its obligations under international law not to intervene in the affairs of another state; not to use force against another state; not to violate the sovereignty of another state; and not to interfere with peaceful commerce on the seas.

The United States' refused to accept the court's decision and withdrew of its previous acceptance of the court's jurisdiction. The United States also refused to pay the fine imposed by the Court. The case is often cited as an example of the ICJ's inability to enforce its rulings, often being disempowered by the same nations that created it.

Although the potential for noncompliance exists, the fact remains that many states willingly comply with international law, as it is continually developed through both the Court's decisions and advisory opinions. In the Pakistani prisoners of war case, the mere threat of legal proceedings resulted in the 1974 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan.

Since the Nicaragua case a marked resurgence of interest in the Court has occurred. In January 2004 two matters were heard: the controversial Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Request for Advisory Opinion) and Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America), with nine cases currently being heard and an additional twenty-one matters pending. They included border disputes, questions of sovereignty , the legality of the use of force, assets seized during World War II, allegations of genocide, and maritime law.

The increased use of the Court, rather than violence, as a means of resolving disputes is the Court's greatest achievement, and proof that it successfully meets its responsibilities under the UN Charter.

See also: United Nations.


Case Concerning East Timor. Australia v. Portugal. ICJ Report 89 (1995).

Coleman, Andrew. "The International Court of Justice and Highly Political Matters." Melbourne Journal of International Law 4, no. 1 (2003):29.

Corfu Channel Case (Merits). UK v. Albania. ICJ Report 4 (1949).

Gill, Terry. Litigation Strategy at the International Court: A Case Study of the Nicaragua v. United States Dispute. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1989.

Hensley, Thomas. "National Bias and the International Court of Justice." Midwest Journal of Political Science 12 (1968):568.

Highet, Keith. "The Peace Palace Heats Up: The World Court in Business Again?" American Journal of International Law 85 (1991):646.

Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (Advisory Opinion). ICJ Report 22 1996).

Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua. Nicaragua v. the United States of America. ICJ Report 392 (1984).

Peck, Connie, and Roy Lee, eds. Increasing the Effectiveness of the International Court of Justice: Proceedings of the ICJ/UNITAR Colloquium to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Court. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1997.

Rosenne, Shabtai. The World Court, What It Is and How It Works, 5th ed. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1996.

Szafraz, Renata. The Compulsory Jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1993.

Stanimir, Alexandrov. Reservations in Unilateral Declarations Accepting the Compulsory Jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1995.

Territorial Dispute (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Chad) (Judgment). ICJ Report 6 (1994).

Tiefenbrun, Susan. "The Role of the World Court in Settling International Disputes: A Recent Assessment." Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Journal 20 (1997):1.

Weiss, E. B. "Judicial Independence and Impartiality." In The International Court of Justice at a Crossroads, ed. Lori Damrosch. Dobbs Ferry, New York: Transnational Publishers, 1987.

Andrew Coleman

International Court of Justice

views updated Jun 27 2018

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN), functioning according to its statute, which forms an integral part of the UN Charter. Member states must comply with the decisions of the ICJ, in cases to which they are parties. The ICJ may offer advisory opinions on any legal questions posed by the General Assembly and the Security Council or other organs of the UN and specialized agencies so authorized by the General Assembly on issues arising within the scope of their activities.

Structure and Jurisdiction

The ICJ is composed of fifteen independent members, who posses the qualifications required in their countries for appointment to the highest judicial offices or are jurisconsults of recognized competence in the field of international law. The General Assembly and Security Council elect all members of the ICJ; no two judges may be nationals of the same state. As a body, they must uphold the main tenets of civilization and represent the principal legal systems. Members of the ICJ are elected for a term of nine years; they may be reelected. If the ICJ bench includes no judge of the nationality of one or both parties to a case, that party (or parties) may choose a legal expert or two as ad hoc judges. Ad hoc judges participate in the decision of the ICJ on complete equality with the court's other members.

Only states may be parties before the ICJ. Its jurisdiction comprises all disputes referred to it by such parties and all matters provided for in treaties and conventions in force. The states who are parties to the present ICJ Statute may recognize as compulsory, and without special agreement in relation to other states accepting the same obligation, the jurisdiction of the ICJ in all legal disputes concerning (1) the interpretation of a treaty; (2) any question of international law; (3) the existence of any fact, which, if established, would constitute a breach of an international obligation; and (4) the nature or extent of the reparation to be made for the breach of that obligation.

