Monday, November 29, 2021

A Long-Lasting Vision for Peace and Justice States and the ICJ

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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions.

By Edgardo Sobenes. 

It was December 2009 when I first arrived in the city of The Hague, home to 160 international organizations. Ten years since, there is still not a day that I am not taken by the city’s beauty and its tangible relevance as the beating heart of international peace and justice. However, the following paragraphs are not about The Hague, but about the relationship between States and the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ principal judicial organ that will mark its 75thAnniversary in April 2021.

Since April 1946, over one hundred and fifty contentious cases have been brought before the Court, and more than one hundred countries have been a party to one or more of those proceedings.[1] The merits of the cases have also become more diverse, including, inter alia, cases concerning international environmental law, maritime and territorial delimitation, use of force, nuclear disarmament, discriminations and genocide. The aforementioned is a confirmation of what is already well-known, that the Court not only ‘stands at the forefront of the settlement of disputes relating to contemporary challenges’[2], but also that it is the leading standing forum with a general competence for inter-state disputes involving issues of international law.

Up to the present day, seventy-four States have recognized the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court under paragraph 2 of Article 36 of its Statute, many treaties or conventions confer jurisdiction on the Court, and seventeen disputes have been referred to it under a Special Agreement. Noticeably, countries’ sovereign decision to bring their conflicts before the ICJ denotes the trust of the international community in it as a successful means to solve their legal disputes.[3] The underlying reasons behind why States seek, or agree, to resolve their disputes before the Court may vary. However, there is one pillar that unites them all, and that is the will to solve conflict through law rather than force. As stated in the Special Agreement between Guatemala/Belize, States look for the Court to finally put an end to their respective disputes. 

Occasionally, the ghost of uncertainty manifests itself in the form of an unfounded notion that the Court is a means of last resort. This is erroneous. The International Court of Justice is not the last resort for dispute resolution, but rather one of the alternatives from which States can choose to obtain a resolution to their conflicts. As such, it is important to clarify that the idea of the various settlement procedures as a pyramid up which States climb, from the base of negotiation to the apex of the ICJ, is wrong.[4]

Almost 75 years after the World Court was seised for the first time, we can say with certainty that the it will continue in its effort to adjudicate disputes with dedication, impartiality, independence, and innovation. In this respect, we have seen how the Court has rapidly adapted to the unparalleled crisis brought by COVD-19, by amending its Rules and adopting measures that ensure uninterrupted fulfilment of its mandate. There are currently fifteen pending cases before the ICJ, and many more will come. Indicative not of an inability of the States to solve their problems, but a vote of confidence and trust in the rule of law.

It is a great honour and privilege to advise States in the peaceful resolution of their disputes, and to be part of a journey marked by the goals of peace and justice. As H.E. Judge Yusuf, the Court’s current President, so beautifully and succinctly expressed ‘the Court is […] spreading the bright rays of the sun of justice and of the rule of law throughout the world and offering all States the possibility of settling disputes peacefully […].’[5]

About the author:

Mr. Edgardo Sobenes, is a consultant in Public International Law, an international lawyer with extensive experience in international litigation before the International Court of Justice and a unique practice in coordinating and managing international legal team.



[1] Between 22 May 1947 and 11 November 2019, 178 cases were entered in the General List, including 27 Advisory Opinions; see https://www.icj-cij.org/en/cases

[2] Speech of H.E., Judge Abdulqawi A. Yusuf, President of the ICJ, on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 2020.

[3] See ‘The International Court of Justice and the Parties: A Statistical Overview’, Edgardo Sobenes,  30 April 2020, Insight Jus Mundi, available at https://blog.jusmundi.com/the-international-court-of-justice-and-the-parties-a-statistical-overview-by-edgardo-sobenes/. For more details on the cases see the Handbook of the International Court of Justice (2019) available at https://www.icj-cij.org/files/publications/handbook-of-the-court-en.pdf

[4] J. Collier & V. Lowe, ‘The Settlement of Disputes in international Law, Institutions and Procedures’ (1999), p.8.

[5] Speech of H.E., Judge Abdulqawi A. Yusuf, President of the ICJ, on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 2020

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