Widely referred to as the “World Court”, the ICJ was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War as the highest judicial body of the United Nations.
The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.
The Statute of the Court forms an integral part of the UN Charter. The first members of the ICJ were elected on 6 February 1946, at the first session of the UN General Assembly and the Court held its inaugural sitting at the iconic Peace Palace in The Hague, on 18 April 1946.
The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the General Assembly and the Security Council.
Tackling ‘new areas’ of international law
On the occasion of the Court’s 75th anniversary, the body’s President, Judge Joan E. Donoghue, noted that since the establishment of the ICJ, States have submitted over 140 disputes to it, adding that the Court has also received over 25 requests for advisory opinions.
“The Court has demonstrated that it is equipped to tackle cases relating to new areas of international law that have emerged and developed since its first sitting”, she went on to say.
The President commended the fact that “in recent years . . . the Court has gotten high marks for the way it has handled scientific and technical aspects of environmental disputes” and that “the docket has also included cases arising under a number of important human rights treaties”.
President Donoghue spoke of her confidence that “the institution and procedures established in the Statute of the Court and in its Rules will continue to provide fertile ground for the peaceful settlement of inter-State disputes”.
Year-long anniversary celebration
While the Court had initially planned to commemorate its 75th anniversary by holding a solemn sitting at the Peace Palace, Ms. Donoghue, said: “Regrettably, due to the [COVID-19] pandemic, the Court has found itself obliged to postpone the solemn sitting until such time as it can be held in a safe and fitting manner”.
Still, the ICJ will mark the auspicious occasion in a number of ways throughout the year. Apart from her video statement, the President of the Court has also written an article published in the UN Chronicle, the United Nations’ flagship online magazine.
In addition, a new institutional video on the activities and role of the Court, aimed at students and the public at large, will soon be released; a virtual tour will be posted on the Court’s website, providing visitors with information on its activities and guiding them through the Peace Palace; and a book about the work and achievements of the “World Court” will be published later this year.