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General Assembly Plenary

Delegates Stress Judicial Body’s Efficacy Depends on Compliance with Judgments, Sufficient Funds, as President Points to Full Caseload

Amid waning trust in multilateral institutions, the International Court of Justice remains a vital force for guarding and enhancing the rule of law at the international level, the General Assembly heard today, as speakers called on all States to accept the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction and ensure it is adequately funded.

Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, President of the Court, citing from the report of its work spanning 1 August 2018 to 31 July 2019 (document A/74/4), said the institution has maintained a full caseload on a wide range of legal issues submitted by countries on all continents, including questions of consular protection, the formation of customary rules of international law in the area of decolonization and maritime and territorial disputes.  The Court has 16 contentious cases currently pending.  During the reporting period, it held hearings in five cases and one advisory procedure, and delivered three judgements, one advisory opinion and two orders on provisional measures.

In September, Latvia became the seventy‑fourth State to accept the jurisdiction of the Court as compulsory.  join the judicial body. “The pace might be slow, but the trend towards a wider acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court in the international community is quite clear,” he said.

When the floor was opened for discussion, delegates called on all States to recognize the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction and abide by its judgments.  Several pointed out that Governments are entrusting the Court with increasingly complex and politically sensitive cases — an indication of their confidence in the institution as a vital instrument for preserving peace and resolving disputes between and among countries.  “This diversity testifies to the universal character of the Court’s jurisdiction, to the Court’s growing specialization in complex spaces of international law,” said Norway’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and his own).

The representative of New Zealand, also speaking for Canada and Australia, echoed that sentiment.  “The higher the number of States that accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court, the greater the opportunity for timely and peaceful resolution of disputes relating to questions of international law, an outcome that is in the interests of us all,” he said, also commending the Court for delivering judgements and advisory opinions within six months of the closure of oral proceedings.

Libya’s representative warned that withholding support for the Court weakens its overall impact. For its part, Libya has complied with all the Court’s judgements, even when the rulings were detrimental to the country.   

The representative of the Netherlands, which hosts the Court, encouraged all Member States to accept its compulsory jurisdiction with as few reservations as possible, voicing concern about the tendency in recent years to make more rather than fewer reservations.

Some speakers warned that failure to give the Court adequate funding could prevent it from fully attending to its growing caseload.  Djibouti’s representative emphasized that in the current era of mistrust in multilateral institutions, the Court is more important than ever and must have the proper resources to carry out its duties.

Several delegations involved in recent Court decisions affirmed their commitment to complying with its rulings and expressed dismay over other States that had not.

Sandra Erica Jovel Polanco, Guatemala’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that earlier in the year, her country and Belize jointly brought a long‑standing boundary dispute before the Court, which marks a “historic milestone”.  Relations between the two countries are at a high point and Guatemala is confident that the dispute’s resolution will bring economic, social and political benefits to the region, she said.

Ukraine’s representative said that the Russian Federation has not complied with the Court’s 19 April 2017 decision calling on it to “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to preserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis”.  In not suspending its discriminatory ban, the Russian Federation continues to violate a binding decision, revealing an unfortunate attitude toward the Court, the United Nations Charter and international law. 

The speaker for Mauritius said he was upset that the United Kingdom had not terminated its unlawful colonial administration of part of Mauritius’ sovereign territory, despite the Court’s 25 February 2019 advisory opinion and the General Assembly’s subsequent endorsement of it.  Sadly, the colonial power has chosen to defy both United Nations bodies, stating that it is free to ignore the ruling on the ground that an advisory opinion is nonbinding, he said, stressing that responsible Member States are not free to ignore the Court’s opinions.

Qatar’s representative said the Court delivered two orders, one in 2018 and the other in 2019, concerning the United Arab Emirates’ discriminatory and unjust measures against her country, which violate human rights law and freedom of movement and expression.  His counterpart from the United Arab Emirates, however, said that measures by her Government are in line with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and are in response to Qatar’s support for terrorism and extremism, and its interference in States’ internal affairs.  She regretted that Qatar has tried to cloud the Court’s interpretation of law.

Iran’s speaker said that the United States is penalizing and sanctioning nations across the world and that Iran filed an application to protect its rights under the bilateral Treaty of Amity.  On 3 October, the Court unanimously indicated provisional measures obliging the United States to remove any impediments arising from moves announced following its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  In response, the United States imposed numerous rounds of new sanctions.  “Such irresponsible behaviour is in clear defiance of the Court’s order,” he stressed. 

