ICJ Judge speaks at HLS, discusses future of int’l law


In a speech titled “The International Court of Justice: A Vision for the Next Century”, Judge C.J. Weeramantry. former Judge of the ICJ, outlined the history of the international tribunal and expressed hope that it will continue to play a prominent role in the future development of international law.

“It was extraordinarily difficult to establish,” said Judge Weeramantry of the ICJ, noting that the road to establishing such a tribunal had long been the domain of philosophers and dreamers who held out a vision for the “kingless authority of the law”.

The ICJ, located at the Hague, traces its roots to the international peace conference held at the Hague in 1899, a meeting that established the Hague as a center of for the peaceful resolution of international disputes. Weeramantry explained that the meeting at the Hague was held in response to a realization by the Russian Czar, who wondered “might it not be sensible to come to the conference table first, before the killing?”

Though no court came about from the peace conference, a court was established after World War I in an attempt to resolve future disputes among states peacefully. Weeramantry believes this court was important in laying the ground work for the ICJ. The judges of this predecessor court showed that they “could function in the international system and prevent violence and bloodshed.”

The court was not to last however, as World War II shattered the international structures established after the Treaty of Versailles. However, the subsequent establishment of the United Nations after World War II also led to the enactment of the International Court of Justice to resolve disputes among states in the post-war period.

According to Weeramantry, one question many people ask is “how can a system of jurisprudence function effectively when it [the ICJ] has no armies at its disposal?” The integrity and respect accorded to the Court allow it to have influence in resolving disputes even in the absence of an enforcement power, explained Weeramantry. Judge Weeramantry listed a case involving a border dispute between Libya and Chad as an example. Libyan troops had occupied the disputed territory, causing Chad to bring the case before the Court. When the ICJ ruled in Chad’s favor, Libya complied, removing its troops from the disputed area, an incident that showed the valuable role the ICJ can play in resolving disputes peacefully.

Unfortunately, the media does not report such successes widely, according to Weeramantry, leading to a skewed impression by the world public that international law is not functioning effectively. Weeramantry urged resistance to such pessimism. “International law is quietly and efficiently at work in the background.”

Indeed, Weeramantry hopes that in the years to come their will be a greater understanding of the role of international law-Weeramantry believes it would be of great value if citizens everywhere were educated in the basics of international law. Such widespread understanding is important if an international legal order is to be effective.

“This Court cannot do all these things by itself. It needs the support of the international community,” said Weeramantry.

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