The World of International Organizations

Five judges win 9-year terms on U.N. top court

The Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, home to the International Court of Justice (AN/R. Boed)

(Arête News) — Four judges from China, Japan, Slovakia and Uganda were re-elected to the International Court of Justice while a German candidate won the fifth open slot on the U.N.’s top judicial chamber, the ICJ said on Friday.

The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, has 15 judges elected to nine-year terms. Each of them may be re-elected if they want to continue serving. Elections for five of the ICJ’s judges occur every three years. The new terms for the latest five winning candidates will start on February 6, 2021.

The 15 judges pick their own leaders. “In February 2021, the court as newly constituted will proceed to elect from among its members a president and a vice-president, who will hold office for three years,” the court said in a statement.

After two rounds of voting by secret ballot in both the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, four of the ICJ’s current judges — Xue Hanqin of China, Yuji Iwasawa of Japan, Peter Tomka of Slovakia and Julia Sebutinde of Uganda — were re-elected.

In addition, Georg Nolte of Germany, a professor of law at Humboldt University of Berlin and member of the U.N.’s International Law Commission, won election to his first term on the court.

Eight candidates in all competed for the latest round of seats, but the three from Croatia, Nigeria and Rwanda were edged out. Both of the United Nations’ most powerful arms, the 193-nation General Assembly and the 15-nation Security Council, must approve of the ICJ’s candidates in a majority vote. They held simultaneous elections to choose the five candidates.

“Enduring” institution

As the U.N.’s main court for settling disputes among nations, the ICJ took shape in the wake of World War II, starting in February 1946 when its first members were elected.

Though the ICJ was a new court then, the 1945 Charter of the United Nations stated that the ICJ’s work should be based on the Permanent Court of International Justice, which was organized in 1921 and began operating a year later within the League of Nations. The ICJ essentially replaced the PCIJ; the ICJ’s first president, Judge José Gustavo Guerrero of El Salvador, had served as the final PCIJ president.

ICJ’s current president, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia, told the General Assembly last week that the court continued to fulfill its duties even though it cannot hold in-person meetings and hearings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It reacted very quickly to this exceptional situation, immediately adapting its methods of work to the new circumstances. It started to hold regular remote meetings to ensure a continued focus on judicial matters,” Yusuf said in a speech.

“Similarly, the court was able to switch, in a successful manner, to hybrid remote public sittings both for its hearings and for the delivery of its judgments and substantive orders,” he said. “This move towards hybrid hearings has represented an unprecedented development in the manner in which the court conducts its judicial activities.”

Yusuf noted the court’s underlying statute dating to the PCIJ will be a century old next month, and “without much change to its provisions” it has proven to be “one of the most enduring and well-known international legal documents in the world.”

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