Also speaking today were representatives of Singapore, Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement), Cabo Verde (on behalf of the Community of Portuguese‑speaking countries), Czech Republic (on behalf of the Visegrad Group), Brazil, Sudan, Mexico, Spain, Japan, Honduras, Togo, China, India, Cuba, Nicaragua, Philippines, Romania, Senegal, Ecuador, Chile, Jamaica, Germany, Argentina, El Salvador, France, Cyprus, Bolivia, Italy, Greece, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Viet Nam and Egypt.  An observer for the State of Palestine also spoke.

Representatives of the Russian Federation, Chile, United Kingdom, Qatar, Mauritius and United Arab Emirates spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 31 October to consider the 2019 report of the Economic and Social Council and the report of the Secretary of the Committee for the United Nations Population Award on the 2019 award.

Opening Remarks by President of International Court of Justice

ABDULQAWI AHMED YUSUF, President of the International Court of Justice, said that the Court’s docket “has remained full” during the reporting period.  There are 16 contentious cases currently pending on its list, and other cases were disposed of during the past year.  “The cases before the Court involve States from all regions of the world and touch on a wide range of issues, including questions of consular protection, the formation of customary rules of international law in the area of decolonization, and maritime and territorial disputes,” he said.  In that period, the Court held hearings on five cases and one advisory procedure; and delivered three judgements, one advisory opinion and two orders on provisional measures.

Among those, the Court held hearings and issued an order on request for the indication of provisional measures in the pending case Certain Iranian Assets (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America).  The Court rejected three of the United States’ objections, upheld one and found that one did not possess an exclusively preliminary character, meaning that the Court would consider it when dealing with the merits of the case.  The case now heads to the merits stage.   The Court also held hearings on a different pending case submitted by Iran:  Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rates (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America).  

He said that, on 22 February 2019, the Court gave its Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965.  It concluded that Mauritius’s decolonization has not been completed.  The Court concluded that the United Kingdom must end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago “as rapidly as possible”.  Following the Court’s advisory opinion, the United Nations General Assembly outlined the details for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from Mauritius. 

In addition, on 17 July 2019, the Court rendered its judgement on the merits in the case concerning Jadhav (India v. Pakistan), he continued.  The Court found that Pakistan violated its obligations under article 36 of the Vienna Convention and needed to review and reconsider its conviction and sentencing of Mr. Jahav, who was previously sentenced to death in a Pakistani military court, without consular access, for “acts of espionage”.  He noted that following the Court’s ruling, Pakistan confirmed its commitment to implementing the judgement.

The Court handed down another order, on the case concerning Applications of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Qatar v. United Arab Emirates), he said.  The Court considered that the measure requested by the United Arab Emirates, in which it asked the Court to order Qatar to immediately unblock access to a website through which Qatari citizens could apply for a permit to return to the United Arab Emirates, “did not concern plausible rights” under the Convention.  He said that on 7 June 2019, Guatemala and Belize brought a dispute before the Court concerning the former’s territorial, insular and maritime claim.  The Court welcomes the possibility to provide assistance to two neighbouring countries in a border dispute.

In addition, the Court has now fully associated itself with the United Nations internal justice system, he said.  In particular, staff members will now be able to receive support in their informal dispute resolution efforts from the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services and seek advice from the Office of Staff Legal Assistance.  If informal means are unsuccessful, they will be able to resolve disputes formally through the management evaluation process, the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal.

Turning to organizational finances, he said that the Court must be given the means to carry out its work.  Statutory obligations mean that the Court has no control over the volume of its work.  There is a “real sense of disquiet” that the United Nations budgetary restrictions may undermine the Court’s abilities to meet the challenges of its substantial workload.  He added that the Court would like the General Assembly to approve the creation of a trust fund for the Court’s Judicial Fellowship Programme, which offers training to recent law graduates from around the world.

On the asbestos‑related situation at the Peace Palace in the Netherlands, he said that on 14 October 2019 the Dutch Government conveyed that it is in discussions with the Carnegie Foundation, which owns the Palace.  Until an agreement is reached, preparations for renovating the Palace will be put on hold.  This intervening period may be used for discussions between the Court and the Dutch Government to ensure a smooth relocation of the Registry and other Court services.

He concluded by saying that since the creation of the Court’s predecessor, the Permanent Court of International Justice, any doubts about establishing a permanent court have been dispelled and fears about the dangers of a “gouvernement des juges” have failed to materialize.  On the contrary, States regard the Court as a guardian of the rule of law at the international level, with Latvia recently accepting the jurisdiction of the Court as compulsory, in addition to the 73 existing States who do so.  Much remains to be done before the Court is empowered to settle all disputes between all States, and to anchor even further the rule of law at the international level.  “The pace might be slow; but the trend towards a wider acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court in the international community is quite clear,” he stressed.

