On disputes transcending national boundaries, the UN World Court works.
When the United Nations (UN) vowed to uphold international peace and security as well as encourage friendly relations between countries, it established the UN World Court specifically to resolve disputes between nations.
The UN World Court comes in several names: International Court of Justice, ICJ, and Cour Internationale de Justice. The successor of the Permanent Court of International Justice, it was established in 1945, and began performing its duties in 1946. Its base is located at the Peace Palace at The Hague, The Netherlands. English and French serve as its official languages.
Fifteen judges, each one of various nationalities, make up the Court. They have been elected by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council to nine-year terms of office. These judges-members are devoid of any affiliation with their respective countries of citizenship. For impartiality, each one is an independent magistrate. Needless to say, the judges must be well versed in international laws and their qualifications must make them suitable for appointment to the highest judicial offices in their respective countries.
The Court Rules
The World Court forms part of the main structure on which the UN stands steadily. As the UN’s principal judicial organ, the Court has dual functions: one, to settle contentious cases or disputes submitted by states; and two, to give advisory opinions on legal questions submitted by duly authorized international organs and agencies. It does these functions in observance of the Statute of the International Court of justice, the main constitutional document that constitutes and regulates this justice body.
In effect, the World Court has “global” jurisdictions. However, it is not the same as, nor related to, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the War Crimes Law (Belgium). Unlike these bodies, in the first place, the UN World Court cannot prosecute individuals.
Instead, the Court assesses and rules state-to-state disputes. No other court does this. Palestine versus Israel over West Bank barrier. Cameroon versus Nigeria over Bakassi Peninsula. Bosnia versus Belgrade. These are some of the disputes over which the Court has made interventions and decisions. These disputes concern various issues ranging from land frontiers and territorial sovereignty to hostage taking, right of asylum and nationality, rights of passage, guardianship, etc.
Only internationally-recognized states may apply to and appear before the World Court . These states must accept the World Court’s jurisdiction for it to hear a case. Similar to other courts, a case commences once parties file and exchange written submissions. Following this is the oral phase, which consists of public hearings.
Only after hearing these oral submissions will the World Court deliberate in a camera. Judgment, arrived at by voting, is then delivered at a public sitting. The decisions are based on international treaties and conventions in force.
The World Court ’s decisions are binding, final and without appeal. Should one of the states involved fail to comply with such decision, the other party may take it up to the UN Security Council. Furthermore, some countries have refused to accept its rulings. As of February 2006, the World Court has delivered 92 judgments and 11 pending cases.
However this binding quality does not apply to its other main function – that is, giving advisory opinions. Rather, its opinions are only consultative in nature. Also, only international organizations can request for these opinions. As of February 2006, the World Court has given 25 opinions. Commonly sought for opinions are issues on UN membership, legality of threat or use of nuclear weapons, status of human rights rapporteurs, human cloning, among others.
Rulings and Controversies
The UN World Court is not spared from controversial issues over its rulings.
A highly controversial case was that of the United States versus Nicaragua in 1984. Nicaragua complained about the activities of the Contra rebels, which were supported by the US; arguing that such US intervention on Nicaragua’s internal affairs was in violation of the key principles of international law. This was a hot case, not only because of the issues directly connected to the case, but also because this was a dispute between a small nation and a superpower, one that has been a founder of the UN and the World Court itself. Despite the US’ role and contributions in this judicial body, the Court ruled in favor of Nicaragua. United States walked out.
More recently, in the case of the West Bank Barrier between Palestine and Israel in 2004, the Court ruled against Israel ’s building of the barrier, saying it violated international law and should thus be dismantled. This construction of the barrier, which Israel started building in 2002 for protection from Palestinian would-be suicide bombers, has involved confiscation of Palestinian land and diminished economic survival for Palestinian farmers and traders. The decision however was advisory and not binding.
In 1977, Argentina rejected the Court’s ruling giving possession of the Beagle Islands to Chile . It was only due to the Pope’s interference that prevented war.
These and many other cases illustrate not only the contentious cases the Court handles as well as its impartiality, which is so important in any court body.
Globalization has made us connect farther into our neighboring nations and deeper into places once unknown to others. While such connection has reaped many benefits, it has also revealed the so many and ever increasing conflicts among communities of nations. The rich gets richer while the poor gets more deprived of its own rights and resources.
World peace? To guard and protect it, we have international laws that regulate relations between nations, thus providing frameworks for cooperation and existence. The application of international laws promotes international order. This is what the World Court keeps working on.
In the face of globalization, the World Court’s works have never been more in demand. It continues to gear up for the challenges. In its 60th anniversary last April 12, 2006, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stressed the importance of the World Court in promoting peace and justice throughout the world. He urged all states that have not recognized compulsory jurisdiction of the Court to do so and encouraged nations to consider submitting disputes.
True enough, the Court cannot perform its duties if it is not recognized; nor can it even begin to hear cases if nations remain silent. With the UN World Court‘s crucial work around the globe, world peace does not have to remain a cliché.