Article 94 establishes the duty of all UN members to comply with decisions of the Court involving them. If parties do not comply, the issue may be taken before the Security Council for enforcement action. There are obvious problems with such a method of enforcement. If the judgment is against one of the permanent five members of the Security Council or its allies, any resolution on enforcement would then be vetoed. This occurred, for example, after the Nicaragua case, when Nicaragua brought the issue of the U.S.’s non-compliance with the Court’s decision before the Security Council. Furthermore, if the Security Council refuses to enforce a judgment against any other state, there is no method of forcing the state to comply. Furthermore, the most effective form to take action for the Security Council, coercive action under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, can be justified only if international peace and security are at stake. The Security Council has never done this so far.
The relationship between the ICJ and the Security Council, and the separation of their powers, was considered by the Court in 1992 in the Pan Am case. The Court had to consider an application from Libya for the order of provisional measures to protect its rights, which, it alleged, were being infringed by the threat of economic sanctions by the United Kingdom and United States. The problem was that these sanctions had been authorized by the Security Council, which resulted with a potential conflict between the Chapter VII functions of the Security Council and the judicial function of the Court. The Court decided, by eleven votes to five, that it could not order the requested provisional measures because the rights claimed by Libya, even if legitimate under theMontreal Convention, prima facie could not be regarded as appropriate since the action was ordered by the Security Council. In accordance with Article 103 of the UN Charter, obligations under the Charter took precedence over other treaty obligations. Nevertheless the Court declared the application admissible in 1998. A decision on the merits has not been given since the parties (United Kingdom, United States and Libya) settled the case out of court in 2003.
There was a marked reluctance on the part of a majority of the Court to become involved in a dispute in such a way as to bring it potentially into conflict with the Council. The Court stated in theNicaragua case that there is no necessary inconsistency between action by the Security Council and adjudication by the ICJ. However, where there is room for conflict, the balance appears to be in favor of the Security Council.
Should either party fail “to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the Court”, the Security Council may be called upon to “make recommendations or decide upon measures” if the Security Council deems such actions necessary. In practice, the Court’s powers have been limited by the unwillingness of the losing party to abide by the Court’s ruling, and by the Security Council’s unwillingness to impose consequences. However, in theory, “so far as the parties to the case are concerned, a judgment of the Court is binding, final and without appeal,” and “by signing the Charter, a State Member of the United Nations undertakes to comply with any decision of the International Court of Justice in a case to which it is a party.”
For example, the United States had previously accepted the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction upon its creation in 1946, but in Nicaragua v. United States withdrew its acceptance following the Court’s judgment in 1984 that called on the U.S. to “cease and to refrain” from the “unlawful use of force” against the government of Nicaragua. The Court ruled (with only the American judge dissenting) that the United States was “in breach of its obligation under the Treaty of Friendship with Nicaragua not to use force against Nicaragua” and ordered the United States to pay war reparations.
Examples of contentious cases
- A complaint by the United States in 1980 that Iran was detaining American diplomats in Tehran in violation of international law.
- A dispute between Tunisia and Libya over the delimitation of the continental shelf between them.
- A complaint by Pakistan on behalf of the people of Kashmir over oppression against India and charged it with State terrorism directly continuing violations of the international law.
- A dispute over the course of the maritime boundary dividing the U.S. and Canada in the Gulf of Maine area.
- A complaint by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia against the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization regarding their actions in the Kosovo War. This was denied on 15 December 2004 due to lack of jurisdiction, because the FRY was not a party to the ICJ statute at the time it made the application.
- A complaint by the Republic of Macedonia (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) that Greece is, by vetoing their accession to NATO, in violation of the Interim Accord of 13 September 1995 between the two countries, was decided in favor of Macedonia on 5 December 2011.
Generally, the Court has been most successful resolving border delineation and the use of oceans and waterways. While the Court has, in some instances, resolved claims by one State espoused on behalf of its nationals, the Court has generally refrained from hearing contentious cases that are political in nature, due in part to its lack of enforcement mechanism and its lack of compulsory jurisdiction. The Court has generally found it did not have jurisdiction to hear cases involving the use of force.
When deciding cases, the Court applies international law as summarised in Article 38 of the ICJ Statute provides that in arriving at its decisions the Court shall apply international conventions, international custom, and the “general principles of law recognized by civilized nations”. It may also refer to academic writing (“the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations”) and previous judicial decisions to help interpret the law, although the Court is not formally bound by its previous decisions under the doctrine of stare decisis. Article 59 makes clear that the common law notion of precedent or stare decisis does not apply to the decisions of the ICJ. The Court’s decision binds only the parties to that particular controversy. Under 38(1)(d), however, the Court may consider its own previous decisions.
