Fifty-seventh General Assembly
37th Meeting (AM)
GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPEAKERS NOTE GROWING GLOBAL CONFIDENCE
IN QUALITY OF WORK OF INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE
Efforts to Increase Efficiency Lauded; President of Court
Says Higher Budget Allowed Staff Increase, Better Spread of Information
The international community’s increase in confidence in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the high quality of its work, as exemplified by its most recent decision concerning the Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria, was highlighted by General Assembly members this morning, as the Assembly met to consider the annual report of the Court.
Introducing the report, the President of the ICJ, Judge Gilbert Guillaume, detailed the Court’s work on the case, explaining that Cameroon had brought to the Court its legal dispute with Nigeria regarding sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula in 1994. The Court had held, by 13 votes to three, that the boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria had been fixed by treaties concluded during the colonial period, whose validity it confirmed. Consequently, the Court decided that sovereignty over Bakassi lay with Cameroon.
The representative of Cameroon noted that with its decision, the Court had put an end to more than eight years of expensive proceedings. Welcoming Nigeria’s commitment to respect the verdict of the Court, he said that the voluntary and rapid implementation of its rulings was an important sign of the Court’s acceptance. This view was reaffirmed by the representative of Mexico, who complimented the Court on its grasp of the necessary historical data for understanding the situation. He said the refinement of the Court’s immense jurisprudence in relation to maritime borders could be fundamental to future pronouncements on maritime borders in the Caribbean.
Among other points made by the President of the ICJ and delegates addressing the Assembly, was that the Court had undertaken reform in streamlining its procedures and increasing public awareness of its work and purpose. Judge Guillaume said he was pleased to see the Court’s budget for the biennium 2002-2003 increased to $11,436,000 per year. That had enabled the Court to increase its staff, upgrade its information technology network and continue to develop its Web site.
The Court’s efforts to disseminate information to increase understanding of its work were commendable, said the representative of Malaysia. He noted the
37th Meeting (AM)
Court’s Web site, used by lawyers, students and diplomats, among others, as a source of information on international case law. The representative of Singapore also acknowledged the excellent efforts of the Court in maintaining a comprehensive Web site, which was constantly updated and was an essential tool for any country wishing to keep updated on the work of the Court. Automated e-mail newsletters from the Court further complemented the Web site.
Also addressing the Assembly this morning were the representatives of Costa Rica, Peru, Russian Federation, Japan, Mongolia, Guatemala and the Republic of Korea.
The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 October 2002, to begin its consideration of the Strengthening of the United Nations system.
The General Assembly met this morning to consider the report of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (document A/57/4) covering the period
1 August 2001 to 31 July 2002, as well as a report on the Secretary-General's Trust Fund to Assist States in the Settlement of Disputes through the International Court of Justice (document A/57/373).
The ICJ report indicates that there were 189 States party to the Statute of the Court and that 63 of them had deposited declarations to accept the Court's compulsory jurisdiction, as of 31 July 2002. Additionally, some 260 bilateral or multilateral treaties provide for the Court to have jurisdiction in the resolution of disputes.
The report said the number of cases before the Court was 24, of which five are between African States, one between Asian States, twelve between European States and two between Latin America States. The other four are of an intercontinental character.
Located at The Hague in the Netherlands, the Court is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It settles legal disputes between States and gives advisory opinions to the United Nations system. Its Statute is an integral part of the Charter and it comprises 15 judges elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council, voting independently. It derives its decisions by applying international conventions recognized by the disputing States, international custom as evidenced by accepted law, general principles of law recognized by nations and judicial decisions or teaching of legal scholars.
The subject matter of the cases before the Court is extremely varied, including territorial disputes, cases involving the treatment of one State's nationals in another State, and cases of armed aggression. It also had cases stemming from the explosion of an aircraft over Lockerbie, Scotland, the destruction of oil platforms and the alleged violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention. While this represents an increase in the number and diversity of cases submitted to the Court, the report states, that increase needs to be qualified to take account of the element of linkage. Thus, two cases relate to the Lockerbie incident and eight to the action by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member States in Kosovo. Furthermore, many cases have been rendered more complex as a result of preliminary objections by respondents to jurisdiction, or admissibility of counter-claims and applications for permission to intervene and of requests for the indication of provisional measures.
