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What Matters At The I.C.J

What Matters At The I.C.J
May 25
09:11 2019

There has been a lot of commentary about the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – some fair, others negative. The Court makes its decisions based on what is presented for consideration by the disputing parties.

The Court is made up of a panel of 17 Judges from all over the world (two nominated from the disputing countries) who convene to preside over the disputes. Each is tasked with presenting a draft of his/her position on the case presented, and those positions are collected and are reviewed by a drafting committee. There are several revisions made before a preliminary draft is made, to which amendments can be made before it goes back to the drafting committee for revision of amended draft. That draft is presented, and if there are any objections, then the drafting committee spends another two weeks to review the draft and the objections. A second and final reading would mark the completion of the case.

In cases such as Belize and Guatemala, where Special Agreements exist, these agreements define specific terms about the dispute that needs to be settled. In our case, an ICJ official shared last November with Belizean journalists that Guatemala’s claim is unusual since it is perhaps only the second time that a country is claiming almost half of another. The only other in recent memory is that of Venezuela claiming more than half of Guyana. But Venezuela had informed that it would not go to the ICJ to settle that score with Guyana.

Two experts on International Law who lecture at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Dr. Eric de Brabandere, who directs the Grotius Centre for International Dispute Resolution and Dr. Giulia Pinzauti, a former ICJ Law Clerk and Assistant Professor advised our journalists that what the ICJ really looks at are boundary treaties, such as the 1859 Treaty because it proves title to territory. |The Court also looks at who was actually occupying the territory and exercising sovereignty before they got independence.

“So if Guatemala would say three years ago, “Oh, this is our territory!” and then suddenly starts sending military and say, “We’re there, see, it’s our territory!” that doesn’t count, or at least it’s looked upon with suspicion or with doubt,” Brabandere said.

Jan Hennop, a journalist with the AFP who covers international disputes at the ICJ, met with the Belizean journalists to give his perspective on how the Court works. And when asked squarely whether he trusts the ICJ if it were his country or his life on the line, he responded, “Most certainly!”

“In this court…the information is very well protected and the reason why they do that is to make sure that there aren’t certain rumours that are leaking out at various stages of the process. …It is something that I really firmly believe in. International Courts are there to bring justice. …The reason why it is so far away is perhaps because it needs that perspective to look from the outside in to make a good judgment,” Hennop shared.

Of the 129 cases that the ICJ has dispensed judgement on since its establishment in 1946, 95 percent of those judgments have been implemented, an ICJ official shared with the group. And in those cases of non-compliance, the matter can be referred to the United Nations Security Council, which can apply necessary measures, including bringing about strong economic sanctions against the non-compliant country in order to give effect to the ruling.

The ICJ has also ruled on disputes concerning land frontiers, maritime boundaries, the violation of international law, as well as the right of asylum, nationality, guardianship, rites of passage and economic rights.

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