Guide to Archives of International Organizations. Printable version

 Mandate and Objectives

The International Court of Justice is the world's highest international court and the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was set up in 1945 and succeeded the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ) in 1946. Like its predecessor, the ICJ has its seat in the Peace Palace in The Hague. Its Statute, which is based on the Statute of the PCIJ, forms an integral part of the United Nations Charter. ICJ's primary purpose is based on Article 2 of the UN Charter which states that "all members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered." As such, the ICJ has a dual role: (a) to give judgements on contentious cases submitted to it by States, in accordance with international law and (b) to hand down advisory opinions on legal questions at the request of the United Nations organs and specialized agencies. Only States may apply to and appear before Court. The Court decides in accordance with international treaties and conventions in force, international custom, the general principles of law and, as subsidiary means, judicial decisions and the teachings of the most highly-qualified publicists. The Court is competent to entertain a dispute only if the States concerned have accepted its jurisdiction in one or more of the following ways: (a) by the conclusion between them of a special agreement to submit the dispute to the Court; (b) by virtue of a jurisdictional clause, i.e., typically, when they are parties to a treaty containing a provision whereby, in the event of a disagreement over its interpretation or application, one of them may refer the dispute to the Court. Several hundred treaties or conventions contain a clause to such effect; (c) through the reciprocal effect of declarations made by them under the Statute whereby each has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court as compulsory in the event of a dispute with another State having made a similar declaration. The declarations of sixty States are at present in force, a number of them having been made subject to the exclusion of certain categories of dispute. In cases of doubt as to whether the Court has jurisdiction, it is the Court itself which decides. The procedure followed by the Court in contentious cases is defined in its Statute and in Rules of Court adopted by it under the Statute. The Rules now in force were adopted on 14 April 1978. The proceedings include a written phase, in which parties file and exchange pleadings, and an oral phase consisting of public hearings at which agents and counsel address the Court. As the Court has two official languages (English and French) everything written or said in one is translated into the other. After the oral proceedings the Court deliberates in camera and then delivers its judgement at a public sitting. The judgement is final and without appeal. Should one of the States involved fail to comply with it, the other party may have recourse to the Security Council of the United Nations. The advisory procedure of the Court is open solely to international organizations. The only bodies at present authorized to request advisory opinions of the Court are six organs of the United Nations and 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations family.
Brief Overview of Main Activities

Since 1946 the Court has delivered 63 judgements on disputes concerning inter alia land frontiers and maritime boundaries, territorial sovereignty, the non-use of force, non-interference in the internal affairs of the States, diplomatic relations, hostage-taking, the right of asylum, nationality, guardianship, rights of passage and economic rights. Since 1946 the Court has given 23 Advisory Opinions, concerning inter alia admission to United Nations membership, reparation for injuries suffered in the service of the United Nations, territorial status of South-West Africa (Namibia) and Western Sahara, judgements rendered by international administrative tribunals, expenses of certain United Nations operations, and applicability of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement.
Geographical Scope

Since 1946 the Court has delivered 63 judgements on disputes concerning inter alia land frontiers and maritime boundaries, territorial sovereignty, the non-use of force, non-interference in the internal affairs of the States, diplomatic relations, hostage
Working Languages: English and French

