International Court of Justice

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Basis of the Court's Jurisdiction

The jurisdiction of the Court in contentious proceedings is based on the consent of the States to which it is open1. The form in which this consent is expressed determines the manner in which a case may be brought before the Court.

(a) Special agreement

Article 36, paragraph 1, of the Statute provides that the jurisdiction of the Court comprises all cases which the parties refer to it. Such cases normally come before the Court by notification to the Registry of an agreement known as a special agreement and concluded by the parties specially for this purpose2. The subject of the dispute and the parties must be indicated (Statute, Art. 40, para. 1; Rules, Art. 39).

(b) Cases provided for in treaties and conventions

Article 36, paragraph 1, of the Statute provides also that the jurisdiction of the Court comprises all matters specially provided for in treaties and conventions in force. In such cases a matter is normally brought before the Court by means of a written application instituting proceedings3; this is a unilateral document which must indicate the subject of the dispute and the parties (Statute, Art. 40, para. 1) and, as far as possible, specify the provision on which the applicant founds the jurisdiction of the Court (Rules, Art. 38).

A list of treaties and conventions governing the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in contentious cases is given in the "Treaties and Other Documents" section.

To these instruments must be added other treaties and conventions concluded earlier and conferring jurisdiction upon the Permanent Court of International Justice, for Article 37 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice stipulates that whenever a treaty or convention in force provides for reference of a matter to a tribunal to have been instituted by the League of Nations, or to the Permanent Court of International Justice, the matter shall, as between the parties to the Statute, be referred to the International Court of Justice. The Permanent Court reproduced, in 1932, in its Collection of Texts governing the Jurisdiction of the Court (P.C.I.J., Series D, No. 6, fourth edition) and subsequently in Chapter X of its Annual Reports (P.C.I.J., Series E, Nos. 8-16) the relevant provisions of the instruments governing its jurisdiction. By virtue of the Article referred to above, some of these provisions now govern the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

(c) Compulsory jurisdiction in legal disputes

The Statute provides that a State may recognize as compulsory, in relation to any other State accepting the same obligation, the jurisdiction of the Court in legal disputes. These cases are brought before the Court by means of written applications. The conditions on which such compulsory jurisdiction may be recognized are stated in paragraphs 2-5 of Article 36 of the Statute, which read as follows:

"2. The States parties to the present Statute may at any time declare that they recognize as compulsory ipso facto and without special agreement, in relation to any other State accepting the same obligation, the jurisdiction of the Court in all legal disputes concerning:

(a) the interpretation of a treaty;

(b) any question of international law;

(c) the existence of any fact which, if established, would constitute a breach of an international obligation;

(d) the nature or extent of the reparation to be made for the breach of an international obligation.

3. The declarations referred to above may be made unconditionally or on condition of reciprocity on the part of several or certain States, or for a certain time.

4. Such declarations shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who shall transmit copies thereof to the parties to the Statute and to the Registrar of the Court.

5. Declarations made under Article 36 of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice and which are still in force shall be deemed, as between the parties to the present Statute, to be acceptances of the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice for the period which they still have to run and in accordance with their terms."

Texts of those declarations are given in the "Declarations Recognizing as Compulsory the Jurisdiction of the Court" section.

(d) Forum prorogatum

If a State has not recognized the jurisdiction of the Court at the time when an application instituting proceedings is filed against it, that State has the possibility of accepting such jurisdiction subsequently to enable the Court to entertain the case:  the Court thus has jurisdiction as of the date of acceptance in virtue of the rule of forum prorogatum.

(e) The Court itself decides any questions as to its jurisdiction

Article 36, paragraph 6, of the Statute provides that in the event of a dispute as to whether the Court has jurisdiction, the matter shall be settled by the decision of the Court. Article 79 of the Rules lays down the conditions which govern the filing of preliminary objections4.

(f) Interpretation of a judgment

Article 60 of the Statute provides that in the event of dispute as to the meaning or scope of a judgment, the Court shall construe it upon the request of any party. The request for interpretation may be made either by means of a special agreement between the parties or of an application by one or more of the parties (Rules, Art. 98)5.

