International Court of Justice

Seat: The Hague  Instruments: Charter of the UN; ICJ Statute  Operating Since: 1946

The International Court of Justice, successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice, may resolve international legal disputes between the 193 UN Member States.  The ICJ’s jurisdiction takes three forms: compulsory, special agreement, and treaty-based.  Seventy UN Member States have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction, meaning that any international legal dispute involving those States may be submitted to the Court, provided that the all States party to the dispute before the ICJ have accepted the its compulsory jurisdiction.  States may also submit a dispute to the ICJ by special agreement, accepting the ICJ’s jurisdiction only with regard to the specific dispute at issue.  Lastly, States may accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction with regard to particular areas of international law when they join a treaty that specifically provides that disputes will be submitted to the ICJ for resolution, such as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  The ICJ has taken up more than 119 disputes.

The ICJ’s potential jurisdiction covers a wide range of international legal issues.  Many of the disputes submitted to it have pertained to territory, national boundaries, and rights to natural resources.  However, a significant number of its decisions have touched upon questions relevant to international human rights, such as the right to consular assistance for detained foreign nationals (and here), racial discrimination, political asylum, the exercise of universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide.

The ICJ also has jurisdiction to give advisory opinions on questions of international law submitted to it by intergovernmental organizations, such as the International Labour Organization or International Atomic Energy Agency.  Such opinions are, in general, not binding.  The ICJ has produced, to date, 25 advisory opinions.