The Court has been able to proceed to the consideration of those cases ready for judgement without excessive delay. However, in a number of cases the written pleadings have now been completed and the judicial year 2002-2003 will be very busy. Conscious of the heavy workload, the Court has continued efforts, begun in 1997, to rationalize the Registry's work, to make greater use of information technology, to improve its own working methods and to take steps to shorten and simplify its proceedings. It also welcomes the cooperation it has received from certain parties who have taken steps to reduce the number and volume of written pleadings and oral arguments, and to provide their pleadings in both official languages.
It is noted that the Court had indicated, in its previous report, that it would be unable to handle its increased workload without a significant budget increase. Subsequently, in December 2001, the General Assembly approved the Court's budget for the biennium 2002-2003 and adopted all the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) with regard to personnel requirements. Thus, the staffing chart for the Registry will show a total of 96 staff members: 40 filling posts in the professional category or higher; 51 in the General Service category; and five law clerks financed under general temporary assistance. The General Assembly did not, however, approve all the other recommendations, particularly with regard to recommendations concerning programme support. This has created difficulties with respect to the payment of the Court's rent.
The Assembly also had before it a report on the Secretary-General's Trust Fund to Assist States in the Settlement of Disputes through the International Court of Justice (document A/57/373), which states that, during the period under review, the Fund did not receive any application. It also notes that three States -- Finland, Japan and Mexico -- had made voluntary contributions to the Fund during this period. The total balance of the Fund as of 30 June 2002 was $1,742,901.52.
The Fund was created with a view to facilitating a decision by parties to a dispute to seek judicial settlement of their dispute through the ICJ, the report continues. However, despite numerous appeals by the Secretary-General, the Fund has had decreased resources since its inception. Also, with a view to encouraging States to apply for grants from the Fund, a review of its existing procedures is currently being undertaken by the offices concerned.
President of International Court
GILBERT GUILLAUME, President of the ICJ, said that since August 2001 the Court had again witnessed an increase in the number of cases on its list, despite its intense and sustained judicial activity throughout the past year. While receiving three new cases during this period, the Court had given final decisions on the merits in two difficult cases, as well as ruling on an application for permission to intervene and on the admissibility of various counter-claims. It had also dealt with a request for the indication of provisional measures.
In the domain of international peace and security, the Court also handed down a number of decisions in the course of the year 2001 concerning the African Great Lakes region. The Court’s most recent Judgment had been in the case of the Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria. In 1994, Cameroon seized the Court of a legal dispute with Nigeria regarding sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula. Cameroon subsequently widened the scope of its application, requesting the Court to determine the land boundary between the two States from Lake Chad to the sea and to delimit their respective maritime areas. It also claimed reparation from Nigeria on account of damage suffered as a result of the occupation of Bakassi and Lake Chad, as well as of various frontier incidents.
The Court held, by 13 votes to three, that the boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria had been fixed by treaties concluded during the colonial period, whose validity it confirmed. Consequently, the Court decided that sovereignty over Bakassi lay with Cameroon. The Court also determined the maritime boundary between the two States. That Judgment of the court was final and brought to legal closure the frontier dispute between the two countries.
Despite its efforts, the Court’s docket remained over-burdened. Over recent years, the Court had carried out a number of reviews of its procedures in an endeavour to expedite the treatment of cases. First, it had sought to reduce the length of written and oral proceedings. It had also circulated to parties a certain number of practice directions, aimed at reducing the quantity and length of written pleadings and the duration of hearings. Further, the Court had also decided to simplify its own deliberations.