 Origins and Process of Creation

The modern history of international arbitration started with the so-called Jay Treaty of 1794 which settled hostilities between the United States and Great Britain through arbitration. The conclusion of this Treaty which emphasized the concept of arbitration was recognized as an important means for the pacific settlement of international disputes. It served as a model for the later Alabama Treaty which was negotiated between the United Kingdom and the United States, in 1872. The Alabama Treaty, which was negotiated in Geneva, marked the beginning of a second, and more decisive phase in the history of international arbitrations. It provided the basis for the adoption of arbitration clauses in treaties. Along with the notion of a permanent court of arbitration, it was launched at the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 which became the forerunner of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). The PCA was established in 1900 and began operating in 1902. The Second Hague Peace Conference which was held in 1907 revised the Convention and improved the rules governing arbitral proceedings. The work of the two Hague Peace Conferences and the ideas they inspired had an influence on the creation of the Central American Court of Justice which operated from 1908-1918. It also had a bearing on the various plans and proposals submitted between 1911 and 1919, both by national and international bodies and by governments, for the establishment of an international judicial tribunal which culminated in the creation of the PCIJ after the end of the First World War. The Statute of the PCIJ which was submitted to the Council of the League of Nations, by an Advisory Committee of Jurists, entered into force in 1921. The new Statute determined that the judges were to be elected concurrently but independently by the Council and the Assembly of the League, and that it should be borne in mind that those elected "should represent the main forms of civilization and the principal legal systems of the world". In 1922, the PCIJ, which was created to serve as the judicial arm of the League of Nations, became a working reality and accessory in the history of international justice. It had its permanent seat in the Peace Palace in the Hague, and it was there that its first sitting was held on 15 February 1922. On 30 October 1943, following a conference between China, the USSR, the United Kingdom and the United States, a joined statement was issued "recognizing the necessity of establishing a general international organization, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving States and open to membership by all such States, for the maintenance of international peace and security." This declaration resulted in the publication, on 9 October 1944, of proposals for the establishment of a general international organization to include an international court of justice. In April 1945, a committee of jurists representing 44 States met in Washington, under the chairmanship of G.H. Hackworth (USA). They were entrusted with the preparation of a draft Statute for the future international court of justice. It was to be presented to the San Francisco Conference which, during the months of April to June 1945, laid the groundwork for the United Nations Charter. At the San Francisco Conference, in which 50 States participated, it was decided that an entirely new court be created on the basis of PCIJ's past experience. The decision to create a new court, which was to be the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, necessitated the dissolution of its predecessor, but it was agreed that the Statute of the PCIJ was a very valuable tool for any future Court, and that it should be maintained. This agreement is reflected in the Charter, which stated that the Statute of the ICJ was based upon that of the PCIJ. The PCIJ met for the last time in October 1945 when it was decided to take all appropriate measures to ensure the transfer of its archives and effects to the new ICJ which, like its predecessor, was to have its seat in the Peace Palace in The Hague. The judges of the PCIJ all resigned on 31 January 1946, and the election of the first Members of the ICJ took place on 5 February 1946, at the First Session of the United Nations General Assembly. The ICJ held its inaugural public sitting at the Peace Palace in The Hague on 18 April 1946, on the same day the League of Nations and the PCIJ ceased to exist
Creation date and Birthplace:

The Statute of the ICJ was adopted on 16 June 1945, together with the United Nations Charter. Both came into force on 24 October of the same year.
Chronology of Highligts in the History of the Organization

 Governing Bodies

The organization of the International Court of Justice is governed by Articles 2-33 of the Statute of the Court and by Articles 1-18 and 32-37 of the Rules of the Court. The Court comprises the President, Vice-President, the full Court, Chambers, Registrar and Registry. The Court elects its own President and Vice-President for three years. It remains permanently in session, except during judicial vacations. The full Court is composed of 15 judges who are elected to nine-year terms of office by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council sitting independently of each other. Judges may be re-elected but the Court may not include more than one national of any State. Members of the Court do not represent their governments but are independent magistrates. They must possess the qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to the highest judicial offices, be of high moral character and be highly-respected and well-recognized jurists in international law. The Court discharges its duties as a full Court but, at the request of the parties, it may also establish a special Chamber. A Chamber is composed of a minimum of three judges who are elected by the Court by secret ballot. The Court constituted such a Chamber in 1982 for the first time, formed a second one in 1985 and constituted two more in 1987. A Chamber of Summary Procedure is elected every year by the Court in accordance with its Statute. In July 1993, the Court also established a seven-member Chamber to deal with any environmental cases falling within its jurisdiction. When the Court or Chamber does not include a judge possessing the nationality of a same State party to a case, that State may appoint a person to sit as a judge ad hoc for the purpose of the case. The Registry is the permanent administrative organ of the ICJ. Generally speaking, the work of the Registry of the Court covers four different areas: a) judicial; b) diplomatic, c) administrative and d) linguistic. The Registry comprises a Registrar, a Deputy-Registrar and other officials. The Registrar and Deputy-Registrar are appointed by the Court for a period of seven years. They are eligible for re-election at the end of their terms. The other officials of the Registry are appointed by the Court on proposals submitted by the Registrar, or by the Registrar himself with the President's approval. The Registrar is the Chief Administrative Officer of the Court. Apart from his judicial, diplomatic, administrative and linguistic duties, the Registrar is also responsible for the annual publication of the ICJ's Yearbook and Bibliography of the International Court of Justice, as well as other official publications of the Court. The Registrar is assisted by the Deputy Registrar who acts as the Registrar in his absence.
Organizational Chart

Field Offices


On 31 July 1997, the 185 States Members of the United Nations, together with Nauru and Switzerland, were parties to the Statute of the Court.