The ICJ in deciding international disputes submitted to it applies (1) international conventions, (2) international custom, (3) general principles of law, and (4) the judicial decisions and teachings of the most highly qualified jurists from the states party to such disputes (as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law). If the parties involved agree, the ICJ can decide a case on the basis of equity. According to Article 41 of the ICJ Statute, the Court may mandate provisional measures to preserve the respective rights of parties to a dispute. A request for such measures takes priority over all other cases.

Decisions of the ICJ on Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

In November 1950 the General Assembly questioned the ICJ concerning the position of a state that had included reservations in its signature of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as some signatories of the Convention objected to these reservations. In its advisory opinion of May 28, 1951, the ICJ determined that even if a convention contains no specific rule on reservations, it does not follow that they are automatically prohibited. In the case of the Genocide Convention, the ICJ found that the drafters had two competing concerns: universal acceptance (which could require permitting reservations) and preserving the normative basis of the treaty (which would require rejecting crippling reservations). The ICJ announced reservations could be permitted provided they do not undermine the object and purpose of the Genocide Convention. Every state was free to decide such matters for itself, whether or not the state formulating a reservation was party to the convention. The disadvantages of such a situation could be remedied by inserting in the convention an article on the use of reservation.

In a case concerning the application of the Genocide Convention, Bosnia and Herzegovina asked the ICJ to intervene against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro; FRY) for alleged violations of the Convention. Immediately after filing its application, Bosnia and Herzegovina requested that the ICJ approve provisional measures to preserve its rights. For its part, the FRY asked for provisional measures, too. After establishing that it did, in fact, have valid or sufficient jurisdiction, on April 8, 1993, the ICJ indicated that the FRY could take certain provisional measures. It further ruled that the FRY and Bosnia and Herzegovina should not pursue any action (in fact, they must ensure that no action is taken) that might aggravate or extend the existing dispute.

On July 27, 1993, Bosnia and Herzegovina asked the ICJ to indicate additional provisional measures. The FRY petitioned the Court to reject the application for such provisional measures, claiming that the Court had no jurisdiction to authorize them. In its order dated September 13, the ICJ reaffirmed the provisional measures it had previously indicated, calling for their immediate and effective implementation.

The ICJ suspended the proceeding to address the seven preliminary objections presented by the government of the FRY concerning the admissibility of the application of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the jurisdiction of the Court to entertain the case. The FRY claimed that (1) the events in Bosnia and Herzegovina constituted a civil war and not an international dispute according to the terms of Article IX of the Genocide Convention, (2) the authority for initiating proceedings derived from a violation of the rules of domestic law, (3) Bosnia and Herzegovina was not a party to the Genocide Convention, (4) the FRY did not exercise any jurisdiction within the region of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and (5) the Convention was not operative between the parties prior to December 14, 1995, and certainly not for events that occurred before March 18, 1993. In sum, the Court lacked jurisdiction.

In its judgment rendered on July 11, 1996, the ICJ rejected the preliminary objections of the FRY, holding that all the conditions necessary for its jurisdiction had been fulfilled. The Court also noted that a legal dispute existed between the parties, and none of the provisions of Article I of the Convention limited the acts contemplated by it to those committed within the framework of a particular type of conflict. The Genocide Convention does not contain any clause, the object or effect of which is, to limit the scope of the jurisdiction of the ICJ.

On July 2, 1999, Croatia presented an application against the FRY for having violated the Genocide Convention.

With its status remaining in some respects uncertain, the FRY was admitted on November 1, 2000, to the UN. In an application submitted April 23, 2001, it asked that the ICJ revise its prior judgment, on the grounds that only with the FRY's admission to the UN was a condition laid down in Article 61 of the ICJ Statute now satisfied. Because it was not a member of the UN before November 1, 2000, Yugoslavia argued, it was not party to the Statute and therefore not a state-party to the Genocide Convention.

The ICJ ruled against the arguments of the FRY. It observed that, under the terms of Article 61, paragraph 1 of its Statute, an application for a revised judgment can be made only when it is based on the discovery of a fact unknown at the time the judgment was rendered. According to the ICJ, "A fact which occurs several years after a judgment has been given is not a 'new' fact within the meaning of Article 61." The admission of the FRY to the UN occured well after the ICJ's 1996 judgment. Thus, the ICJ in its decision of February 3, 2003, found the FRY's application for a revision inadmissible. It follows that the ICJ has jurisdiction to adjudicate on the claims of genocide.

Another important legal issue concerns nuclear weapons: Is their use, or the threat of use, under any circumstances permitted by international law? In its resolution dated December 15, 1994, the General Assembly posed this very question. In its advisory opinion, the ICJ summarized the cardinal principles of humanitarian law and declared with the smallest possible majority the following:

It follows from the above-mentioned requirements that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.

