The International Court of Justice in The Hague

January 1st, 2018 | Destination: | Rubric: Architecture, General, House of the Month |

© International Court of Justice

© International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (French: Cour internationale de justice; commonly referred to as the World Court, ICJ or The Hague) is the primary judicial branch of the United Nations (UN). Seated in the Peace Palace in The Hague, the court settles legal disputes submitted to it by states and provides advisory opinions on legal questions submitted to it by duly authorized international branches, agencies, and the UN General Assembly. Established in 1945 by the UN Charter, the Court began work in 1946 as the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice. The Statute of the International Court of Justice, similar to that of its predecessor, is the main constitutional document constituting and regulating the Court.

The idea of the Peace Palace started from a discussion in 1900 between the Russian diplomat Friedrich Martens and American diplomat Andrew Dickson White over providing a home for the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). White contacted the Scottish-American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie had his reservations, and at first was only interested in donating money for the establishment of a library of international law. White, however, was able to convince Carnegie, and in 1903 Carnegie agreed to donate the US$1.5 million ($40,000,000, adjusted for inflation) needed to house the court as well as to endow it with a library of international law. White described his idea to Carnegie:

“A temple of peace where the doors are open, in contrast to the Janus Temple, in times of peace and closed in cases of war (…..) as a worthy testimony of the people that, after many long centuries finally a court that has thrown open its doors for the peaceful settlement of differences between peoples”.

Were such a fabric to be created, men would make pilgrimages from all parts of the civilized world to see it. It would become a sort of holy place, prized and revered by thinking men throughout the world, and to which, in any danger of war between any two countries, the minds of men would turn naturally and normally. The main difficulty now is that the people of the various nations do not really know what was done for them by the Conference; but such a building would make them know it. It would be an “outward and visible sign” of the Court, which would make its actual, tangible existence known to the ends of the earth”
—Andrew Dickson White to Andrew Carnegie, 5 August 1902

Court room © PetrusSilesius/cc-by-sa-3.0 Seal of the International Court of Justice © Ssolbergj/cc-by-sa-4.0 © International Court of Justice
Seal of the International Court of Justice © Ssolbergj/cc-by-sa-4.0
The ICJ is composed of fifteen judges elected to nine-year terms by the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council from a list of people nominated by the national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The election process is set out in Articles 4–19 of the ICJ statute. Elections are staggered, with five judges elected every three years to ensure continuity within the court. Should a judge die in office, the practice has generally been to elect a judge in a special election to complete the term. No two judges may be nationals of the same country. According to Article 9, the membership of the Court is supposed to represent the “main forms of civilization and of the principal legal systems of the world”. Essentially, that has meant common law, civil law and socialist law (now post-communist law).

There is an informal understanding that the seats will be distributed by geographic regions so that there are five seats for Western countries, three for African states (including one judge of francophone civil law, one of Anglophone common law and one Arab), two for Eastern European states, three for Asian states and two for Latin American and Caribbean states. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States) always have a judge on the Court, thereby occupying three of the Western seats, one of the Asian seats and one of the Eastern European seats. The exception was China, which did not have a judge on the Court from 1967 to 1985 because it did not put forward a candidate. Article 6 of the Statute provides that all judges should be “elected regardless of their nationality among persons of high moral character” who are either qualified for the highest judicial office in their home states or known as lawyers with sufficient competence in international law. Judicial independence is dealt with specifically in Articles 16–18.

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