12 April 2006 The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, celebrated its 60th birthday today, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan telling a solemn sitting that more must be done to ensure its future through wider acceptance of its jurisdiction on issues ranging from boundary disputes to genocide.
“The Court has never been more in demand. It has also never been more productive and efficient,” Mr. Annan told the audience in the Great Hall of Justice of the Peace Palace in The Hague, including the Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson.
“Today, more than ever before, UN Member States are turning to it, not just to resolve land and maritime boundary disputes, or to complain of treaty violations, but also on matters of genocide and the use of force,” he said, calling on all States that have not yet done so to consider recognizing its compulsory jurisdiction.
So far 67 States have accepted the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction, but only one, the United Kingdom, is a Security Council permanent member.
Mr. Annan noted that in recent years the Court had streamlined its rules and speeded up its decision-making without compromising procedural requirements or intellectual quality, modernized its Registry, adapted its internal functioning, and made its judgments and opinions universally available through the Internet.
“Clearly, these are all welcome changes. Yet more can, and must, be done to ensure the Court's long-term future,” he said. “I would particularly encourage all States that have not yet done so to consider recognizing the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. I also encourage States that are not yet prepared to recognize the compulsory jurisdiction to consider submitting their disputes to the Court by Special Agreements.
“Taken together, these two steps would, I believe, help secure the Court’s future as a central element of our international society,” he declared.
Mr. Eliasson said “the fact that Member States have, year after year, repeated their desire to see more use of the Court in settling disputes between States is strong evidence of the confidence Member States have in this World Court.”
Composed of 15 judges elected to nine-year terms by the UN General Assembly and Security Council sitting independently of each other, the Court can entertain a dispute only if the States concerned have accepted its jurisdiction.
In accordance with Article 94 of the UN Charter, any State, whether or not a UN Member, which considers that the other party has failed to comply with the Court’s judgment may bring the matter before the Security Council, which may make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken to give effect to the judgment.
The Court may not include more than one national of the same State. As a whole, it must represent the main forms of civilization and principal legal systems of the world. This is reflected in the following distribution of its judgeships: three for Africa, two for Latin America, three for Asia, five for Western Europe and other States (including Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand), and two for Eastern Europe (including Russia).
The President and the Vice-President of the Court are elected by their peers every three years by secret ballot. An absolute majority is required and there are no conditions of nationality. The current president is Rosalyn Higgins of the United Kingdom.
In closing remarks, Ms. Higgins recognized that “very important work” is being done by the more recently established international criminal courts and tribunals but added: “There is a continuing leadership role for the International Court that will be achieved by [its] continuing commitment to quality and efficiency.
“In carefully balancing continuity and change, the Court will remain the lighthouse beacon in our ever-expanding system of international law.”