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National statements

Private Meeting with the President of the International Court of Justice

Thematic issues

  • International Court of Justice
  • Justice
  • Peace and Security
  • Rule of Law


Statement by HE Ms Philippa King, Deputy Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Thank you, Madam President, for convening this meeting. And thank you to the President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Tomka, for his leadership of the Court throughout what has clearly been a very busy year for the Court. We comment his commitment to ensuring the Court fulfils its role as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.

Madam President

The UN Charter establishes both the Security Council and the International Court of Justice as principal organs of the United Nations, intended to play complementary roles in the Charter's collective security framework.

The first ever formal meeting of the Council and the Court in our shared history of almost 70 years was an important step in this relationship and we welcomed that historic and useful exchange on matters of mutual interest.

One area of discussion in August was the need to boost the number of States accepting the Court's compulsory jurisdiction. The Court's growing docket reflects an increased willingness of States to resolve their disputes peacefully, through the use of this judicial mechanism, as well as increased confidence of the international community in the work of the Court.

Nevertheless, Australia is one of only 70 States that accept the Court's compulsory jurisdiction, and less than a third of the Court's cases have been submitted on the basis of compulsory jurisdiction. Within the Council's current composition, we are one of only five Members that have accepted the Court's jurisdiction.

This should matter to the Council. Judicial settlement of disputes is an integral element of the Council's responsibilities under Chapter VI of the Charter, but this avenue of dispute settlement is diminished if recourse to the Court is barred by one of the parties to a dispute. What can we do as a Council to address this issue?

Increasing the number of Council Members would be a start, sending a powerful signal to the broader membership on the importance of, and our confidence in, the Court's role. The Council lacks credibility encouraging others to accept the Court's jurisdiction, when ten of our membership have not done so themselves.

The Council could also make a collective endorsement of the handbook on accepting the jurisdiction of the Court, recently release by a group of States. The handbook continues the momentum from the Secretary-General's 2013 campaign aimed at increasing the number of States that accept the Court's compulsory jurisdiction.

Madam President

We also continue to believe that the Council could be more effective in its pursuit of peace and security by more actively considering the Court's complementary role. Indeed, the roles of the Council and the Court, while distinct and independent, were always intended to be complementary, as is clear by the inclusion in the UN Charter of Articles 36 and 94.

The UN Charter and ICJ Statute laid out procedural and substantive linkages between the two organs. On the procedural side, the Council continues to play its key role in the election of Judges to the court, as we shall see next week.

But on the substantive side, we are still not making use of the linkages between the two organs. The Charter includes two ways that the Council could do more: referring disputes to the Court, and seeking its advisory opinion. The Council has only once sought an advisory opinion (Namibia case, in 1970-71) and made only one express recommendation that a legal dispute be referred to the Court (Corfu Channel Case, in 1947), despite the drafters' intention in Chapter VI that this practice be the general rule. The use of Article 94(2) to enforce ICJ decisions remains similarly rare, though there are indications Members may be increasingly open to this option, and we should be ready to respond accordingly.

So, while States are making increasing use of the Court to resolve disputes peacefully, the Council is not, and this ultimately means we are foregoing opportunities to unite our strength to maintain peace and security.

Since the Court's first case was listed in 1947, more than 130 cases have been brought before the Court, which has given more than 100 judgments on cases involving more than 90 States from every region.

That is, more than 100 disputes have been discussed, debated, deliberated and decided in a court of law. But it is Australia's view that the Court and Council's rich contribution can and must go beyond statistics of cases listed and decided; and of course the Court's important jurisprudence.

Working together, the Council and the Court can prevent conflict and, more broadly, promote respect for international law, the peaceful settlement of disputes and the rule of law: the very foundations of the international system.

So we should be working harder towards the objective of combining the respective strengths of these organs in pursuit of the maintenance of international peace and security.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 10 June 2015
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