Establishment of the International Court of Justice Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The establishment of the International Court of Justice just after the end of World War II underscored a renewed hope that an international judicial tribunal could inaugurate a new era in which international tensions and concomitant threats of war would be peaceably averted.

Summary of Event

On February 5, 1946, the election of the first judges of the International Court of Justice was held at the initial meeting of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council in London, England. The International Court of Justice, also known as the ICJ or the World Court, evolved through a long history of international attempts to regulate disputes between nations in a civilized and controlled way. Though this movement began in Europe as early as the sixteenth century, its modern manifestation took shape in the nineteenth century and culminated in the post-World War I period with the creation of the Permanent Court of International Justice Permanent Court of International Justice (1922-1946) under the auspices of the League of Nations League of Nations . [kw]Establishment of the International Court of Justice (Feb. 5, 1946) [kw]International Court of Justice, Establishment of the (Feb. 5, 1946) [kw]Court of Justice, Establishment of the International (Feb. 5, 1946) [kw]Justice, Establishment of the International Court of (Feb. 5, 1946) United Nations;international courts International Court of Justice International law United Nations;international courts International Court of Justice International law [g]Europe;Feb. 5, 1946: Establishment of the International Court of Justice[01670] [g]United Kingdom;Feb. 5, 1946: Establishment of the International Court of Justice[01670] [c]Atrocities and war crimes;Feb. 5, 1946: Establishment of the International Court of Justice[01670] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Feb. 5, 1946: Establishment of the International Court of Justice[01670] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Feb. 5, 1946: Establishment of the International Court of Justice[01670] [c]United Nations;Feb. 5, 1946: Establishment of the International Court of Justice[01670] Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;United Nations Truman, Harry S. [p]Truman, Harry S.;United Nations Churchill, Winston [p]Churchill, Winston;United Nations Stalin, Joseph [p]Stalin, Joseph;United Nations

The League’s Permanent Court of Justice had delivered fifty-six judgments and advisory opinions in twenty-four years. Since the creation of the League’s Permanent Court had been regarded as a notable, if less than perfect, achievement, the war-weary Allied Powers of World War II—the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China—were open to demands for a new international judicial body as the bloodiest conflict in human history was coming to an end.

The human costs of this war ensured that U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet general secretary Joseph Stalin were quick to formally support the creation of a new international court. Thus, in 1944, at Dumbarton Oaks Dumbarton Oaks Conference (1944) , a committee made up of representatives of the four major Allied powers formally recommended that at the termination of hostilities a new international court should be created. The new court was to follow standards similar to those that had guided the Permanent Court of International Justice.

At the United Nations Conference held in San Francisco in 1945, fifty nations agreed to the United Nations Charter, wherein it was formally decreed that the International Court of Justice Statute would be based on the rules that had governed the Permanent Court of International Justice. The San Francisco Conference also declared that the jurisdiction of the latter court would be transferred to the new World Court.

As if to underscore the nexus between the two international judicial bodies, the original seat of the League’s Court, the Peace Palace Peace Palace , in the Hague, the Netherlands, would also be the seat of the new International Court of Justice. After the judges of the former court resigned, the election of International Court of Justice judges was held in February 5, 1946, at the initial meeting of the United Nations and Security Council in London. Reflecting the influence of tradition from the League of Nations’ court, as well as the realities of the postwar world, the World Court judges were to sit in the Hague and issue their judgments and opinions in French and English. It had been determined that the World Court’s fifteen elected judges would hold office for a nine-year term. To ensure continuity of office, the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council were to elect one-third of the judges every three years.

xlink:href="The_Hague.tif"

alt-version="no"

position="float"

xlink:type="simple"/>

Since the World Court is the principal judicial body of the United Nations, voting for the court’s judges is held in New York City at the General Assembly and the Security Council, where a candidate must receive a majority of votes from both bodies. The ICJ judges’ principal function is to adjudicate conflicts between nations and thus under Article 34 of the ICJ Statute, only states may be parties before the court. Therefore, the World Court holds no particular jurisdiction over disputes involving individual persons, but international organizations may petition the court for advisory opinions.