All members of the Court made declarations, with some offering separate opinions, and dissenters explaining the principles behind their votes. Such reflects the complexity of the present state of international legislation in this field.

SEE ALSO Hiroshima; International Law


Fitzmaurice, Gerald (1986). The Law and Procedure of the International Court of Justice. Vols. I–II. Cambridge, U.K.: Grotius.

Koroma, A. G. (1995). "Humanitarian Intervention and Contemporary International Law." Swiss Review of International and European Law 4.

Oda, Shigeru (1993). The International Court of JusticeViewed from the Bench (1976–1993). Recueil des Cours. Vol. 244. Dordrecht: Nijhoff.

Rosenne, S. (1997). The Law and Practice of theInternational Court, 1920–1996. Vols. I–IV. The Hague: Nijhoff.

G. G. Herczegh

International Court of Justice

views updated May 29 2018


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the main judicial tribunal of the united nations, to which all member states are parties. It is often informally referred to as the World Court. The ICJ was established in 1946 by the United Nations (Statute of the International Court of Justice [ICJ Statute], June 26, 1945, 59 Stat. 1055, 3 Bevans 1179). It replaced the former Permanent Court of International Justice, which had operated within The Hague, Netherlands, since 1922. Like its predecessor, the headquarters of the ICJ is also located in the Peace Palace at The Hague.

The function of the ICJ is to resolve disputes between sovereign states. Disputes may be placed before the court by parties upon conditions prescribed by the U.N. Security Council. No state, however, may be subject to the jurisdiction of the court without the state's consent. Consent may be given by express agreement at the time the dispute is presented to the court, by prior agreement to accept the jurisdiction of the court in particular categories of cases, or by treaty provisions with respect to disputes arising from matters covered by the treaty.

Article 36(2) of the court's statute, known as the Optional Clause, allows states to make a unilateral declaration recognizing "as compulsory ipso facto and without special agreement, in relation to any other state accepting the same obligation, the jurisdiction of the Court in all legal disputes."

Many states have accepted the court's jurisdiction under the Optional Clause. A few states have done so with certain restrictions. The United States, for instance, has invoked the so called self-judging reservation, or Connally Reservation. This reservation allows states to avoid the court's jurisdiction previously accepted under the Optional Clause if they decide not to respond to a particular suit. It is commonly exercised when a state determines that a particular dispute is of domestic rather than international character, and thus domestic jurisdiction applies. If a state invokes the self-judging reservation, another state may also invoke this reservation against that state, and thus a suit against the second state would be dismissed. This is called the rule of reciprocity, and stands for the principle that a state has to respond to a suit brought against it before the ICJ only if the state bringing the suit has also accepted the court's jurisdiction.

Under the ICJ Statute, the ICJ must decide cases in accordance with international law. This means that the ICJ must apply (1) any international conventions and treaties; (2) international custom; (3) general principles recognized as law by civilized nations; and (4) judicial decisions and the teachings of highly qualified publicists of the various nations.

One common type of conflict presented to the ICJ is treaty interpretation. In these cases the ICJ is asked to resolve disagreements over the meaning and application of terms in treaties formed between two or more countries. Other cases range from nuclear testing and water boundary disputes to conflicts over the military presence of a foreign country.

The ICJ is made up of 15 jurists from different countries. No two judges at any given time may be from the same country. The court's composition is static but generally includes jurists from a variety of cultures.

Despite this diversity in structure, the ICJ has been criticized for favoring established powers. Under articles 3 and 9 of the ICJ Statute, the judges on the ICJ should represent "the main forms of civilization and … principal legal systems of the world." This definition suggests that the ICJ does not represent the interests of developing countries. Indeed, few Latin American countries have acquiesced to the jurisdiction of the ICJ. Conversely, most developed countries accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

The judgment of the ICJ is binding and (technically) cannot be appealed (arts. 59, 60) once the parties have consented to its jurisdiction and the court has rendered a decision. However, a state's failure to comply with the judgment violates the U.N. Charter, article 94(2). Noncompliance can be appealed to the U.N. Security Council, which may either make recommendations or authorize other measures by which the judgment shall be enforced. A decision by the Security Council to enforce compliance with a judgment rendered by the court is subject to the veto power of permanent members, and thus depends on the members' willingness not only to resort to enforcement measures but also to support the original judgment.

