Basic Toolkit

This basic toolkit provides a brief overview of the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, which has its seat in The Hague, the Netherlands.

It was produced as part of a joint enterprise between the Registry of the Court and Pax Initiative. It is made available for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.

History

  • ORIGINS
  • 1899
  • 1907
  • 1920
  • 1922
  • 1945
  • 1946
  • 1947
  • 2019

The delegates who took part in the First Hague Conference on the steps of the Royal Huis ten Bosch Palace in The Hague (Carnegie Foundation archives)

First Hague Conference

The Hague Peace Conference of 1899, convened on the initiative of the Russian Czar Nicholas II “with the object of seeking the most objective means of ensuring to all peoples the benefits of a real and lasting peace, and above all, of limiting the progressive development of existing armaments” brought together delegates from 26 different States. The Conference resulted in the adoption of a series of instruments and declarations. One of those, the 1899 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, provided for the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The delegates who took part in the Second Hague Conference arriving at the Ridderzaal of the Dutch Parliament (Carnegie Foundation archives)

Second Hague Conference

In 1907, a second Hague Peace Conference revised the Convention and improved the rules governing arbitral proceedings. At that time, the United States proposed an initiative for a permanent court, which was endorsed by Germany and the United Kingdom, but the Conference was unable to reach agreement upon it. Nonetheless, the 1907 Conference served as a source of inspiration for the drafting of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice years later.

The Advisory Committee of Jurists responsible for the drafting of the PCIJ Statute in the Japanese Room of the Peace Palace (League of Nations Archives)

Establishment of the PCIJ

The Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) was the predecessor of the ICJ. The Statute of the PCIJ, adopted in December 1920, provided that it would be competent not only to hear and rule on any dispute of an international character submitted to it by the parties to the dispute, but also to give an advisory opinion upon any dispute or question referred to it by the Council or Assembly of the League of Nations.

The inaugural sitting of the PCIJ held on 15 February 1922 in the Great Hall of Justice of the Peace Palace (PCIJ archives)

Inaugural sitting of the PCIJ

The PCIJ held its inaugural sitting on 15 February 1922. Between 1922 and 1940 the PCIJ dealt with 29 contentious cases between States and issued 27 advisory opinions. After the outbreak of the Second World War, the Court relocated to Geneva, leaving one judge and a few Registry officials in The Hague. It was officially dissolved in 1946.

One of the plenary sessions of the San Francisco Conference (UN photo)

Establishment of the ICJ

The ICJ was established at the San Francisco Conference held from April to June 1945, during which the UN Charter and the Statute of the Court were drawn up and signed. The Conference decided in favour of the creation of an entirely new court, which would be a principal organ of the United Nations and whose statute would be annexed to the Charter, forming an integral part of it. All Member States of the United Nations are, therefore, automatically parties to the Court’s Statute.

The inaugural sitting of the ICJ held on 19 April 1946 in the Great Hall of Justice of the Peace Palace (ICJ archives)

Inaugural sitting of the ICJ

The ICJ, which held its inaugural sitting on 18 April 1946, came to be the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.

First hearing in the Corfu Channel Case held on 26 February 1948 in the Great Hall of Justice of the Peace Palace (ANP photo)

First cases submitted to the Court

By an Application filed on 22 May 1947, the United Kingdom submitted the first contentious case to the Court against Albania after the case had previously been brought before the United Nations and, in consequence of a recommendation by the Security Council, had been referred to the Court.

On 24 November 1947, the UN General Assembly requested the first advisory opinion from the Court on the conditions of admission of a State to Membership in the United Nations For the 1947 photo caption, let’s please remove the full point from the end.

A sealed and signed copy of a decision of the Court

Cases submitted to the Court

Between 1946 and 1 January 2019, 176 cases were entered in the General List of the Court.

Composition of the court

President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf - Somalia

Member of the Court since 6 February 2009;
President of the Court since 6 February 2018

The President and Vice-President are elected by the Members of the Court every three years by secret ballot. The election is held on the date of Court’s triennial renewal or shortly thereafter. An absolute majority is required and there are no conditions of nationality. The President and Vice-President may be re-elected. The President presides at all meetings of the Court; he or she directs its work and supervises its administration, with the assistance of a Budgetary and Administrative Committee and various other committees, all composed of Members of the Court. During judicial deliberations, the President has a casting vote in the event of votes being tied. The Vice-President replaces the President in his or her absence, in the event of his or her inability to perform his or her duties, or in the event of a vacancy in the presidency. In the absence of the Vice-President, this role falls to the senior judge.