If those new procedural measures were to achieve results, the price to be paid was harder work by both judges and Registry. For example, this year the Court decided to go on working until the end of July, to confine its judicial vacation to the month of August and to recommence its deliberations on
3 September. That increase in work presupposed that the Court and its Registry be accorded additional resources. He was pleased that the Court’s budget for the biennium 2002-2003 was increased to $11,436,000 per year. That had enabled the Court to increase its staff, upgrade its information technology network and continue to develop its internet site.
Concerning the Trust Fund, he said its Statute allowed it to be used only in cases submitted by special agreement. It would be desirable that the Fund could be applied in any type of case. Also, the range of costs eligible for financing out of the Fund should be broadened so as to bring the provisions applicable to the Court into line with those for other institutions. Further, it was surprising that, since the Fund’s creation, only four States had approached it, one of which in fact decided not to draw on the sums promised because of the complexity of the procedures involved. In addition, if the Fund were to act, it must dispose of sufficient resources. Noting that contributions had diminished, he appealed to those States able to do so to increase the resources available to the Fund.
BRUNO STAGNO (Costa Rica) stated that legitimate mechanisms to solve legal controversies contributed to the development of harmonious international relations. Especially dangerous were territorial disputes between States that could lead to military escalation and for which the Court provided a civilized alternative.
Beyond that, in a world of uncertainty regarding rights and obligations, the Court's activities guaranteed legal certitude, clarified basic norms of international law and ensured the rule of law at the international level. On the other hand, the Court's constructive work was hindered by the unwillingness on the part of a growing number of States to accept unconditionally its compulsory jurisdiction. Only 12 States could be classified as accepting its jurisdiction fully. That obligation should be respected most of all by the Permanent Members of the Security Council.
Costa Rica was heartened by the increase in the number of cases in the Court's docket. That meant growing confidence in its work. The introduction of new cases and frequent resort to the Court was to be encouraged. The Court now needed to streamline its practices and methods of work to prevent delays in its consideration of cases, and also it should seek the necessary staff and resources to meet adequately the new obligations imposed on it. On that basis, he urged the Court to present another request for additional resources in the next budgetary exercise.
AUGUSTO CABRERA (Peru) said it was good to see the increased case log of the ICJ. The Court had modified its procedures and work; the practical directives adopted by the Court would help bolster its authority as the principal legal body in the world. Moreover, in 2001, the budget of the Court and the number of its personnel had been increased. This would, in turn, increase the international community’s expectations of the Court.
In relation to the availability of funds to enable access to the Court, he said assistance from the Trust Fund should be kept in mind. It was crucially important that donor countries redoubled their efforts to support the Fund.
On the decision in regard to the dispute between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Belgium, over an arrest warrant for the Foreign Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he noted that the immunity and privileges of foreign ministers had been held to have no exceptions, even when the party in question had been accused of war crimes. However, there was a thin line between immunity and privileges, and impunity. The Court had been correct to add that immunity did not equal impunity.
He said it was to be hoped that in future instances, in which Heads of State fled their countries, extradition could be arranged so that they answered to the charges of crimes in their home countries. It was of concern that those situations, which most jeopardized international peace and security, were not submitted to the Court, since domestic matters did not come within its jurisdiction.
MARTIN BELINGA EBOUTOU (Cameroon) said that since its creation in 1946, the work of the Court had made a major contribution to the attainment of the goals of the Charter in the area of international peace and security and friendly relations among States. The fact that more and more States over the years had gone to the Court with disputes made it a place of exceptional importance in the peaceful settlement of disputes. Today, 191 States had become parties to the Court and
63 had signed the optional clause on the binding jurisdiction of the Court.
Furthermore, he continued, 260 bilateral and multilateral conventions had given the Court competence to deal with disputes arising from their application. He welcomed all measures by the Court to improve its work and make it more effective. It was still necessary to give the Court adequate resources so it could continue to improve its work as soon as possible.