The ICJ also may render advisory opinions on legal questions when requested to do so by the General Assembly, the Security Council, or other U.N. organs or agencies. For example, the World Health Organization and the General Assembly requested advisory opinions on the legality of nuclear weapons under international law. The World Court held hearings, in which 45 nations testified. It issued an advisory opinion in July 1996, which held that it was illegal for a nation to threaten nuclear war. The court is used infrequently, which suggests that most states prefer to handle their disputes by political means or by recourse to tribunals where the outcome may be more predictable or better controlled by the parties.

Since 2000, some of the contentious cases before the ICJ included a property dispute between Liechtenstein and Germany; a territorial and maritime dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia; a land, island, and frontier dispute between El Salvador and the Honduras (Nicaragua intervening); and a 2003 case by Mexico against the United States over alleged violations of consular communications with—and access to—several Mexican nationals sentenced to death in various U.S. states for crimes committed within. A 1993 case filed by Bosnia against the former Yugoslavia for violating the Genocide Convention was still pending in 2003, as was a matter between the Republic of Congo and France over alleged crimes against humanity. Trials against individuals for alleged war crimes against humanity or genocides involving Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Serbia, and the former Yugoslavia were being handled by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a separate U.N. tribunal.

The ICJ has been maligned for the inconsistency of its decisions and its lack of real enforcement power. But its ambitious mission to resolve disputes between sovereign nations makes it a valuable source of support for many countries in their political interaction with other countries.

further readings

International Court of Justice. Available online at <> (accessed June 3, 2003).

Kelly, Barbara. 1992. "The International Court of Justice: Its Role in a New World Legal Order." Touro Journal of Transnational Law 3.

Lelewer, Joanne K. 1989."International Commercial Arbitration as a Model for Resolving Treaty Disputes." New York University Journal of International Law and Policy 21.

Levarda, Daniela. 1995. "A Comparative Study of U.S. and British Approaches to Discovery Conflicts: Achieving a Uniform System of Extraterritorial Discovery." Fordham International Law Journal 18.


International Law; Ipso Facto; United Nations.

International Court of Justice

views updated May 18 2018


INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE (ICJ), sometimes known as the "World Court." The principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN) since 1946, its statute is a multilateral agreement annexed to the charter of the United Nations.

The court serves as a principal vehicle for furthering the UN's mandate to facilitate the peaceful resolution of international disputes, acting as a permanent, neutral, third-party dispute settlement mechanism rendering binding judgments in "contentious" cases initiated by one state against another. Parties to dispute before the court must consent to the exercise of the court's jurisdiction. This may be demonstrated in one of three ways: (1) by special agreement or compris, in the context of a particular case; (2) by treaty, such as a multilateral agreement that specifies reference of disputes arising under it to the court; or (3) by advance consent to the so-called "compulsory" jurisdiction court on terms specified by the state concerned. The court also has the power to render advisory opinions at the request of international institutions such as the UN General Assembly.

Located in The Hague, the ICJ is the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice, an organ of the League of Nations, which itself was the culmination of earlier international movements to promote international arbitration as an alternative to armed conflict. After World War II, the United States became party to the statute and accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the court on terms specified by the Senate, including the famous Connally amendment, in which the United States declined to give its consent to "disputes with regard to matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the United States of America, as determined by the United States of America." Over the subsequent decade and a half the United States unsuccessfully initiated a series of cases against the USSR, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria concerning aerial incidents in Europe. The court as a whole had relatively few cases on its docket during the 1960s, but the United States successfully appealed to the ICJ to vindicate its position as a matter of legal right during the Iranian hostage crisis.

A case initiated by Nicaragua in 1984 challenging U.S. support of the Contra militias and the mining of Nicaraguan ports proved to be a watershed in U.S. dealings with the court. After vigorously and unsuccessfully contesting the court's jurisdiction in a preliminary phase, the United States declined to appear on the merits and subsequently withdrew its consent to the compulsory jurisdiction of the court in 1985.However, the United States continues to be party to cases relying on other jurisdictional grounds.


Rosenne, Shabtai. The Law and Practice of the International Court, 1920–1996. The Hague and Boston: Nijhoff, 1997.

Eyffinger, Arthur. The International Court of Justice 1946–1996. The Hague and Boston: Kluwer Law International, 1996.

Pomerance, Michla. The United States and the World Court as a "Supreme Court of the Nations": Dreams, Illusions, and Disillusion. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Nijhoff, 1996.

David A.Wirth

See alsoLeague of Nations ; United Nations .

International Court of Justice

views updated May 18 2018

International Court of Justice Supreme judicial body of the United Nations (UN) for hearing disputes between countries involving treaties and international law. It replaced the League of Nations' Permanent Court of Justice in 1947. Its 15 judges are chosen by the UN, each coming from a different state and serving for nine years. The court sits at The Hague.

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