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The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations it would be to settle a number

umber of outstanding questions between the two countries which it

(UN). It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work had not been possible to resolve by negotiation. While it is true that these mixed
in April 1946. commissions were not strictly speaking organs of third-party adjudication, they were
intended to function to some extent as tribunals. They reawakened interest in the process
The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). Of the six of arbitration. Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States and the United
principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York (United Kingdom had recourse to them, as did other States in Europe and the Americas.
States of America).
The Alabama Claims arbitration in 1872 between the United Kingdom and the United
The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted States marked the start of a second, even more decisive, phase. Under the Treaty of
to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized Washington of 1871, the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to submit to
United Nations organs and specialized agencies. arbitration claims by the former for alleged breaches of neutrality by the latter during the
The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by American Civil War. The two countries set forth certain rules governing the duties of neutral
the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. It is assisted by a Registry, governments that were to be applied by the tribunal, which they agreed should consist of
its administrative organ. Its official languages are English and French. five members, to be appointed by the Heads of State of the United States, the United
Kingdom, Brazil, Italy and Switzerland, the last three States not being parties to the case.
The arbitral tribunal’s award ordered the United Kingdom to pay compensation, which it

History duly did. The proceedings served to demonstrate the effectiveness of arbitration in settling
of a major dispute, and led during the latter years of the nineteenth century to a range of
developments, namely:
The creation of the Court represented the culmination of a long process of developing
methods for the pacific settlement of international disputes, the origins of which can be
 a sharp growth in the practice of inserting in treaties clauses providing for
traced back to classical times.
recourse to arbitration in the event of a dispute between the parties;
Article 33 of the United Nations Charter lists the following methods for the pacific  the conclusion of general treaties of arbitration for the settlement of specified
settlement of disputes between States: negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, classes of inter-State disputes;
arbitration, judicial settlement, and resort to regional agencies or arrangements, to which  efforts to construct a general law of arbitration, so that countries wishing to have
should also be added good offices. Some of these methods involve the services of third recourse to this means of settling disputes would not be obliged to agree each
parties. For example, mediation places the parties to a dispute in a position in which they time on the procedure to be adopted, the composition of the tribunal, the rules to
can themselves resolve their dispute thanks to the intervention of a third party. Arbitration be followed and the factors to be taken into consideration in making the award;
goes further, in the sense that the dispute is submitted to the decision or award of an  proposals for the creation of a permanent international arbitral tribunal to avoid
impartial third party, so that a binding settlement can be achieved. The same is true of the need to set up a special ad hoctribunal to decide each individual dispute.
judicial settlement (the method applied by the International Court of Justice), except that a
court is subject to stricter rules than an arbitral tribunal, particularly in procedural matters.
Historically, mediation and arbitration preceded judicial settlement. The former was known The Hague Peace Conferences and the
in ancient India and the Islamic world, whilst numerous examples of the latter can be found
in ancient Greece, in China, among the Arabian tribes, in maritime customary law in Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)
medieval Europe, and in Papal practice. The Hague Peace Conference of 1899, convened on the initiative of the Russian Czar
Nicholas II, marked the beginning of a third phase in the modern history of international
arbitration. The chief object of the Conference, in which — a remarkable innovation for the
The origins of arbitration time — the smaller States of Europe, some Asian States and Mexico also participated,
was to discuss peace and disarmament. It culminated in the adoption of a Convention on
The modern history of international arbitration is generally recognized as dating from the
the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, which dealt not only with arbitration but
so-called Jay Treaty of 1794 between the United States of America and Great Britain. This
also with other methods of pacific settlement, such as good offices and mediation.
Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation provided for the creation of three mixed
commissions, composed of equal numbers of American and British nationals, whose task
With respect to arbitration, the 1899 Convention provided for the creation of permanent machinery could decide disputes between States on a basis of law and justice and
machinery which would enable arbitral tribunals to be set up as desired and would facilitate command respect for their impartiality, they also threw into bold relief the shortcomings of
their work. This institution, known as the Permanent Court of Arbitration, consisted in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Tribunals of differing composition could hardly be