(g) Revision of a judgment

An application for revision of a judgment may be made only when it is based upon the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor, which fact was, when the judgment was given, unknown to the Court and also to the party claiming revision, always provided that such party's ignorance was not due to negligence (Statute, Art. 61, para. 1). A request for revision is made by means of an application (Rules, Art. 99)6.


1 In the following eight cases, the Court found that it could take no further steps upon an Application in which it was admitted that the opposing party did not accept its jurisdiction: Treatment in Hungary of Aircraft and Crew of the United States of America (United States of America v.Hungary) (United States of America v.USSR); Aerial Incident of 10 March 1953 (United States of America v. Czechoslovakia); Antarctica (United Kingdom v. Argentina) (United Kingdom v.Chile); Aerial Incident of 7 October 1952 (United States of America v.USSR); Aerial Incident of 4 September 1954 (United States of America v.USSR); and Aerial Incident of 7 November 1954 (United States of America v.USSR).

Article 38, paragraph 5, of the present Rules of Court which came into force on 1 July 1978 provides that:

"When the applicant State proposes to found the jurisdiction of the Court upon a consent thereto yet to be given or manifested by the State against which such application is made, the application shall be transmitted to that State. It shall not however be entered in the General List, nor any action be taken in the proceedings, unless and until the State against which such application is made consents to the Court's jurisdiction for the purposes of the case."

Article 38, paragraph 5, has been applied with regard to an Application filed by Hungary on 23 October 1992, instituting proceedings against the Czech and Slovak Republic, with regard to an Application filed by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 16 March 1994, instituting proceedings against the Member States of NATO and with regard to an Application filed by Eritrea on 16 February 1999, instituting proceedings against Ethiopia, and with regard to an Application filed by Rwanda against France on 18 April 2007. As far as the Application filed by the Congo against France on 11 April 2003 and another filed by Djibouti against France on 9 January 2006 are concerned, the Respondent consented to the Court’s jurisdiction. That consent led to those cases being entered into the General List with effect from the date of receipt of the consent as respectively Certain Criminal Proceedings (Republic of the Congo v. France) and Certain Questions of Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (Djibouti v. France)..

2 The following 16 cases were submitted to the Court by means of special agreements (by date of their addition to the General List): Asylum (Colombia/Peru); Minquiers and Ecrehos (France/United Kingdom); Sovereignty over Certain Frontier Land (Belgium/Netherlands); North Sea Continental Shelf (Federal Republic of Germany/Denmark; Federal Republic of Germany/Netherlands); Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya); Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary in the Gulf of Maine Area (Canada/United States of America) (case referred to a Chamber); Continental Shelf (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Malta); Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Republic of Mali) (case referred to a Chamber); Land, Island and Maritime Frontier Dispute (El Salvador/Honduras) (case referred to a Chamber); Territorial Dispute (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Chad); Gabcíkovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary/Slovakia); Kasikili/Sedudu Island (Botswana/Namibia); Sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/Malaysia); Frontier Dispute (Benin/Niger) (referred to a chamber); and Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore).

In the Corfu Channel (United Kingdom v. Albania) case the Parties made a special agreement after delivery of the Judgment on the Preliminary Objection. The case concerning the Arbitral Award Made by the King of Spain on 23 December 1906 (Honduras v. Nicaragua) was submitted by means of an application, but the Parties had previously concluded an agreement on the procedure to be followed in submitting the dispute to the Court.

3 With the exception of the 16 cases listed above under footnote 2, which were brought by the notification of a special agreement, all contentious cases have been brought before the Court by reason of an application instituting proceedings, irrespective of whether the Court's jurisdiction was founded on a provision in a treaty or convention, declarations recognizing the Court's jurisdiction as obligatory made by each of the parties to the dispute, or any other alleged form of consent.

