ICJ in Brief
Is the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the first court of its type?
The ICJ is the successor of the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), the first world court. The PCIJ became operational in 1922 but gradually lost its relevance because of the Great Depression and the rise of fascism. During the Second World War, PCIJ and League of Nations became so irrelevant that they were not even used. Like the UN, the International court of justice (ICJ) – its principal judicial organ – was established by the UN charter, signed in 1945 at San Francisco, United States. Based in the Peace palace in The Hague, Netherlands, the ICJ began its work from 1946. The court has 15 judges of different nationalities. It has a dual role. It is supposed to settle legal disputes between states in accordance with international law. Secondly, it also gives advisory opinions on legal matters referred to it by duly authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.
Can individuals their case to the ICJ?
No, only UN member States are eligible to appear before the Court in conten take tious cases. The Court has no jurisdiction to deal with applications from individuals, nongovernmental organisations, corporations or any other private entity. It cannot provide them with legal counselling or help them in their dealings with the authorities of any state. The state however can take up the case of its citizens against another state. In Kulbhushan Jadhav’s case too, only the Government of India can raise the case in the ICJ.
How is it different from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the ad hoc international criminal tribunals?
The ICJ is not a criminal court and hence it has no jurisdiction to try individuals accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. It’s the job of national courts, the ad hoc criminal tribunals and the ICC. The need for an international tribunal to judge political leaders was first discussed during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. After the Second World War, the world witnessed the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, which were set up to investigate Japanese and Nazi war crimes. In 1948, the UN stated that the general assembly recognises the need for an international court to deal with such atrocities. There could never be any consensus because of the Cold War and hence similar tribunals were set up for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, while a special court was established to investigate war crimes in Sierra Leone. These ad hoc tribunals have limited jurisdiction specific to the countries for which they are set up. The ICC on the other hand is a permanent international body with global jurisdiction. The ICC can prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Rome Statute, which defines the ICC, also inserts ‘aggression’ in its jurisdiction. There is however no international agreement on the definition of ‘aggression’.
Are ICJ’s decisions binding?
According to article 94 of the UN charter, each member undertakes to comply with the decision of the court in any case to which it is a party. The judgments are final and without appeal. If a state fails to agree then the other party can take the case to the Security Council. It means that a dispute can remain unresolved forever if one the five permanent members veto against any further action. There have been many such incidents. In 1946, British warships struck mines in Albanian waters and were damaged. The ICJ asked the Albanian government to pay compensation, which it refused. The case was finally mutually settled by both the governments in the 1990s. The Iranian government refused to participate in proceedings following the USfiled application regarding the 1979 USIran diplomatic crisis. The Iranian government asserted that the court could not take cognizance in this case. Similarly in 1984, the Americans walked out of acase brought by the Nicaraguan government. The court is often dubbed as a toothless body and one whose decisions are often influenced by the Western world.