essence of a panel of jurists designated by each country acceding to the Convention — expected to develop a consistent approach to international law to the same extent as a
each country being entitled to designate up to four — from among whom the members of permanently constituted tribunal. Besides, there was the entirely voluntary character of the
each arbitral tribunal might be chosen. The Convention also created a permanent Bureau, machinery. The fact that States were parties to the 1899 and 1907 Conventions did not
located in The Hague, with functions corresponding to those of a court registry or oblige them to submit their disputes to arbitration. What is more, even if they were minded
secretariat, and laid down a set of rules of procedure to govern the conduct of arbitrations. to do so, they were not duty-bound to have recourse to the Permanent Court of Arbitration,
Clearly, the name “Permanent Court of Arbitration” is not a wholly accurate description of nor to follow the rules of procedure laid down in the Conventions.
the machinery set up by the Convention, which consisted only of a method or device for
facilitating the creation of arbitral tribunals as and when necessary. Nevertheless, the The Permanent Court of Arbitration has recently sought to diversify the services that it can
system thus established was permanent, and the Convention “institutionalized” the law offer, alongside those contemplated by the Conventions. For example, the International
and practice of arbitration, placing it on a more definite and more generally accepted Bureau of the Permanent Court of Arbitration serves as a registry in important international
footing. The Permanent Court of Arbitration was established in 1900 and began operating arbitrations. Moreover, in 1993, the Permanent Court of Arbitration adopted new “Optional
in 1902. Rules for Arbitrating Disputes between Two Parties of Which Only One Is a State” and, in
2001, “Optional Rules for Arbitration of Disputes Relating to Natural Resources and/or the
A few years later, in 1907, a second Hague Peace Conference, to which the States of Environment”.
Central and South America were also invited, revised the Convention and improved the
rules governing arbitral proceedings. Some participants would have preferred the For more information on the Permanent Court of Arbitration, please visit its website .
Conference not to confine itself to improving the machinery created in 1899. The United The work of the two Hague Peace Conferences and the ideas they inspired in statesmen
States Secretary of State, Elihu Root, had instructed the United States delegation to work and jurists had some influence on the creation of the Central American Court of Justice,
towards the creation of a permanent tribunal composed of judges who were full-time which operated from 1908 to 1918. In addition, they helped to shape the various plans and
judicial officers, with no other occupation, who would devote their time wholly to the trial proposals submitted between 1911 and 1919, both by national and international bodies
and decision of international cases by judicial methods. “These judges”, wrote Secretary and by governments, for the establishment of an international judicial tribunal, which
Root, “should be so selected from the different countries that the different systems of law culminated in the creation of the PCIJ as an integral part of the new international system
and procedure and the principal languages shall be fairly represented”. The United States, set up after the end of the First World War.
the United Kingdom and Germany submitted a joint proposal for a permanent court, but
the Conference was unable to reach agreement upon it. It became apparent in the course
of the discussions that one of the major difficulties was finding an acceptable way of
choosing the judges, since none of the proposals tabled had garnered widespread support.
The Permanent Court of International Justice
The Conference confined itself to recommending that States should adopt a draft
convention for the creation of a court of arbitral justice as soon as agreement was reached
“respecting the selection of the judges and the constitution of the court”. Although this court Article 14 of the Covenant of the League of Nations gave the Council of the League
was never in fact to see the light of day, the draft convention that was to have given birth responsibility for formulating plans for the establishment of a Permanent Court of
to it enshrined certain fundamental ideas that some years later were to serve as a source International Justice (PCIJ), which would be competent not only to hear and determine any
of inspiration for the drafting of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice dispute of an international character submitted to it by the parties to the dispute, but also
(PCIJ). to give an advisory opinion upon any dispute or question referred to it by the Council or
Notwithstanding the fate of these proposals, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which in Assembly of the League of Nations. All that remained was for the League Council to take
1913 took up residence in the Peace Palace that had been built for it thanks to a gift from the necessary action to give effect to Article 14. At its second session early in 1920, the
Andrew Carnegie, has made a positive contribution to the development of international Council appointed an Advisory Committee of Jurists to submit a report on the
law. The landmark cases that have been decided through recourse to it include establishment of the PCIJ. The committee sat in The Hague, under the chairmanship of
the Carthage and Manouba cases (1913) concerning the seizure of vessels, and Baron Descamps (Belgium). In August 1920, a report containing a draft scheme was
the Timor Frontiers (1914) and Sovereignty over the Island of Palmas (1928) cases. submitted to the Council, which, after examining it and making certain amendments,
Although these cases demonstrate that arbitral tribunals set up using permanent presented it to the First Assembly of the League of Nations, which opened in Geneva in
November of that year. The Assembly instructed its Third Committee to examine the certain classes of legal disputes they recognized the Court’s jurisdiction as