4 Preliminary objections were raised in the following 36 cases (by date of their addition to the General List): Corfu Channel (United Kingdom v.Albania); Rights of Nationals of the United States of America in Morocco (France v.United States of America); Ambatielos (Greece v.United Kingdom); Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. (United Kingdom v.Iran); Nottebohm (Liechtenstein v.Guatemala); Certain Norwegian Loans (France v.Norway); Right of Passage over Indian Territory (Portugal v.India); Interhandel (Switzerland v. United States of America); Aerial Incident of 27 July 1955 (Israel v.Bulgaria) (United States of America v.Bulgaria); Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company, Limited (Belgium v.Spain); Compagnie du Port, des Quais et des Entrepôts de Beyrouth and Sociéte Radio-Orient (France v.Lebanon); Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v.Thailand); South West Africa (Ethiopia v.South Africa; Liberia v.South Africa); Northern Cameroons (Cameroon v.United Kingdom); Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company, Limited (New Application: 1962) (Belgium v.Spain); Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988 (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America); Certain Phosphate Lands in Nauru (Nauru v.Australia); Questions of Interpretation and Application of the 1971 Montreal Convention arising out of the Aerial Incident at Lockerbie (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya v. United Kingdom) (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya v.United States of America); Oil Platforms (Islamic Republic of Iran v.United States of America); Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v.Yugoslavia); Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria (Cameroon v.Nigeria: Equatorial Guinea intervening); Ahmadou Sadio Diallo (Republic of Guinea v. Democratic Republic of the Congo) (case pending on 30 July 2008); Legality of Use of Force (Serbia and Montenegro v. Belgium); Legality of Use of Force (Serbia and Montenegro v. Canada); Legality of Use of Force (Serbia and Montenegro v. France); Legality of Use of Force (Serbia and Montenegro v. Germany); Legality of Use of Force (Serbia and Montenegro v. Italy); Legality of Use of Force (Serbia and Montenegro v. Netherlands); Legality of Use of Force (Serbia and Montenegro v. Portugal); Legality of Use of Force (Serbia and Montenegro v. United Kingdom); Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (Croatia v. Serbia and Montenegro) (case pending on 30 July 2008); Certain Property (Liechtenstein v. Germany); and Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia) (case pending on 30 July 2008).

Questions of jurisdiction or admissibility have also been raised in the following 18 cases (not including proceedings for the indication of provisional measures): Monetary Gold Removed from Rome in 1943 (Italy v.France, United Kingdom and United States of America); Appeal Relating to the Jurisdiction of the ICAO Council (India v.Pakistan); Fisheries Jurisdiction (United Kingdom v.Iceland; Federal Republic of Germany v.Iceland); Nuclear Tests (Australia v.France) (New Zealand v. France); Aegean Sea Continental Shelf (Greece v.Turkey); Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v.United States of America); Border and Transborder Armed Actions (Nicaragua v.Honduras); Elettronica Sicula S.p.A. (ELSI) (United States of America v.Italy); East Timor (Portugal v.Australia); Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions between Qatar and Bahrain (Qatar v Bahrain); Fisheries Jurisdiction (Spain v.Canada); LaGrand (Germany v. United States of America); Aerial Incident of 10 August 1999 (Pakistan v. India); Arrest Warrant of 11 April 2000 (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium), Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (New Application: 2002)(Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Rwanda); and Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America).

5 An application for interpretation was made by Colombia in respect of the Asylum (Colombia/Peru) case, another by Tunisia (along with an application for revision) in respect of the Judgment delivered by the Court on 24 February 1982 in the Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan ArabJamahiriya) and another by Nigeria in respect of the Judgment delivered by the Court on 11 June 1998 in the case concerning Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria (Cameroon v.Nigeria: Equatorial Guinea intervening), Preliminary Objections. A request for Interpretation of the Judgment of 31 March 2004 in the Case concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America) was filed by Mexico on 5 June 2008. This application instituting proceedings was filed with a Request for the Indication of Provisional Measures which the Court dealt with in its Order on the indication of provisional measures of 16 July 2008.

6 An application for revision and interpretation of the Judgment was filed by Tunisia in respect of the Judgment of 24 February 1982 in the case concerning the Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya). On 24 April 2001, Yugoslavia filed an application for revision concerning the Court’s Judgment of 11 July 1996 on the Preliminary Objections in the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide ( Bosnia and Herzegovinav. Yugoslavia) case. On 10 September 2002, El Salvador filed an application for revision concerning the Judgment delivered by the Court on 11 September 1992 in the case concerning the Land, Island and Maritime Frontier Dispute (El Salvador/Honduras; Nicaragua intervening).