Marcelo Kohen : The Crucial Role of International Courts
We recently had the pleasure to welcome two judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the current President Abdulqawi Yusuf and Judge Joan Donoghue, at the Graduate Institute. President Yusuf, who holds a PhD from our Institute, was awarded a prize for Lifetime Professional Achievement at the annual Alumni meeting, while Judge Donoghue gave a lecture on the Role of Courts in Global Governance. Both judges stressed the increasing number of cases that came to The Hague in recent times, most of them related to disputes of major importance not only for the parties concerned, but in international relations in general. Some pending cases before the ICJ include: aspects of the Ukraine/Russia dispute, American sanctions against Iran as a result of the United States’ decision to abandon the Iran Nuclear Deal and the incomplete decolonization of Mauritius by the United Kingdom. The expectations of the international community are considerable and the judges bear an ensuing responsibility not to deceive, by strictly applying international law irrespective of the political strength of the parties concerned.
At all times, the creation of international courts and tribunals has been perceived as decisive progress towards the advancement of peace and justice in international relations. The old dream of perpetual peace and its manifestation in different projects–has as a component, the idea of an international adjudicative body or bodies having compulsory jurisdiction to deal with all international disputes. Why this vision ? Because judicial settlement by an impartial body seems to be the best option to the alternative: the use of force. Given the composition of the international society, this dream looks like an impossible task. What has not been impossible is the creation of one court having general jurisdiction, like the ICJ, and a multiplicity of courts, tribunals and quasi-adjudicative bodies with jurisdiction in specific fields, such as human rights, the law of the sea, international criminal law, world trade, foreign investments, etc. as we have particularly witnessed in the last decades. The expectations are that these bodies would not only settle disputes submitted to them, but also that they contribute to the ascertainment of the relevant law in general. Sometimes, the perception of adjudication as the panacea of dispute settlement leads to disappointment. Judicial settlement cannot, in itself, create the best of the worlds. However, the referral of disputes to courts and tribunals, their acceptance by more and more States and the adoption and respect of just and sound decisions can contribute to a better world.
Professor of International Law