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The International Court of Justice (ICJ) was established under Chapter XIV of the UN Charter as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Seated in The Hague, the ICJ consists of 15 judges, elected by the General Assembly and Security Council to serve 9-year terms. The ICJ is primarily responsible for:
- Settling legal disputes between member states in accordance with international law
- Issuing advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by the Security Council, General Assembly, and ECOSOC, and certain other UN organs and specialised agencies
The ICJ does not have the power to accept individual complaints and it may only settle disputes between states. While the UN Charter does give the ICJ jurisdiction over “all matters specifically provided for in the Charter of the United Nations or in treaties and conventions in force” the Court’s pronouncements in respect of the international human rights obligations of states has been limited.
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How does it help tackle violence against women?
As the judicial organ of the UN responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, the ICJ has the power integrate issues related to VAW into the body of its work.
Article 41.1 of the ICJ Statute states: “The Court shall have the power to indicate provisional measures which ought to be taken.” These provisional measures are measures intended to provide protection for states pending a final decision on their case and may order states immediately end practices that disproportionately impact women. For example, in 1993 the ICJ ordered that (emphasis added):
“…Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and its agents and surrogates are under an obligation to cease and desist immediately from its breaches of the foregoing legal obligations, and is under a particular duty to cease and desist immediately… from the murder, summary execution, rape, kidnapping, mayhem, wounding, physical and mental abuse, and detention of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The ICJ’s decisions in contentious cases may also relate to VAW, influencing state obligations under international law. In Croatia v. Serbia, for example, the ICJ deliberated on whether rape and sexual violence constitute acts of genocide under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. However, the final judgment issued in this case has come under criticism.