The International Court of Justice (ICJ) was created by the United Nations (UN) Charter in June 1945 as the UN’s principal judicial organ. The ICJ is currently located at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. The primary intent of the ICJ is to settle international legal disputes between states and to give advisory opinions to the other organs of the UN. Created right after the conclusion of the International Military Tribunal (the Nuremberg Trials) and the International Military Tribunal of the Far East (the Tokyo Trials), the ICJ was created at a time of rising interest and faith in international courts. The ICJ is comprised of fifteen judges serving nine-year terms, rotating five seats every three years. Judges of the Court are elected by an absolute majority in both the General Assembly and the Security Council (SC). Members of the Court may not hold any other position in any capacity, be it legal counsel or advisory, outside of the Court during their term. Members are eligible for re-election and every three years, the President and Vice-President of the Court are elected by secret ballot. The President’s roles include breaking tied votes, attending every session of the ICJ, and residing in The Hague while receiving monetary compensation to do so. Furthermore, parties who are of the same interest and privy to a case that does not have a judge of its nationality on the Court may request an ad-hoc judge. For example, in a two-party case in which both parties are of separate interest and do not have judges sitting on the Court, the parties may request two ad-hoc judges for a grand total of seventeen judges.
Topic A: Ukraine v. Russian Federation
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Eastern European states have largely operated under Russia’s sphere of influence while the international community wearily monitored Russia’s power. When Russia annexed Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine, in March of 2014, the United Nations responded with a resolution declaring the annexation to be an affront on national sovereignty and called the subsequent referendum to integrate the region into Russia invalid. Yet, Russian troops and influence remain in the area. Ukraine alleges that Russia has been supplying terrorist groups in eastern Ukraine with weapons knowing that these would be used to attack Ukrainian civilians. Ukraine further argues that Russia has been attacking minority groups on the Crimean peninsula, particularly Crimean Tatars, and suppressing access to education of the Ukrainian language. In January of 2017, Ukraine initiated proceedings with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) utilizing clauses within the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (ICSFT) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Since initiation, the ICJ’s jurisdiction was established despite Russia’s preliminary objections, and the time-limit for Russia’s counter-memorial has been set for December of 2020. The Court will have to rule on whether or not Russia’s actions fall under state-sponsored terrorism, setting a precedent for the application of the ICSFT, and provide judgement for Russia’s actions on the Crimean peninsula in response to the suppression of minority rights.
Topic B: The Gambia v. Myanmar
The United Nations has described the Rohingya people as “the most persecuted minority in the world.” While state-led oppression in Myanmar can be traced all the way back to the 1970s, the 2016-2017 crisis sets a clear transition to events that seem to bear the hallmarks of crimes against humanity. On August 25, 2017, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a coordinated attack on multiple national security outposts, killing 12 officers in total. Within hours, the Myanmar military forces carried out a series of “clearance operations,” in which it is accused of having committed mass rape, widespread killings, torture, and the destruction of entire Rohingya villages. On November 11, 2019, the Gambia applied to the International Court of Justice instituting proceeding against Myanmar under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. While the Court has ordered provisional measures protecting the Rohingya minority from future harm, determining if Myanmar’s actions were fueled by genocidal intent remains a question of international law. With over one million Rohingya refugees seeking asylum in Bangladesh, assessing if Myanmar’s government committed genocide does not only reinforce a system of accountability on state-actors, but it also solidifies the post-Holocaust promises of “never again.”