With its decision on the case concerning the land and maritime border between Nigeria and Cameroon, the Court put an end to more than eight years of expensive proceedings, he said. The voluntary and rapid implementation of the Court’s rulings was an important sign of its acceptance, which made recourse to the Court something that was important. He welcomed the commitment of Nigeria to respect the verdict of the Court. Cameroon and Nigeria had an opportunity to confirm before the international community their devotion to peace and the rule of law. For its part, Cameroon reaffirmed its commitment to comply with the verdict of the Court and to proceed to its speedy implementation.
CHEAH SAM KIP (Malaysia) said the comprehensive report on the ICJ had been useful for understanding the complexity of the work of the Court. The Court should be complimented for its peaceful settlement of international disputes, thus playing an important role in creating peace and harmony between peoples by upholding the rule of law. More and more, States were submitting cases to the Court for final decision. This reflected the quality of the Court’s work.
Malaysia’s confidence in the Court had strengthened its belief that the Court should be the final locus of dispute settlement. In mutual agreement with Indonesia, Malaysia had submitted the issue of sovereignty over the two islands, Pulau Litigan and Pulau Sipadan, for the Court’s review and now awaited its final decision.
Manifestations of the belief in the rule of law were particularly important at this time, he added. Thus, it was necessary to increase the Court’s ability to handle all the cases before it. The Court’s efforts to increase understanding of its work were commendable. The distribution of press releases and handbooks kept the public informed. Additionally, the Web site seemed to be used by lawyers, students and diplomats, among others, as a source of information on international case law.
DMITRY A. LOBACH (Russian Federation) said the Court was a unique international organ for the peaceful settlement of disputes among States. There had been increased interest by States in the work of Court during the last decade, which was marked by a greater number of cases brought before it, as well as the widening geographical scope of those cases.
He said he particularly commended the Court’s advisory rulings on interpretations of international law. In the coming years, the role of advisory judgments would grow, in light of the increase of international courts and tribunals. He also commended the efforts of the Court to simplify its working procedures, which should lead to a decrease in the time needed to deal with the heavy caseload. He looked forward to further plans to step up the Court’s productivity.
The disposal of the Court of its work also depended on the provision of adequate financing and an increase in the Court’s annual budget, he said. Over recent years, the alarming situation regarding the Court’s financing was being remedied. He hoped the budget would continue to be increased. The Assembly should confirm that it was ready to assist the Court in solving its current problems. The trend, over recent years, of States going to the Court for resolution of disputes testified to the strengthening of confidence in the Court and its authority to ensure the implementation of its verdicts.
KENJI SHINODA (Japan) said that the ICJ had firmly established its status as the world’s most senior international court. It was important to maintain the primacy of integrated international law. In view of current armed conflicts and acts of terrorism, the role of the Court as “a credible mechanism” to promote international peace and security was more important than ever before. More frequent resort to the Court was also important.
He noted that the draft resolution from the working group of the Special Committee on the United Nations Charter on the prevention and peaceful settlement of disputes reminded States to declare their recognition of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. He said Japan hoped that more States would join the 63 States which had already done so.
He said that Japan was pleased that despite an increase in the number and diversity of cases, the Court had been able to process them without excessive delays. This was because of an increased budget, approved by the General Assembly, and various measures taken by the Court to rationalize its work.
Japan appreciated the increased confidence of States in the Court’s ability to resolve their disputes and believed the Court was making a genuine contribution to strengthening the rule of law and preventing and resolving international crises.
He said that Japan was also acting according to its principles by providing “competent personnel” to the Court. In last week’s elections, Ambassador Hisashi Owada was elected as Judge of the Court. Japan was confident that he would provide “invaluable” insights into the area of international justice.
JUAN MANUEL GOMEZ ROBLEDO (Mexico) said the ICJ had not ignored the need to reform its work to meet the needs and demands of its increased caseload. Rather, it had streamlined its proceedings. Mexico agreed with the opinion of the Court’s President on the need to develop means for facilitating access to the Trust Fund.
