Text

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) was established in 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations as the principal judicial organ (Art. 7, UN Charter). Its role in the fulfillment of the purposes of the UN is “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” (Art. 1, UN Charter). To this end it settles legal disputes submitted to it by States, this is the contentious procedure. Secondly the Court gives advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies. This is the advisory procedure. It functions in accordance with its Statute which forms an integral part of the Charter (Art. 92, UN Charter). The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 judges who are elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council for a nine year term of office. It has its seat in the Peace Palace at The Hague, The Netherlands.

When deciding cases, the court applies international law as summarized in Article 38 of the ICJ Statute, which provides that in arriving at its decisions the court shall apply international conventions, international custom and the "general principles of law recognized by civilized nations." It may also refer to academic writing ("the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations") and previous judicial decisions to help interpret the law although the court is not formally bound by its previous decisions under the doctrine of stare decisis. Article 59 makes clear that the common law notion of precedent or stare decisis does not apply to the decisions of the ICJ. The court's decision binds only the parties to that particular controversy. Under 38(1)(d), however, the court may consider its own previous decisions.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research on the International Court of Justice. It provides the basic legal materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's subject heading (keyword) International Court of Justice is instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.

Bibliography manually

Basic documents

The International Court of Justice was established by the Charter of the United Nations, which provides that all Member States of the United Nations are ipso facto parties to the Court’s Statute. The Statute, together with the Rules of Court, organizes the composition and functioning of the Court. Since October 2001, the Court has also issued Practice Directions for use by States appearing before it.

The Charter of the United Nations, which was signed in San Francisco on 26 June 1945, is the foundational treaty of the United Nations. It is also the constitutive text of the International Court of Justice, which was created by the Charter.

Provisions on the Court can be found in Article 7, paragraph 1, Article 36, paragraph 3, and Articles 92-96 (Chapter XIV) of the Charter.

The Statute of the International Court of Justice is annexed to the Charter of the United Nations, of which it forms an integral part. The main purpose of the Statute is to organize the composition and functioning of the Court.

Like the Charter, the Statute can only be amended by a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly and ratification by two thirds of the States (Art. 69).

Should the ICJ wish its Statute to be amended, it must submit a proposal to that effect to the General Assembly by sending a written communication to the Secretary-General of the United Nations (Art. 70). Hitherto, however, the Statute of the Court has never been amended.

Article 30 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice provides that “[t]he Court shall frame rules for carrying out its functions”. These Rules are intended to supplement the general rules set out in the Statute and to make detailed provision for the steps to be taken to comply with them.

The Court adopted its first Practice Directions for use by States appearing before it in October 2001. Practice Directions supplement, rather than alter, the Rules of Court. They reflect the Court’s ongoing review of its working methods. Once adopted by the Court, amendments to the Practice Directions are posted on the Court’s website and published in the Court’s Yearbook, with a note of any temporal reservations relating to their applicability.

In addition to the Statute and the Rules of Court, other legal documents have been adopted by the Court or the United Nations, or concluded by the Court with the host country, and govern certain aspects of the Court's activities

Case-law

The case-law of the International Court of Justice is published by the Registry, in several series, some of which are available in electronic version

This series contains both the English and French versions of the Court’s decisions. Each decision is published as soon as possible after it has been given, in an unbound fascicle, which is sold separately. So that all the decisions in a given year can be assembled and bound, the page numbering is continuous for all the fascicles in that year.

Early each year an index is published of the previous year’s decisions, which may also be purchased separately. The collected decisions, with index, for each year may be obtained bound in one to three volumes.

Volumes in this series are published after the termination of each case and contain the documentation relating to the case in the original language, i.e. English or French. This comprises the document instituting proceedings, the written pleadings and (selected) annexes, the verbatim records of the oral proceedings, any documents submitted to the Court after the closure of the written proceedings, and selected correspondence.

All case-law of the Court can be found in electronic form on the ICJ website

Collections and compilations of ICJ case-law

UN Declarations and Resolutions

The resolutions and decisions of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council may provide valuable information on the International Court of Justice and its activities. Although they cannot themselves constitute international law or serve as conclusive evidence of a rule of customary law, such resolutions do have value in providing evidence of existing or emerging law. This point of view has been acknowledged by the International Law Commission.

As every Member State has been recognized and has a vote in the UN General Assembly, finding General Assembly resolutions that passed unanimously or near-unanimously may serve as an excellent starting point in the legal research process. Pay attention to the language of the resolution. Those with firm obligations versus those that are merely aspirational or advisory in nature are more likely to be considered valuable as evidence of customary international law.

 Official Document System Search. ODS is the UN's Official Document System. You can search for UN declarations, resolutions and other documents by keywords, then narrow your search.

 Start Your Research: (7) Resolutions and Decisions of International Organizations.

Reference works

In 2019, the Court published the latest edition of the Handbook. Its purpose is to provide the general public with a simple, comprehensible overview of the history, composition, jurisdiction, procedure and decisions of the International Court of Justice.

Selected books and articles

Periodicals, serial publications

No. 7 is the latest issue in this series. It contains the Charter of the United Nations, the Statute and Rules of Court along with Practice Directions and other basic texts.

In the second half of each year a Yearbook is published describing the work of the Court from 1 August of the preceding year to 31July of the current year. This publication used to be issued in separate English (Yearbook) and French (Annuaire) versions, but since No.68 it has been published as a bilingual version.

Bibliographies

Each year the Registry of the Court issues a bibliography listing the works and documents referring to the Court that have come to its attention during the previous year. As of No. 55, the Bibliography has been subdivided according to a new system and the layout has been revised for greater facility of use. A list of headings appears as a table of contents at the beginning of each volume: A. The Court and the international judicial system; B. Organization of the Court; Jurisdiction of the Court; Procedure before the Court; E. Cases brought before the Court; F. Proposals for reference of matters to the Court; G. Writings containing references to the Court; Alphabetical index of authors' names; Alphabetical list of subjects.

From 1946 to 2003, the Bibliography was prepared as an official publication on an annual basis (Nos. 1-57), with the annual issues periodically collected in cumulative volumes. For practical reasons, the Registry now maintains the official record of bibliographical references in a database. The Bibliography is a printed version of records found in that database, following the style of the last number in the official series and prepared in order to facilitate greater access to works referencing the Court. The Bibliography, is prepared by the Court’s private library (a division of the Registry).

Dictionaries