Statements

BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore) said the Court contributes significantly to multilateralism by upholding and promoting the rule of law at the international level.  A universal rules‑based system is crucial to a small State like his, which cannot afford to have international relations work on a might‑makes‑right basis.  While commending the Court for the volume and diversity of its work — a testament to the confidence Member States have in its ability to resolve international disputes peacefully — he noted the Court’s approved budget has not grown apace.  In light of United Nations cash flow problems and their impact on the Court, he called on Member States to pay their contributions promptly.  Turning to the presence of asbestos in the Court building itself, he expressed appreciation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands for providing resources to decontaminate the basement, as staff are entitled to a safe working environment.  He welcomed the free public mobile device application launched in May as a helpful feature making the work of the Court more accessible to Member States and the public alike.

TOFIG MUSAYEV (Azerbaijan), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the Court has a significant role in promoting and encouraging the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.  Noting the fact that the Security Council has not sought an advisory opinion from the Court since 1970, the Movement urges the Security Council to make greater use of the Court and its advisory opinions.  During the Ministerial Meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Movement of Non‑Aligned Countries, held in July 2019 in Caracas, the Movement decided to encourage those in a position to better utilize the Court and to consider conducting consultations among the Movement’s member States. 

The General Assembly and other United Nations organs should request advisory opinions of the Court on legal questions, he said, reaffirming the importance of opinions issued, including the 8 July 1996 opinion on the “Legality of the Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons”.  States are obliged to pursue in good faith and conclude negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all aspects under strict international protocol.  He further called on Israel, the occupying Power, to fully respect the 9 July 2004 Court advisory opinion titled “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. 

VICTORIA HALLUM (New Zealand), also speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, said that they have all accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court and recognize its role as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.  “The higher the number of States that accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court, the greater the opportunity for timely and peaceful resolution of disputes relating to questions of international law, an outcome that is in the interests of us all,” she emphasized.  States should be reassured by the diverse geographical spread of cases and wide variety of subject matters that the Court has demonstrated it can deal with.  It is commendable that judgements and advisory opinions are delivered within six months of the closure of oral proceedings.  “We encourage the Court to continue its efforts in balancing urgent and less time‑critical issues to provide timely and appropriate decisions and guidance,” she added.  The Court’s role in deciding on those disputes submitted to it is vital to the international rules‑based order.

HELGE SELAND (Norway), also speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), noted the Court’s high level of activity during the reporting period, during which it delivered judgements in three contentious cases, gave one advisory opinion, handed down 16 orders, held public hearings in six cases, and was working on two new contentious cases.  He also noted the wide geographical spread and variety of subject matter of the cases before the Court.  “This diversity testifies to the universal character of the Court’s jurisdiction, to the Court’s growing specialization in complex spaces of international law,” he said.

The submission of a dispute to the Court is “not an unfriendly act” and should not be regarded as such, he said.  The more than 300 bilateral or multilateral treaties, which provide the Court with jurisdiction ratione materiae in the resolution of disputes between State parties, are listed on its website.  Moreover, while judgements are binding only upon the parties concerned, the Court’s jurisprudence has far‑reaching impacts, he pointed out, stressing the need to ensure that the Court has adequate resources to fulfil its mandate.  In that regard, the Nordic countries have made voluntary payments to the Secretary‑General’s trust fund to assist states in the settlement of disputes through the International Court of Justice and they welcome its redesigned website.  

JOSÉ LUIS FIALHO ROCHA (Cabo Verde), speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese‑speaking Countries, noted all Member States are party to the Statute of the Court and 74 have recognized its jurisdiction as compulsory.  He cited the Court’s outstanding contribution to the development and clarification of international law, including on the use of force, territorial and maritime disputes and the immunity of States and their agents, among others.  The Court also provides legal certainty and helps prevent divergences between States from erupting into violence.  The high rate of compliance with Court judgments is very encouraging, illustrating that States trust in its independence, credibility and impartiality.  The Court’s heavy workload and wide range of subjects ruled on only confirm its success and universality, but Member States must acknowledge its need for resources to cope with that level of activity.  He welcomed the widening scope and cooperation for international law as the Court’s judgments inspire other international decision‑making bodies.

PETR VÁLEK (Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), said that one of the Court’s greatest strengths is its universal character.  All Member States can bring their disputes before the Court with confidence in its impartiality and wisdom in rendering international justice.  Pending contentious cases demonstrate a wide diversity of parties, with States from almost every continent appearing before the Court.  Citing the Court’s advisory opinion on the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965, the Visegrad Group believes such requests for an advisory opinion should not be used to introduce matters implicating disputes for which contentious Court proceedings would be more appropriate.  He added that the peaceful settlement of disputes requires States to not only accept the applicable procedure but also implement the outcome in good faith.  Turning to jurisdiction, he underlined the importance of including clauses on peaceful dispute settlement in multilateral treaties, as is the case in many such treaties.  The disputes can thereby be submitted to the Court should the parties be unable to resolve their differences otherwise.

