Gavels Before Guns, UN′s Highest Court Turns 60 | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 12.04.2006
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Gavels Before Guns, UN's Highest Court Turns 60

Celebrations have begun for the 60th anniversary of United Nation's highest court, the International Court of Justice in The Hague.


The International Court of Justice is housed in the Peace Palace

The judges aside, most people could be forgiven for being unable to keep The Hague's various courts straight. It can be difficult with the ICC, ICJ and ICTY all working for justice. This week, it's the ICJ -- the International Court of Justice -- that's being feted as it marks its 60th anniversary.

Founded within the UN Charta, the ICJ or World Court tends not to feature as greatly in the world's media as the ICTY, the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the International Criminal Court, which also deals with war crimes and is now addressing cases in Congo and Darfur. However, the ICJ is the United Nation's highest court.

Internationaler Gerichtshof in Den Haag wird 60. Jahre alt

The original member meet in the Great Hall of Justice

Since its inception on April 18, 1946, the ICJ judges have dealt only with grievances between states, and have seen their duty as helping nations resolve their disputes before they result in violent conflicts.

The major catch to the court's judgements is that they often end without consequences for either nation because both parties need to agree on the World Court's involvement before its decisions become binding.

Security Council can impose court's will

"The court itself does not have any means to impose its decisions -- the effectiveness of the decisions is based on validity of the legal arguments," said Germany's Bruno Simma, who is currently serving a nine-year term as one of the court's 15 judges. "The UN Security Council does also have the power to impose the International Court of Justice's decisions, but this has never been done yet."

Mauer zwischen Israel und Palästina bei Jerusalem

The ICJ called the barrier illegal, a decision Israel brushed off

In its 60-year existence, the ICJ has issued some 100 verdicts and 25 legal opinions, provided to other UN bodies.

The process was successful when Libya and Chad brought their border disagreement to the tribunal in 1994 but proved ineffective in 2004 when the panel of judges deemed the Israeli-built security barrier illegal and called for it to be removed after it was half finished.

The judgement remained non-binding because Israel didn't agree to the case, a situation Annan would like to see changed.

"I would particularly encourage all states that have not yet done so to consider recognizing the compulsory jurisdiction of the court," Annan said at a special solemn sitting of the court on Wednesday. "I also encourage states that are not yet prepared to recognize the compulsory jurisdiction to consider submitting their disputes to the court by special agreements."

Internationaler Gerichtshof wird 60 Jahre alt Gericht in einem Meeting

Not all the ICJ's meetings are happen in a grandiose setting

Spotty record of success

A 2004 study showed compliance in 61 percent of the cases the court decided upon, but Rosalyn Higgins, the court's current president, said only five of the court's judgements have been rejected.

Since the judges often require years before reaching a verdict, political changes in the countries involved often render points of the decisions moot.

"We have a big clientele in the developing world," Higgins said, adding that many countries are realizing that taking their disputes to the 15-judge panel is not a hostile act. "It is not an unfriendly act. It's a practical way of dealing with problems."

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