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Home / Federal Statutory Bodies / International Court of Justice

International Court of Justice

The Court

International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946.

The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands). Of the six principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York (United States of America).

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 United Nations organs and specialized agencies.

The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. It is assisted by a Registry, its administrative organ. Its official languages are English and French.


The International Court of Justice acts as a world court. The Court has a dual jurisdiction : it decides, in accordance with international law, disputes of a legal nature that are submitted to it by States (jurisdiction in contentious cases); and it gives advisory opinions on legal questions at the request of the organs of the United Nations or specialized agencies authorized to make such a request (advisory jurisdiction).


The origins
The Hague Peace Conferences and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)
The Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ)
The International Court of Justice (ICJ)The creation of the Court represented the culmination of a long development of methods for the pacific settlement of international disputes, the origins of which can be traced back to classical times.

Article 33 of the United Nations Charter lists the following methods for the pacific settlement of disputes between States: negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, and resort to regional agencies or arrangements; good offices should also be added to this list. Among these methods, certain involve appealing to third parties. For example, mediation places the parties to a dispute in a position in which they can themselves resolve their dispute thanks to the intervention of a third party. Arbitration goes further, in the sense that the dispute is submitted to the decision or award of an impartial third party, so that a binding settlement can be achieved. The same is true of judicial settlement (the method applied by the International Court of Justice), except that a court is subject to stricter rules than an arbitral tribunal, particularly in procedural matters.

Mediation and arbitration preceded judicial settlement in history. The former was known in ancient India and in the Islamic world, whilst numerous examples of the latter are to be found in ancient Greece, in China, among the Arabian tribes, in maritime customary law in medieval Europe and in Papal practice.

The origins

International Court of Justice HQ

The modern history of international arbitration is, however, generally recognized as dating from the so-called Jay Treaty of 1794 between the United States of America and Great Britain. This Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation provided for the creation of three mixed commissions, composed of American and British nationals in equal numbers, whose task it would be to settle a number of outstanding questions between the two countries which it had not been possible to resolve by negotiation. Whilst it is true that these mixed commissions were not strictly speaking organs of third-party adjudication, they were intended to function to some extent as tribunals. They reawakened interest in the process of arbitration. Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States and the United Kingdom had recourse to them, as did other States in Europe and the Americas.

The Alabama Claims arbitration in 1872 between the United Kingdom and the United States marked the start of a second, and still more decisive, phase. Under the Treaty of Washington of 1871, the United States and the United Kingdom agreed to submit to arbitration claims by the former for alleged breaches of neutrality by the latter during the American Civil War. The two countries stated certain rules governing the duties of neutral governments that were to be applied by the tribunal, which they agreed should consist of five members, to be appointed respectively by the Heads of State of the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Italy and Switzerland, the last three States not being parties to the case. The arbitral tribunal’s award ordered the United Kingdom to pay compensation and it was duly complied with. The proceedings served as a demonstration of the effectiveness of arbitration in the settlement of a major dispute and it led during the latter years of the nineteenth century to developments in various directions, namely:

    • sharp growth in the practice of inserting in treaties clauses providing for recourse to arbitration in the event of a dispute between the parties;
    • the conclusion of general treaties of arbitration for the settlement of specified classes of inter-State disputes;
    • efforts to construct a general law of arbitration, so that countries wishing to have recourse to this means of settling disputes would not be obliged to agree each time on the procedure to be adopted, the composition of the tribunal, the rules to be followed and the factors to be taken into consideration in making the award;
    • proposals for the creation of a permanent international arbitral tribunal in order to obviate the need to set up a special ad hoc tribunal to decide each arbitrable dispute.

Practical Information-
The Court has had its seat in the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands) since 1946. Its predecessor, the Permanent Court of International Justice, occupied from 1922 the same premises, made available to it by the Carnegie Foundation, which owns and administers the Peace Palace.

Built between 1907 and 1913 for the Permanent Court of Arbitration thanks to a donation from Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born industrialist who made his fortune in the United States, the Peace Palace is situated in seven hectares of parkland in the heart of the city.

The granite, sandstone and red brick building designed by the French architect Louis Cordonnier and topped by an imposing roof of greyish slate is in a predominantly neo-renaissance style. The facade, overlooking the lawns, features a series of figures that evoke justice and peace. On the left, the clock tower with its chimes rises to a height of 80 metres. Inside, woodwork, stained-glass windows, mosaics, tapestries and art objects presented by the States which participated in the Hague Peace Conferences reflect the diversity of the world’s cultures.

A new wing built in 1978 behind the Palace accommodates the Court’s Deliberation Room and the offices of its Members. It was extended in 1997, notably to house the increased number of judges ad hoc. That same year, the attic of the Palace was renovated to provide new offices for Registry staff.

The Palace, which, along with the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice, is home to one of the world’s largest libraries of public international law (the Peace Palace Library, which is public, unlike the Court’s library) and hosts the summer courses of the Hague Academy of International Law, can be visited on working days.

A museum of the history and work of the institutions housed in the Peace Palace was inaugurated in May 1999 by Mr. Kofi Annan and Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, respectively United Nations Secretary-General and President of the Court at that time. It is situated in the southern wing of the building.

For more information on the guided tours of the Peace Palace and its Museum, please visit the website of the Carnegie . The Foundation can also be reached by phone ( +31 (0)70 302 41 37), fax (+31 (0)70 302 42 34) and e-mail ([email protected]).

For more information on the Peace Palace Library, please visit its website:

For more information on the Permanent Court of Arbitration, please visit its website:

For more information on the Hague Academy of International Law, please visit its website:

Official Website of ICJ-

International Court of Justice

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