question of the Court’s constitution. In December 1920, after an exhaustive study by a compulsory in relation to other States accepting the same obligation. This system
subcommittee, the Committee submitted a revised draft to the Assembly, which of optional acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Court was the most that it was
unanimously adopted it. This was the Statute of the PCIJ. then possible to obtain;
 the PCIJ was empowered to give advisory opinions upon any dispute or question
The Assembly decided that a vote alone would not be sufficient to establish the PCIJ, and referred to it by the League of Nations Council or Assembly;
that the Statute would have to be formally ratified by each State represented in the  the Court’s Statute specifically listed the sources of law it was to apply in
Assembly. In a resolution of 13 December 1920, it called upon the Council to submit a deciding contentious cases and giving advisory opinions, without prejudice to the
protocol adopting the Statute to the Members of the League of Nations, and decided that power of the Court to decide a case >ex aequo et bono if the parties so agreed;
the Statute should come into force once a majority of Member States had ratified it. The
 it was more representative of the international community and of the major legal
protocol was opened for signature on 16 December. By the time of the next meeting of the systems of the world than any previous international tribunal had ever been.
Assembly, in September 1921, a majority of the Members of the League had signed and
ratified the protocol. The Statute thus entered into force. It was to be revised only once, in
1929, the revised version coming into force in 1936. Among other things, the new Statute Although the Permanent Court of International Justice was brought into being through, and
resolved the previously insurmountable problem of the election of the members of a by, the League of Nations, it was nevertheless not a part of the League. There was a close
permanent international tribunal, by providing that the judges were to be elected association between the two bodies, reflected, inter alia, in the fact that the League Council
concurrently, but independently, by the Council and the Assembly of the League, and that and Assembly periodically elected the Members of the Court and that both Council and
it should be borne in mind that those elected “should represent the main forms of Assembly were entitled to seek advisory opinions from the Court. However, the latter never
civilization and the principal legal systems of the world”. Simple as this solution may now formed an integral part of the League, just as the Statute never formed part of the
seem, in 1920 it represented a considerable achievement. The first elections were held on Covenant. In particular, a Member State of the League of Nations was not by that fact
14 September 1921. Following approaches by the Netherlands Government in the spring alone automatically a party to the Court’s Statute.
of 1919, it was decided that the PCIJ should have its permanent seat at the Peace Palace Between 1922 and 1940 the PCIJ dealt with 29 contentious cases between States and
in The Hague, which it would share with the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It was issued 27 advisory opinions. At the same time several hundred treaties, conventions and
accordingly in the Peace Palace that the Court’s preliminary session devoted to the declarations conferred jurisdiction upon it over specified categories of disputes. Any
elaboration of the Court’s Rules opened on 30 January 1922, and it was there too that its lingering doubts about whether a permanent international judicial tribunal could function in
inaugural sitting was held on 15 February 1922, with the Dutch jurist Bernard C. J. Loder a practical and effective manner were thus dispelled. The Court’s value to the international
as President. community was demonstrated in a number of different ways, and first and foremost by its
The PCIJ was thus a working reality. The great advance it represented in the history of development of a proper judicial process. This found expression in the Rules of Court,
international legal proceedings can be appreciated by considering the following: which the PCIJ originally drew up in 1922 and subsequently revised on three occasions,
in 1926, 1931 and 1936. There was also the PCIJ’s Resolution concerning the Judicial
Practice of the Court, adopted in 1931 and revised in 1936, which laid down the internal
 unlike arbitral tribunals, the PCIJ was a permanently constituted body governed procedure to be followed during the Court’s deliberations on each case. In addition, while
by its own Statute and Rules of Procedure, fixed beforehand and binding on helping to resolve some serious international disputes, many of them consequences of the
parties having recourse to the Court; First World War, the decisions of the PCIJ at the same time often clarified previously
 it had a permanent Registry which, inter alia, served as a channel of unclear areas of international law or contributed to their development.
communication with governments and international bodies;
 its proceedings were largely public and provision was made for the publication in For more information on the Permanent Court of International Justice, please see the PCIJ
due course of the pleadings, of verbatim records of the sittings and of all pages on our website.
documentary evidence submitted to it;
 the permanent tribunal thus established was now able to set about gradually
developing a constant practice and maintaining a certain continuity in its
decisions, thereby enabling it to make a greater contribution to the development
of international law;
 in principle the PCIJ was accessible to all States for the judicial settlement of
their international disputes, and States were able to declare beforehand that for
questions open which it felt the Conference should decide: Should a new court be created?
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) In what form should the court’s mission as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations
be stated? Should the court’s jurisdiction be compulsory and, if so, to what extent? How
The outbreak of war in September 1939 inevitably had serious consequences for the PCIJ,
should the judges be elected? The final decisions on those points, and on the definitive
which had for some years been experiencing a decline in its level of activity. After its last
form of the statute, were made at the San Francisco Conference, in which 50 States
public sitting on 4 December 1939 and its last order on 26 February 1940, the Permanent
participated. The Conference decided against compulsory jurisdiction and in favour of the
Court of International Justice in fact dealt with no further judicial business and no elections
creation of an entirely new court, which would be a principal organ of the United Nations,
of judges were held. In 1940 the Court relocated to Geneva, leaving one judge in The
on the same footing as the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and
Hague together with a few Registry officials of Dutch nationality. Despite the war,
Social Council, the Trusteeship Council and the Secretariat, and whose statute would be
consideration needed to be given to the future of the Court and to the creation of a new
annexed to the Charter, forming an integral part of it. The main reasons that led the
international political order.
Conference to decide to create a new court were the following:
In 1942 the United States Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary of the United
Kingdom declared themselves in favour of the establishment or re-establishment of an  as the court was to be the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, it was felt
international court after the war, and the Inter-American Juridical Committee inappropriate for that role to be filled by the Permanent Court of International
recommended that the PCIJ’s jurisdiction should be extended. Early in 1943, the United Justice, with its connection to the League of Nations, which was itself on the
Kingdom Government took the initiative of inviting a number of experts to London to point of dissolution;
constitute an informal Inter-Allied Committee to examine the matter. That Committee,  the creation of a new court was more consistent with the provision in the Charter
under the chairmanship of Sir William Malkin (United Kingdom), held 19 meetings, which that all Member States of the United Nations would ipso facto be parties to the
were attended by jurists from 11 countries. In its report, which was published on 10 court’s statute;
February 1944, it recommended:  several States that were parties to the Statute of the PCIJ were not represented
at the San Francisco Conference and, conversely, several States represented at
 that the Statute of any new international court should be based on that of the the Conference were not parties to the Statute;
Permanent Court of International Justice;  there was a feeling in some quarters that the PCIJ formed part of an older order,
 that the new court shoule retain an advisory jurisdiction; in which European States had dominated the political and legal affairs of the
 that acceptance of the jurisdiction of the new court should not be compulsory; international community, and that the creation of a new court would make it
 that the court should have no jurisdiction to deal with essentially political matters. easier for States outside Europe to play a more influential role. This proved to be
true: the membership of the United Nations has grown from 51 in 1945 to 193 in
Meanwhile, on 30 October 1943, following a conference, China, the USSR, the United 2018.
Kingdom and the United States issued a joint declaration recognizing the necessity “of
establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization, based on Nevertheless, the San Francisco Conference considered that a degree of continuity should
the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving States, and open to membership be maintained, particularly since the Statute of the PCIJ had itself been drawn up on the
by all such States, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and basis of past experience, and had seemed to work well. The Charter therefore clearly
security”. stated that the Statute of the International Court of Justice was based upon that of the
PCIJ. At the same time, the necessary steps were taken to transfer as much of the PCIJ's
This declaration led to exchanges between the Four Powers at Dumbarton Oaks (United jurisdiction as possible to the International Court of Justice. In any event, the decision to
States), and resulted in the publication on 9 October 1944 of proposals for the create a new court necessarily involved the dissolution of its predecessor. The PCIJ met
establishment of a general international organization, to include an international court of for the last time in October 1945 and resolved to transfer its archives and effects to the
justice. A meeting was subsequently convened in Washington, in April 1945, of a new International Court of Justice, which, like its predecessor, was to have its seat at the
committee of jurists representing 44 States. This Committee, under the chairmanship of Peace Palace. The judges of the PCIJ all resigned on 31 January 1946, and the election
G. H. Hackworth (United States), was entrusted with preparing a draft Statute for the future of the first Members of the International Court of Justice took place on 6 February 1946,
international court of justice, for submission to the San Francisco Conference, which was at the First Session of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. In April
meeting from April to June 1945 to draw up the United Nations Charter. The draft statute 1946, the PCIJ was formally dissolved, and the International Court of Justice, meeting for
prepared by the Committee was based on the Statute of the PCIJ and was therefore not a the first time, elected as its President Judge José Gustavo Guerrero (El Salvador), the last
completely new text. The Committee nevertheless felt obliged to leave a number of President of the PCIJ. The Court appointed the members of its Registry (largely from