In a similar recognition of national sovereignty, no nation may be brought before the court without its consent. However, nations that accept the court’s jurisdiction grant the court binding authority to interpret treaties, adjudicate issues regarding international law, judge violations of international obligations, and order reparations for breaches of those obligations. Acting under its international authority, the World Court dealt with some thirty-nine contentious cases and delivered numerous judgments between its founding and 1970.

Significance

Born out of the most costly war in history, the International Court of Justice has both failed and fulfilled its promise to act as an objective arena in which international disputes can be addressed and, if possible, resolved peaceably. An analysis based simply on the number of disputes the World Court has been called to address from 1946 to the present would give an incomplete assessment of the court’s role in modern international affairs. While the court has handled more than one hundred cases and delivered scores of judgments since its creation, the court’s authority has not always been respected, and its holdings, at times, have not been honored.

The court has proven to be most ineffective when international conflicts have involved major powers that are unwilling to risk allowing the court the right to adjudicate definitive resolutions regarding their perceived sovereign national interests. In a case brought by Nicaragua in 1984, for example, the government of Nicaragua accused the United States of violating international law by funding and training an army of insurgents that engaged in acts of terrorism against the civilian population.

After hearing arguments from both parties, the World Court rejected the justification of collective self-defense made earlier by the United States and declared that the United States had committed acts that violated international law and was under a duty to cease all such activities and make reparations for all injuries to Nicaragua. Notwithstanding the court’s judgment, the United States refused to accept both the jurisdiction of the court in this matter and the court’s conclusions, citing as justification provisions in the World Court’s Statute that Washington interpreted as negating the jurisdiction of the court in this matter.

However, there have also been many international disputes that the World Court has adjudicated successfully, thus averting the possibility of more serious conflicts between particular nations. In 1998, for example, Malaysia and Indonesia brought to the court a heated dispute about sovereignty over two island territories that each state claimed as its own. After considering complex arguments put forth by both nations, the World Court concluded that the islands belonged to Malaysia. Although this decision was limited to two islands, the fact that it did involve a dispute about sovereignty over two contested territories proved that the court could play an important role in resolving difficult and possibly dangerous international tensions. United Nations;international courts International Court of Justice International law

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Amerasinghe, Chittharanjan F. Jurisdiction of International Tribunals. The Hague, the Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2003. Concerned with the comparative study of varied international tribunals, this work assesses the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice as it was originally established and as it has been interpreted since its creation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Amr, Mohamed Sameh. The Role of the International Court of Justice as the Principal Judicial Organ of the United Nations. The Hague, the Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2003. Although Amr’s main focus is on the legal implications of the International Court of Justice’s role as the official organ of the United Nations, some attention is paid to the court’s original function and evolution. In addition, this monograph has an extensive bibliography for the serious student of the World Court.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eyffinger, Arthur. The International Court of Justice, 1946-1996. The Hague, the Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 1996. The author’s thorough description of the establishment and evolution of the World Court makes this a valuable work for students of the International Court.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rosenne, Shabtai. The Law and Practice of the International Court, 1920-2005. 4th ed. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 2006. This seminal work, originally published in 1965, offers a four-volume analysis of the International Court of Justice from its origins in the League of Nations through its restructuring under the United Nations. Of particular significance are the assessment of the World Court and the United Nations in volume 1 and the documents reproduced in volume 4.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schulte, Constanze. Compliance with Decisions of the International Court of Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. In addressing the issue of when nations decide to comply or not with the decisions of the World Court, the author notes the adjudication of a number of interesting and seminal legal cases in the court’s evolution.

United Nations Charter Convention

United Nations Adopts Convention on Genocide

United Nations Convention Suppressing Human Trafficking Is Adopted

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Statute Is Approved

United Nations Sets Rules for Treatment of Prisoners

United Nations Intervenes in the Congolese Civil War

India-Pakistan Conflict Prompts U.N. Peacekeeping Response

United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Is Adopted

Statutes of Limitations Are Rendered Inapplicable to War Crimes

Categories: History Content