President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf - Somalia

Member of the Court since 6 February 2009;
President of the Court since 6 February 2018

The President and Vice-President are elected by the Members of the Court every three years by secret ballot. The election is held on the date of Court’s triennial renewal or shortly thereafter. An absolute majority is required and there are no conditions of nationality. The President and Vice-President may be re-elected. The President presides at all meetings of the Court; he or she directs its work and supervises its administration, with the assistance of a Budgetary and Administrative Committee and various other committees, all composed of Members of the Court. During judicial deliberations, the President has a casting vote in the event of votes being tied. The Vice-President replaces the President in his or her absence, in the event of his or her inability to perform his or her duties, or in the event of a vacancy in the presidency. In the absence of the Vice-President, this role falls to the senior judge.

Vice-President Xue Hanqin - China

Member of the Court since 29 June 2010;
Vice-President of the Court since 6 February 2018

The President and Vice-President are elected by the Members of the Court every three years by secret ballot. The election is held on the date of Court’s triennial renewal or shortly thereafter. An absolute majority is required and there are no conditions of nationality. The President and Vice-President may be re-elected. The President presides at all meetings of the Court; he or she directs its work and supervises its administration, with the assistance of a Budgetary and Administrative Committee and various other committees, all composed of Members of the Court. During judicial deliberations, the President has a casting vote in the event of votes being tied. The Vice-President replaces the President in his or her absence, in the event of his or her inability to perform his or her duties, or in the event of a vacancy in the presidency. In the absence of the Vice-President, this role falls to the senior judge.

Judge Peter Tomka - Slovakia

Member of the Court since 6 February 2003

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Ronny Abraham - France

Member of the Court since 15 February 2005

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Mohamed Bennouna - Morocco

Member of the Court since 6 February 2006

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade - Brazil

Member of the Court since 6 February 2009

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Joan E. Donoghue - United States of America

Member of the Court since 9 September 2010

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Giorgio Gaja - Italy

Member of the Court since 6 February 2012

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Julia Sebutinde - Uganda

Member of the Court since 6 February 2012

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Dalveer Bhandari - India

Member of the Court since 27 April 2012

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Patrick Lipton Robinson - Jamaica

Member of the Court since 6 February 2015

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge James Richard Crawford - Australia

Member of the Court since 6 February 2015

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Kirill Gevorgian - Russian Federation

Member of the Court since 6 February 2015

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Nawaf Salam - Lebanon

Member of the Court since 6 February 2018

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Judge Yuji Iwasawa - Japan

Member of the Court since 22 June 2018

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 Judges (or Members) elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. In order to ensure a degree of continuity, one third of the Court is elected every three years. Once elected, a Member of the Court is a delegate neither of the government of his or her own country nor of that of any other State. The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. Judges are eligible for re-election.

Mr. Philippe Couvreur - Belgium

Registrar since 10 February 2000

The Court appoints its Registrar from among candidates proposed by Members of the Court. He or she is elected for a term of seven years and may be re-elected. The Deputy-Registrar, who is elected in the same way as the Registrar, assists the Registrar and acts as Registrar in the latter’s absence.

The Registry is the permanent administrative secretariat of the Court. It is accountable to the Court alone. Since the Court is both a court of justice and an international organization, the Registry’s tasks are not only those of a service helping in the administration of justice - with Sovereign States as litigants - but also those of an international secretariat. Its activities are judicial and diplomatic, as well as administrative.

Click on the silhouettes to find out more about the composition of the Court.

Work of the Court

The ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, acts as a world court. It may entertain two types of cases: legal disputes between States submitted to it by those States (contentious proceedings) and requests for advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by the United Nations organs, its specialized agencies or affiliated organizations (advisory proceedings).

In the exercise of its jurisdiction in contentious cases, the ICJ settles disputes of a legal nature that are submitted to it by States in accordance with international law. An international legal dispute can be defined as a disagreement on a question of law or fact, a conflict, or a clash of legal views or interests.

The procedure consists of two parts: written and oral. They are concluded by the deliberation of the Court, after which a decision is issued in a public sitting.

Only States can be parties to contentious cases. Moreover, the Court can only deal with a dispute when the States concerned have recognized its jurisdiction.

