The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected from a list of persons nominated by the national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The election process is set out in Articles 4–19 of the ICJ statute. Elections are staggered with five judges elected every three years, in order to ensure continuity within the court. The judges are elected for an office term of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, it is assisted by a Registry, its administrative organ. Its official languages are English and French. Since its creation, four of the five permanent members of the Security Council (France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have always had a judge on the Court.
In practice the Members of the Court have their own interpretation of these rules. This allows them to be involved in outside arbitration and hold professional posts as long as there is no conflict of interest. A judge can be dismissed only by a unanimous vote of other members of the Court. Despite these provisions, the independence of ICJ judges has been questioned. For example, during the Nicaragua Case, the USA issued a communiqué suggesting that it could not present sensitive material to the Court because of the presence of judges from Eastern bloc states.
As stated in Article 93 of the UN Charter, all 193 UN members are automatically parties to the Court's statute. Non-UN members may also become parties to the Court's statute under the Article 93(2) procedure. Once a state is a party to the Court's statute, it is entitled to participate in cases before the Court. However, being a party to the Statute does not automatically give the Court jurisdiction over disputes involving those parties. The issue of jurisdiction is considered in the two types of ICJ cases: contentious issues and advisory opinions.
In contentious cases (adversarial proceedings seeking to settle a dispute), the ICJ produces a binding ruling between states that agree to submit to the ruling of the court. Only states may be parties in contentious cases. Individuals, corporations, parts of a federal state, NGOs, UN organs and self-determination groups are excluded from direct participation in cases. And in advisory opinions the function of the Court is open only to specified United Nations bodies and agencies. On receiving a request, the Court decides which States and organizations might provide useful information and gives them an opportunity to present written or oral statements. Advisory Opinions were intended as a means by which UN agencies could seek the Court's help in deciding complex legal issues that might fall under their respective mandates.
The Court applies international law as summarised 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". The Court's decision binds only the parties in that particular case.
Every year the Court submits a report on its activities to the United Nations General Assembly. The Court's Annual Reports since 1985 are available in electronic format.
Can you share some thoughts about the work of the ICJ? Do you maybe know what are the most famous cases of the ICJ?