among former officials of the PCIJ) and held an inaugural public sitting on the 18th of that (IRMCT), mandated to take over residual functions from the International Criminal Tribunal
month. The first case was submitted in May 1947. It concerned incidents in the Corfu for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Channel and was brought by the United Kingdom against Albania. (ICTR)) or in co-operation with it (such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone and
the Special Tribunal for Lebanon), and also of the International Criminal Court, set up
under the Rome Statute.
Frequently Asked Questions How does the International Court of Justice differ from other
See also international courts?
The Court at a glance (flyer) The International Court of Justice differs from the Court of Justice of the European
Union (based in Luxembourg), whose role is to interpret European Community legislation
Handbook of the Court (6th Edition, updated to 31 Dec 2013) uniformly and rule on its validity, as well as from the European Court of Human Rights (in
What is the International Court of Justice? Strasbourg, France) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (in San José, Costa
Rica), which deal with allegations of violations of the human rights conventions under
The Court is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established by the which they were set up. As well as applications from States, those three courts can
United Nations Charter, which was signed in 1945 in San Francisco (United States), and entertain applications from individuals, which is not possible for the International Court of
began work in 1946 in the Peace Palace, The Hague (Netherlands). Justice.
The Court, which is composed of 15 judges, has a twofold role: first, to settle, in The jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice is general and thereby differs from that
accordance with international law, legal disputes between States submitted to it by them of specialist international tribunals, such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the
and, second, to give advisory opinions on legal matters referred to it by duly authorized Sea (ITLOS).
United Nations organs and specialized agencies.
Lastly, the Court is not a supreme court to which national courts can turn; it does not act
The Court’s official languages are English and French. as a court of last resort for individuals. Nor is it an appeal court for any international tribunal.
It can, however, rule on the validity of arbitral awards.
Who may submit cases to the Court?
Why are some disputes between States not considered by the
Only States are eligible to appear before the Court in contentious cases.
The Court has no jurisdiction to deal with applications from individuals, non-governmental
The Court can only hear a dispute when requested to do so by one or more States. It
organizations, corporations or any other private entity. It cannot provide them with legal
advice or help them in their dealings with national authorities. cannot deal with a dispute on its own initiative. Neither is it permitted, under its Statute, to
investigate and rule on acts of sovereign States as it chooses.
However, a State may take up the case of one of its nationals and invoke against another
State the wrongs which its national claims to have suffered at the hands of the latter; the The States involved in the dispute must also have access to the Court and have accepted
its jurisdiction, in other words they must consent to the Court’s considering the dispute in
dispute then becomes one between States.
question. This is a fundamental principle governing the settlement of international disputes,
What differentiates the International Court of Justice from the since States are sovereign and free to choose how to resolve their disputes.
International Criminal Court and the ad hoc international criminal A State may manifest its consent in three ways:
 by a special agreement: two or more States with a dispute on a specific issue
The International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction to try individuals accused of war may agree to submit it jointly to the Court and conclude an agreement for this
crimes or crimes against humanity. As it is not a criminal court, it does not have a purpose;
prosecutor able to initiate proceedings.  by a clause in a treaty: over 300 treaties contain clauses (known as
This task is the preserve of national courts, the ad hoc criminal tribunals established by jurisdictional clauses) by which a State party undertakes to accept the jurisdiction
the United Nations (such as the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals
of the Court should a dispute arise with another State party about the Does the Court offer internships?
interpretation or application of the treaty;
 by a unilateral declaration: the States parties to the Statute of the Court may Yes. Further information on this subject can be found under Internships on our website.
opt to make a unilateral declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the Court as
binding with respect to any other State also accepting it as binding. This optional Does the Court issue official certificates or other documents to
clause system, as it is called, has led to the creation of a group of States each of individuals?
which has given the Court jurisdiction to settle any dispute that might arise
between them in future. In principle, any State in this group is entitled to bring The Court issues no such documents to individuals, whether relating to the lottery,
one or more other States in the group before the Court. Declarations may contain transfers of funds or certifying transactions. The Court regularly receives requests for
reservations limiting their duration or excluding certain categories of dispute. information about documents bearing its logo or the crudely forged signature of certain
They are deposited by States with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. senior officials. Members of the public are advised that these constitute fraud.