If the parties agree, they may also grant the Court the liberty to decide ex aequo et bono (“in justice and fairness”), granting the ICJ the freedom to make an equitable decision based on what is fair under the circumstances. This provision has not been used in the Court’s history. So far the International Court of Justice has dealt with about 130 cases.
The ICJ is vested with the power to make its own rules. Court procedure is set out in Rules of Court of the International Court of Justice 1978 (as amended on 29 September 2005).
Cases before the ICJ will follow a standard pattern. The case is lodged by the applicant who files a written memorial setting out the basis of the Court’s jurisdiction and the merits of its claim. The respondent may accept the Court’s jurisdiction and file its own memorial on the merits of the case.
A respondent who does not wish to submit to the jurisdiction of the Court may raise Preliminary Objections. Any such objections must be ruled upon before the Court can address the merits of the applicant’s claim. Often a separate public hearing is held on the Preliminary Objections and the Court will render a judgment. Respondents normally file Preliminary Objections to the jurisdiction of the Court and/or the admissibility of the case. Inadmissibility refers to a range of arguments about factors the Court should take into account in deciding jurisdiction; for example, that the issue is not justiciable or that it is not a “legal dispute”.
In addition, objections may be made because all necessary parties are not before the Court. If the case necessarily requires the Court to rule on the rights and obligations of a state that has not consented to the Court’s jurisdiction, the Court will not proceed to issue a judgment on the merits. If the Court decides it has jurisdiction and the case is admissible, the respondent will then be required to file a Memorial addressing the merits of the applicant’s claim. Once all written arguments are filed, the Court will hold a public hearing on the merits.
Once a case has been filed, any party (but usually the Applicant) may seek an order from the Court to protect the status quo pending the hearing of the case. Such orders are known as Provisional (or Interim) Measures and are analogous to interlocutory injunctions in United States law. Article 41 of the statute allows the Court to make such orders. The Court must be satisfied to have prima facie jurisdiction to hear the merits of the case before granting provisional measures.
Applications to intervene
In cases where a third state’s interests are affected, that state may be permitted to intervene in the case, and participate as a full party. Under Article 62, a state “with an interest of a legal nature” may apply; however, it is within the Court’s discretion whether or not to allow the intervention. Intervention applications are rare — the first successful application occurred in 1991.
Judgment and remedies
Once deliberation has taken place, the Court will issue a majority opinion. Individual judges may issue separate opinions (if they agree with the outcome reached in the judgment of the court but differ in their reasoning) or dissenting opinions (if they disagree with the majority). No appeal is possible, though any party may ask for the court to clarify if there is a dispute as to the meaning or scope of the court’s judgment.
The International Court has been criticized with respect to its rulings, its procedures, and its authority. As with United Nations criticisms as a whole, many of these criticisms refer more to the general authority assigned to the body by member states through its charter than to specific problems with the composition of judges or their rulings. Major criticisms include:
- “Compulsory” jurisdiction is limited to cases where both parties have agreed to submit to its decision, and, as such, instances of aggression tend to be automatically escalated to and adjudicated by the Security Council. According to the sovereignty principle of international law, no nation is superior nor inferior against another. Therefore there is no entity that could force the states into practice of the law or punish the states in case any violation of international law occurs. Therefore, due to the absence of binding force, although there are 191 member states of the ICJ, the members do not necessarily have to accept the jurisdiction. Moreover, the membership of the UN and ICJ does not give the automatic jurisdiction over the member states, but it’s the consent of each states to follow the jurisdiction that matters.
- Organizations, private enterprises, and individuals cannot have their cases taken to the International Court, such as to appeal a national supreme court’s ruling. U.N. agencies likewise cannot bring up a case except in advisory opinions (a process initiated by the court and non-binding). Only the states can bring the cases and become the defendants of the cases. This also means that the potential victims of crimes against humanity, such as minor ethnic groups or indigenous peoples.
- Other existing international thematic courts, such as the ICC, are not under the umbrella of the International Court. Unlike ICJ, international thematic courts like ICC work independently from United Nations. Such dualistic structure between various international courts sometimes makes it hard for the courts to engage in effective and collective jurisdiction.
- The International Court does not enjoy a full separation of powers, with permanent members of the Security Council being able to veto enforcement of even cases to which they consented in advance to be bound. Because the jurisdiction does not have binding force itself, in many cases the instances of aggression are adjudicated by Security Council by adopting a resolution, etc.. Therefore it is very likely for the member states of Security Council to avoid the responsibility brought up by International Court of Justice, as shown in the example of Nicaragua v. United States