SANDRA ERICA JOVEL POLANCO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said that the Court’s lengthy docket reveals the trust States have in its ability to resolve disputes in an impartial manner.  Its rulings and advisory opinions help improve international practices.  For many years, differences between States have been resolved through force, tragically, but the work of the Court offers a better way.  The Court is the result of leadership in conflict resolution in international law, and the tasks of its judges are of paramount importance.  She said that earlier in the year, Guatemala and Belize brought before the Court the Guatemala’s Territorial, Insular and Maritime Claim (Guatemala/Belize) case, which marks a “historic milestone”.  The claim, submitted through a “Special Agreement”, reveals the commitment of the two countries to search for a peaceful resolution to their long‑standing border dispute. 

She welcomed that the Court fixed 8 June 2020 and 8 June 2021 as the respective time limits for the filing of a Memorial by Guatemala and a Counter‑Memorial by Belize.  Relations between Guatemala and Belize are at a high point currently and her country is committed to strengthening them.  She said that the Court should be the final judge of the dispute, and Guatemala is confident that its resolution will bring economic, social and political benefits to both countries and to the populations living in adjacent areas.  However, the Court’s financial situation, due to liquidity problems in 2018 and 2019, is concerning, he said, encouraging Member States to meet their financial obligations to ensure the Court’s continued functioning.

GEORGE RODRIGO BANDEIRA GALINDO (Brazil), aligning himself with the Community of Portuguese‑speaking Countries, said that the Court is more than just another avenue for peaceful settlement of disputes; it is the main judicial body of the United Nations and the only international court of a universal character with general jurisdiction.  For over 70 years, the Court has helped to crystallize international law in areas as diverse as the law of the sea, human rights, treaty interpretation and the use of force.  The Court’s latest report is yet another chapter in its auspicious history.  Highlighting the three judgements, one advisory opinion, 16 orders and two new contentious cases, he added that the pending cases involve States from two continents and address a great variety of issues.  The high level of activity, the diverse geographical spread of cases and the diversity of subjects demonstrate the renewed vitality of the Court.  Also welcoming the Court’s outreach efforts which bring it closer to a variety of audiences, he cited its internship programmes as well as participation in university events as good examples of that.

ELSADIG ALI SAYED AHMED (Sudan) said that the Court contributes to the cause of peace, reflecting the origins of the United Nations in the post‑Second World War environment.  Court rulings have an impact beyond their specific cases, as they send a strong message across the world about the importance of international law.  The goals of the Charter of the United Nations cannot be realized without the rule of law, which is the basis for peace, security and sustainable development.  He said that the Court’s report shows in high detail that Member States continue to utilize it to resolve disputes.  Sudan encourages States that haven’t accepted its jurisdiction to do so, and the Security Council should consult the Court for advisory opinions.  He said that it is critical that the Court receives adequate funding to continue its vital work.

Mr. CELDRID (Mexico) said that the Court’s findings concerning the Chagos Archipelago will be used for the General Assembly’s follow‑up of this question.  He supported the decision in the Jadhav (India v. Pakistan) case confirming the obligation of consular notification regarding the detention of foreign nationals.  This has broadened and deepened the Court’s jurisprudence on consular law and has also enhanced the importance of respecting it without exception.  The norms constituting consular law are not optional rules that States have the freedom to respect or not, but norms of international law which protect relations between States in their most basic dimension.  He also noted the General Assembly resolution that called for the immediate application of the decision in the Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America) case.

CARLOS JIMENEZ PIERNAS (Spain) said the diversity of States placing disputes before the Court as well as the issues they involve prove the institution plays a leading role as a guarantor of the proper interpretation and application of public international law.  He noted that more and more disputes concerning human rights protection are being presented before the Court due to the higher profile this legal area has been acquiring in recent years within the contemporary international legal system, stressing that neither the Court nor the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea are international human rights courts with universal jurisdiction.  Adding that protection of human rights in international practice manifests itself by other means, both in a universal and regional context, he said the duty to promote formulas enabling this protection falls to States.

Mr. HAMAMOTO (Japan) said that the Court has played an important role over the years as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations in the peaceful settlement of international disputes and promotion of rule of law.  The rule of law and pacific settlement of international disputes provide the essential foundation of stable, rules‑based international relations and are essential principles underpinning Japan’s foreign policy.  The increase in the number of cases brought before the Court indicates that more and more States respect and support its legal wisdom and the role it plays in the peaceful settlement of international disputes.

Mr. MOHAMED KHALIFA (Libya) said that the international community envisioned a permanent international judiciary system to peacefully resolve disputes between States.  Beginning in the 1940s, the Court ful
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