The advisory procedure is open to only the United Nations organs, including the General Assembly and the Security Council, as well as the 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations family or related organizations. Advisory proceedings begin with the filing of a written request for an advisory opinion addressed to the Registrar by the United Nations Secretary-General or the director or secretary-general of the entity requesting the opinion. A few days after the request has been filed, the Court draws up a list of the States and international organizations that are likely to be able to furnish information on the legal question before the Court. Similar to contentious cases, advisory proceedings of two parts: written and oral. They are concluded by the deliberation of the Court, after which the Court issues its advisory opinion in a public sitting.

Unlike the judgments rendered by the Court in contentious cases, the advisory opinions it gives are not binding, but they do carry great legal weight and moral authority.

The Court was established in pursuance of one of the United Nation’s primary purposes, namely to maintain international peace and security by pacific means and in conformity with international law. The ICJ also plays a vital role within the framework of Sustainable Development Goal 16 concerning the promotion of peace, justice, and strong and effective institutions. Between 1946 and 1 January 2019, 176 cases were entered in the General List of the Court.

Seat of the Court

Foundation stone laying ceremony of the Peace Palace in 1907 (Courtesy of the Carnegie Foundation)

The Peace Palace today

Foundation stone laying ceremony of the Peace Palace in 1907 (Courtesy of the Carnegie Foundation)

The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Built between 1907 and 1913 thanks to a generous donation from Mr. Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born industrialist who made his fortune in the United States, the Peace Palace is situated in seven hectares of parkland in the city of The Hague.

The granite, sandstone and red-brick building designed by the French architect Louis Cordonnier and topped by an imposing roof of greyish slate is in a predominantly neo-renaissance style. In addition to the ICJ, it houses four other institutions: the Carnegie Foundation, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Peace Palace Library and the Hague Academy of International Law.

The Peace Palace today

Other Organizations

Members of the ICJ during court hearings held in March 2018 (ICJ/UN photo)

The ICJ, a court open only to States for contentious proceedings, and to certain organs and institutions of the United Nations system for advisory proceedings, should not be confused with the other mostly criminal judicial institutions based in The Hague and adjacent areas, such as the International Criminal Court, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, or the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction to try individuals accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. It is not a criminal court and thus does not have a prosecutor able to initiate proceedings. The Court is not a supreme court to which national courts can turn, or 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.

Practical Information

Stay Connected

E-mail:

[email protected]


Twitter Account:

@CIJ_ICJ


LinkedIn Account:

International Court of Justice (ICJ)


YouTube Channel:

CIJ ICJ


Presentations on the work of the Court

The Information Department offers presentations to groups of between 10 and 70 persons covering the history, workings and activities of the Court. They last approximately one hour. Presentations are available in English and French, and are free of charge. No presentations are given during public hearings/sittings of the Court, or at weekends. Groups are required to make a request by filling in the application form at the following link >>



Please note that the Information Department does not offer guided tours of the Peace Palace. For such tours, please contact the Carnegie Foundation:


Contact the Carnegie Foundation >>

Resources

Acts and Documents No. 6 >>
It contains the Charter of the United Nations, the Statute and Rules of Court along with Practice Directions and other basic texts



Handbook >>
This publication provides the general public with a simple, comprehensive overview of the history, composition, jurisdiction, procedure and decisions of the Court



Annual Reports >>
Every year the Court submits a report on its activities to the United Nations General Assembly. The report covers the period from 1 August of one year to 31 July of the next

Stay Connected

E-mail:

[email protected]


Twitter Account:

@CIJ_ICJ


LinkedIn Account:

International Court of Justice (ICJ)


YouTube Channel:

CIJ ICJ


Presentations on the work of the Court

The Information Department offers presentations to groups of between 10 and 70 persons covering the history, workings and activities of the Court. They last approximately one hour. Presentations are available in English and French, and are free of charge. No presentations are given during public hearings/sittings of the Court, or at weekends. Groups are required to make a request by filling in the application form at the following link >>



Please note that the Information Department does not offer guided tours of the Peace Palace. For such tours, please contact the Carnegie Foundation:


Contact the Carnegie Foundation >>

Resources

Acts and Documents No. 6 >>
It contains the Charter of the United Nations, the Statute and Rules of Court along with Practice Directions and other basic texts



Handbook >>
This publication provides the general public with a simple, comprehensive overview of the history, composition, jurisdiction, procedure and decisions of the Court



Annual Reports >>
Every year the Court submits a report on its activities to the United Nations General Assembly. The report covers the period from 1 August of one year to 31 July of the next