How to find out more about the Court

Are decisions of the Court binding?
For further information on the Court, please download the Handbook of the Court (last
Judgments delivered by the Court (or by one of its Chambers) in disputes between States updated on 31 December 2013).
are binding upon the parties concerned. Article 94 of the United Nations Charter provides
that “[e]ach Member of the United Nations undertakes to comply with the decision of [the
Court] in any case to which it is a party”.
Judgments are final and without appeal. If there is a dispute about the meaning or scope
of a judgment, the only possibility is for one of the parties to make a request to the Court
for an interpretation. In the event of the discovery of a fact hitherto unknown to the Court
which might be a decisive factor, either party may apply for revision of the judgment.
As regards advisory opinions, it is usually for the United Nations organs and specialized
agencies requesting them to give effect to them or not, by whichever means they see fit.

How can I attend hearings of the Court?

The hearings of the Court are public, unless it has been decided to hold a closed hearing.
For information on how to attend, please refer to the Visits pages on our website.
Representatives of the media wishing to cover the hearings must be duly accredited. For
further information, please refer to the Accreditation page under “Press room”.

Is it possible to visit the Peace Palace, the seat of the Court?

The Carnegie Foundation, which owns the Peace Palace, organizes guided tours on
weekdays, for which a fee is payable.
However, no tours are possible when the International Court of Justice is holding hearings
or when other events are taking place in the Peace Palace.

How can I apply for a job in the Registry of the Court?

For all information concerning job vacancies, please refer to the Current vacancies page
on our website.