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National statements

The relationship between the International Court of Justice and the Security Council

Thematic issues

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


Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Thank you, Mr President.

And President Tomka, thank you for your remarks, and for your leadership of the International Court of Justice.

The increasing willingness of States to turn to the Court for the peaceful settlement of their disputes reflects the confidence of the international community in the work of the Court.

Australia accepts the Court's compulsory jurisdiction – one of only 70 States that currently do so – and we encourage those Members that do not to consider doing so.

Mr President

The preamble of the UN Charter crystallizes the determination of its drafters – and I quote – "to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained." This determination is then enshrined as a purpose of the United Nations, and again I quote – "to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace".

The Security Council and the ICJ, pursuing their independent mandates, have already made an important contribution to efforts to achieve this vision.

As a country firmly committed to the international rule of law, Australia places particular importance on the role the Council plays in promoting the rule of law and strengthening a rules-based international system.

We also recognise the significant contribution that the work of the Court has made to the development of international law, and which is critical to ensuring that the rule of law is maintained, and strengthened, at the international level.

The work of the Council and the Court were always intended to be complementary in this way, as is clear by the inclusion in the UN Charter of Articles 36 and 94.

The question before us is really how much greater that contribution could be if we as a Council were more cognizant of the complementary role the Court could play in situations on the Council's agenda.

The drafters of the Charter wisely recognised the inherent distinction between the Council's political function and the independent, judicial nature of the Court, when they framed the ways in which the Council and the Court can interact. But we believe there is value in being more aware of the complementary role the Court could play in situations on the Council's agenda.

In setting out the Council's toolkit in Chapter VI for the peaceful settlement of disputes, the Charter's drafters specified that referring legal disputes to the Court should be the general rule. In the almost 70 years of parallel existence of the Council and the Court, the Court has proven its effectiveness in dispute resolution, as demonstrated by its growing docket, yet referrals to the Court by the Council have been minimal. Perhaps this is an instrument we could use more.

Mr President

In Australia's view, the rich contribution that the Court and the Council can make to international peace and security should not be measured solely in terms of the peaceful settlement of disputes. It must also be assessed in the light of the valuable role these organs can play together in the prevention of conflict and the promotion of international respect for the rule of law.

In previous briefings to the Council, the President of the Court has raised the interconnection between the rule of law at the international and national levels. This is something painfully evident to the Council. Many of the situations before the Council today initially arose from the breakdown of the rule of law within a State, as opposed to a dispute between States. A breakdown of the rule of law at the national level of such gravity that the Security Council becomes seized of the issue is itself a demonstration of the interconnection between national and international rule of law; but the consequences of such breakdowns can also quickly cross borders, threatening international peace and security in other ways.

Accordingly, as we discuss the complementary functions of the International Court of Justice and the Security Council, we should reflect more broadly on whether there are opportunities for the Court and the Council to work together to better deliver outcomes that support justice, promote the rule of law and contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security.

To conclude, Mr President

International law and the rule of law are the foundations of the international system. We welcome the opportunity to discuss the important work of the ICJ, and in particular opportunities for the Security Council to support – and strengthen – the effectiveness of the Court and respect for the international rule of law.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 17 June 2015
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