He said Mexico attached special importance to the decisions handed down in the cases of the Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Belgium and of Cameroon v. Nigeria. In the first case, both the principles of immunity for foreign ministers and of criminal responsibility for crimes of an international magnitude had been upheld.
Commending the Court for its recent decision in the case of Cameroon v. Nigeria, he said it had shown its grasp of the necessary historical data for understanding the situation. It was satisfactory to see the Court continue to refine its immense jurisprudence in relation to maritime borders. This could be fundamental to future pronouncements on maritime borders in the Caribbean. Moreover, the decision to allow Equatorial Guinea to intervene in that case had facilitated the work of the Court in establishing the third party’s viewpoint on that maritime border.
He said that, in view of its role in recent years, the Court deserved the continued support of the international community. Mexico would continue to provide support to all of the machinery, which provided for the peaceful resolution of disputes.
TAN KEN HWEE (Singapore) said that while there was no formal hierarchy of courts in international law, it was clear that the ICJ was first among equals. Many treaties might establish separate judicial or decision-making bodies. However, the ICJ remained the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. The Court had discharged its growing responsibilities in that regard with ever-increasing professionalism and expertise.
He acknowledged the excellent efforts of the Registry of the Court in maintaining a comprehensive Web site, which was constantly updated with the latest status of any case on the Court’s docket. The diligence with which the site was updated made it an essential tool for any country wishing to keep updated on the work of the Court. The automated e-mail newsletters from the Court further complemented the Web site. In all, the arsenal of technological tools deployed by the Court was impressive, and reflected and enhanced the importance and influence of the Court.
He said he had always been concerned about the level of funding available to the ICJ. It seemed as if the Court was left with the unenviable task of doing increasingly more work, with a very modest number of staff, and an even more modest budget. He hoped other Member States would share that concern. The Court had a budget about one-tenth that of the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He worried that the Court continued to be underfunded, despite the recent budget increase.
JARGALSAIKHANY ENKHSAIKHAN (Mongolia) agreed with previous speakers that, in order for the ICJ to effectively discharge its basic functions, it needed adequate financial resources. Compared to the two ad hoc tribunals –- the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), whose reports the Assembly considered the previous day -- the ICJ was “really underfunded”. The lack of adequate resources would hamper the work of the Court, he said, thereby adding to its already large backlog. In that regard, Mongolia supported a “reasonable increase” in the Court’s budget.
He said the high number of cases on the Court’s docket represented increased confidence of Member States in its judgements and impartiality. Further, he supported the statement of the ICJ President that “Access to international justice should not be impeded by financial inequality.” He, therefore, supplied calls for making access of the poorest states to the Court easier, through assistance provided to them by way of the special fund established in 1989. That special fund enabled poor countries to meet the expenses incurred in submitting disputes to the Court.
ROBERTO LAVALLE-VALDÉS (Guatemala) said the international community was made up, in the final analysis, of human beings; the man on the street might think that international law did not exist or was just a façade. In today’s circumstances, that man might be sceptical about the true efficiency of international law, and know next to nothing about the rules governing the relations among States.
The existence of international law for overcoming disputes was a product of international relations. Of all the international legal bodies that existed today in the world, the one at the disposal of all States and governing inter-State relations was the ICJ -- the “dean” of international legal institutions.
He said he was aware of the increase in the work of the Court over the past few years. Its action to ensure peace and harmony between States had helped to bolster international cooperation. No effort should be spared in ensuring the Court had all the necessary means to carry out its work and achieve its full potential.
SHIN KAK-SOO (Republic of Korea) noted the efforts of the ICJ to further improve its working methods and speed up its procedures, as part of its programme to rationalize its work that was begun in 1997. Faced with budgetary difficulties and a heavy workload, the Court increasingly found itself unable to fulfil its mandate within available resources, a situation that would not be remedied by the administrative efforts of the Court alone.
He said that because the ICJ was now called upon to play a more active role than ever before in ensuring respect of international law and the peaceful settlement of disputes between States, it deserved the full support of the international community and should be given the resources necessary to carry out its functions and obligations fully.
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