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Public International Law Research

A guide that highlights resources and recommended strategies for conducting research on international law topics.

International Court of Justice

General Overview

Established in 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.  The Statute of the International Court of Justice, creating the court and outlining its responsibilities, is annexed to the U.N. Charter. The ICJ's primary role is to settle legal disputes submitted to it by member states and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by the United Nations and other specialized agencies.

The ICJ has 15 judges elected for nine year nonrenewable terms in office.

The ICJ has two distinct types of jurisdiction: contentious jurisdiction and advisory jurisdiction. The following chart provides a brief overview of each type of jurisdiction and example cases:

Contentious Jurisdiction

There are three ways that states can accept the Court's jurisdiction:

Advisory Jurisdiction

Under Article 65(1), the Court may also give advisory opinions on any legal question brought to it by a U.N. organ or a specialized agency of the U.N. States and individuals have no standing to request advisory opinions. 

As an example of this type of jurisdiction, you can review the General Assembly's 2017 request for the court to render an opinion on the legality and consequences of the United Kingdom's 1968 decolonization of Mauritius. See G.A. Res. 71/292 (June 22, 2017).

The United States originally accepted the Court's compulsory jurisdiction under Article 36(2) with a number of reservations. This acceptance was terminated in 1985 and was prompted by the U.S. government's dissatisfaction with the Court's decision in Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States), 1986 I.C.J. 14.

Online ICJ Primary Materials

Online Primary ICJ Materials

The ICJ has several resources governing its proceedings and the full text of its cases.

Jurisdiction & Procedural Materials

The ICJ has many statutes and rules that govern court proceedings.  The most relevant documents are linked below:

  • Charter of the United Nations: signed in San Francisco in 1945, this is the foundational treaty of the United nations and is the document that created the ICJ.
  • Statute of the Court: This statute organizes the Court's composition and how it functions.
  • Rules of Court:This document supplements the general rules in the Statue in more specificity and gives necessary advice about how to comply with them.
  • Practice Directions: Another supplement to the rules of the court, this reflects the Court's review of its working methods.

Cases

The ICJ has a full list of its cases freely available on its website.  Included in this list are pending cases, contentious cases, and advisory proceedings.  Additionally, there is access to judgments, advisory opinions, and orders. 

When you find a case you are interested in, you will be directed to a page that allows you to view all the latest developments for that case case including press releases, summaries, and any relevant orders.  Each of these cases are available for download in either English or French.

Recommended Secondary Sources