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Français

Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict

See also Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons

Overview of the case

By a letter dated 27 August 1993, filed in the Registry on 3 September 1993, the Director-General of the World Health Organization officially communicated to the Registrar a decision taken by the World Health Assembly to submit to the Court the following question, set forth in resolution WHA46.40 adopted on 14 May 1993

“In view of the health and environmental effects, would the use of nuclear weapons by a State in war or other armed conflict be a breach of its obligations under international law including the WHO Constitution ?”

The Court decided that the WHO and the member States of that organization entitled to appear before the Court were likely to be able to furnish information on the question, in accordance with Article 66, paragraph 2, of the Statute. Written statements were filed by 35 States, and subsequently written observations on those written statements were presented by nine States. In the course of the oral proceedings, which took place in October and November 1995, the WHO and 20 States presented oral statements. On 8 July 1996, the Court found that it was not able to give the advisory opinion requested by the World Health Assembly.

It considered that three conditions had to be satisfied in order to found the jurisdiction of the Court when a request for advisory opinion was submitted to it by a specialized agency : the agency requesting the opinion had to be duly authorized, under the Charter, to request opinions of the Court ; the opinion requested had to be on a legal question ; and that question had to be one arising within the scope of the activities of the requesting agency. The first two conditions had been met. With regard to the third, however, the Court found that although according to its Constitution the WHO is authorized to deal with the health effects of the use of nuclear weapons, or of any other hazardous activity, and to take preventive measures aimed at protecting the health of populations in the event of such weapons being used or such activities engaged in, the question put to the Court in the present case related not to the effects of the use of nuclear weapons on health, but to the legality of the use of such weapons in view of their health and environmental effects.

The Court further pointed out that international organizations did not, like States, possess a general competence, but were governed by the “principle of speciality”, that is to say, they were invested by the States which created them with powers, the limits of which were a function of the common interests whose promotion those States entrusted to them. Besides, the WHO was an international organization of a particular kind — a “specialized agency” forming part of a system based on the Charter of the United Nations, which was designed to organize international co-operation in a coherent fashion by bringing the United Nations, invested with powers of general scope, into relationship with various autonomous and complementary organizations, invested with sectorial powers. The Court therefore concluded that the responsibilities of the WHO were necessarily restricted to the sphere of “public health” and could not encroach on the responsibilities of other parts of the United Nations system. There was no doubt that questions concerning the use of force, the regulation of armaments and disarmament were within the competence of the United Nations and lay outside that of the specialized agencies. The Court accordingly found that the request for an advisory opinion submitted by the WHO did not relate to a question arising “within the scope of [the] activities” of that organization.


This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.

Request for Advisory Opinion

Request for Advisory Opinion

3 September 1993
Request for Advisory Opinion
Available in:
English French

Written proceedings

Written Statement of the Government of the French Republic
(French version only)

20 June 1994
Available in:
French

Oral proceedings

Verbatim record 1995/22

Public sitting held on Monday 30 October 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/23

Public sitting held on Wednesday 1 November 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/24

Public sitting held on Thursday 2 November 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/25

Public sitting held on Friday 3 November 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/26

Public sitting held on Monday 6 November 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/27

Public sitting held on Tuesday 7 November 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/28

Public sitting held on Thursday 9 November 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/29

Public sitting held on Friday 10 November 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/31

Public sitting held on Monday 13 November 1995, at 10.35 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/32

Public sitting held on Tuesday 14 November 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/33

Public sitting held on Tuesday 14 November 1995, at 3.30 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/34

Public sitting held on Wednesday 15 November 1995, at 10 a.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Verbatim record 1995/35

Public sitting held on Wednesday 15 November 1995, at 3 p.m., at the Peace Palace, President Bedjaoui presiding
Available in:
Original Language

Other documents

Orders

Order of 13 September 1993

Fixing of time-limit: Written Statements
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Order of 20 June 1994

Extension of time-limits: Written Statements; fixing of time-limit: Written Comments
Available in:
English French Bilingual

Advisory opinions

Summaries of Advisory Opinions and Orders

Summary 1996/2

Summary of the Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996
Available in:
English French

Press releases

Press release 1993/26

3 September 1993
Request for advisory opinion made by the World Health Organization
Available in:
English French

Press release 1993/30

13 September 1993
Request by World Health Organization for an Advisory Opinion - Order fixing time-limits
Available in:
English French

Press release 1994/15

22 June 1994
Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict (Request for Advisory Opinion by the World Health Organization) - Extension of time-limit
Available in:
English French

Press release 1994/20

23 September 1994
Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict (Request for Advisory Opinion by the World Health Organization) - Submission of written statements
Available in:
English French

Press release 1995/17

27 June 1995
Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict (Request for Advisory Opinion by the World Health Organization) - Hearings to open on 30 October 1995 - Submission of written comments
Available in:
English French

Press release 1995/31

27 September 1995
Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict (Request for Advisory Opinion by the World Health Organization) - Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (Request for Advisory Opinion by the General Assembly of the United Nations) - Hearings of the Court opening on 30 October 1995
Available in:
English French

Press release 1995/35

27 October 1995
Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict - Hearings of the Court opening on 30 October 1995
Available in:
English French

Press release 1995/37

20 November 1995
Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict (Request for Advisory Opinion by the World Health Organization) - Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (Request for Advisory Opinion by the General Assembly of the United Nations) - Progress and conclusion of hearings
Available in:
English French

Press release 1996/22

8 July 1996
Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict - (Request for Advisory Opinion by the World Health Organization) - Advisory Opinion
Available in:
English French