The United Kingdom announced yesterday its withdrawal of its candidate for a spot on the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, allowing Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India to be elected as the sole candidate. [UN News Centre] After ten rounds of voting, another round was due to take place yesterday but was canceled following the announcement. [Guardian] Previous rounds of voting had elected four candidates to take four of the five empty seats on the Court, but as of Monday morning the final open seat remained undecided between Judge Dalveer Bhandari of India and Judge Christopher Greenwood of the United Kingdom. [Washington Post] A candidate must secure a majority of votes in both the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly to win a seat; Judge Bhandari had a majority of votes in the General Assembly, and Judge Greenwood had a majority in the Security Council. [Washington Post] This will be the first time that the United Kingdom is not represented in the composition of the Court. See ICJ, All Members.
The conversation surrounding this election is part of a broader debate on the composition of international courts and whether they are representative of the populations they serve. The GQUAL Campaign has focused on whether courts are representative by gender, and there is increased debate over whether the developing world and Asia are adequately represented on international courts and tribunals. [GQUAL Campaign] One consideration in the election is the tension between the General Assembly and the Security Council, where some members of the General Assembly feel that their voice is not being heard or is being downplayed by the permanent members of the Security Council – China, Russia, United States, United Kingdom, and France. [Times of India; Guardian] Additionally, with Judge Bhandari remaining on the Court, there will be four judges from Asia on the Court, one more than prior to the elections, and one fewer judge representing the western European and other States on the Court. [EJIL: Talk!] See ICJ, All Members.
Background on the Two Candidates
Both Bhandari and Greenwood currently serve as members of the ICJ. They were seeking re-election for the upcoming nine-year term, which is set to begin on February 6, 2018.
Judge Bhandari has served as a member of the Court since April 27, 2012. See ICJ, Judge Dalveer Bhandari. Judge Bhandari has issued separate opinions at the ICJ on issues including the crime of genocide, financing terrorism, and violations of sovereign rights. Prior to serving as a member of the ICJ, Judge Bhandari served as a judge on the Supreme Court of India and the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court. While a judge at the Supreme Court of India, Judge Bhandari issued orders leading to night shelters for homeless persons, providing food grain to those living below the poverty line, and improving infrastructure in primary and secondary schools. See ICJ, Judge Dalveer Bhandari.
Judge Greenwood has served as a member of the Court since February 6, 2009. See ICJ, Judge Christopher Greenwood. Judge Greenwood is a scholar of international law and previously served as a professor of international law at the London School of Economics, as well as serving as Queen’s Counsel. He has also served as counsel in cases before the ICJ, the European Court of Human Rights, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Judge Greenwood has published extensively on international law, including on issues of humanitarian law in armed conflicts, terrorism, and the ICJ and its interaction with other supranational courts. See ICJ, Judge Christopher Greenwood.
ICJ 2017 Election
The current election is a regularly held election to fill the five vacant seats on the Court for the upcoming nine-year term, beginning on February 6, 2018. [UN Press Release: Security Council; UN Press Release: General Assembly] Six candidates ran for election during this cycle, five of whom are current members of the Court. [UN Press Release: Security Council; UN Press Release: General Assembly] The other four open seats have been filled. Judge Ronny Abraham of France, the incumbent president of the Court, was re-elected to serve as a member of the Court. Two other sitting judges, Judge Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade of Brazil and Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia, were re-elected for the upcoming term. Nawaf Salam of Lebanon, currently serving as the Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations, also won a seat at the Court.
It was reported that the United Kingdom was seeking to halt the voting and hold a joint conference of three members of the Security Council and three members of the General Assembly to decide on and announce which judge would remain on the Court. [The Hindu] The joint conference is a procedure provided for in the Statute of the International Court of Justice, but it must be initiated by the Security Council or the General Assembly. See Statute of the International Court of Justice (adopted 26 June 1945, entered into force 24 Oct. 1945), 993 USTS 1179, art. 12.
ICJ Election Procedure
The ICJ elections occur on a staggered basis, with elections for five of the 15 members of the Court held once every three years for terms lasting nine years. See id. at art. 3(2). Candidates for the International Court of Justice are first nominated by national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, or if the nominating State is not represented in that Court, by national groups appointed for that purpose. See id. at art. 4. No two elected judges may be nationals of the same country. See id. at art. 3(1). After the nomination process is completed, the UN Secretary General compiles a list of all eligible persons nominated for the election and submits the list to both the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly independently. See id. at art. 7. Then, both the Security Council and the General Assembly hold a round of voting for all the seats eligible for election. Any candidate for election who receives a majority of votes from both the General Assembly and Security Council in one round is elected. See id. at art. 10. Currently, an absolute majority comprises eight votes in the Security Council and 97 votes in the General Assembly. [UN Press Release: Security Council; UN Press Release: General Assembly]
If one or more seats remain open after this first round of voting, a second meeting will take place, as well as a third if necessary. See Statute of the International Court of Justice, at art. 11. After the third meeting, a joint conference consisting of six members, three each from the General Assembly and the Security Council, may be formed at the request of either organ to choose a name for the vacant seat, which is then to be submitted to the General Assembly and the Security Council for acceptance. See id. at art. 12.
Background on the ICJ
The ICJ, seated at The Hague, Netherlands, is the principal judicial organ of the UN. See ICJ, The Court. The ICJ can hear legal disputes between States submitted to the Court by States under its contentious jurisdiction, and can answer requests for advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by UN organs and specialized agencies. See ICJ, How the Court Works.
The ICJ has jurisdiction to hear claims by States parties on legal issues concerning the interpretation of a treaty and questions of international law, including human rights claims. See Statute of the International Court of Justice, art. 36(2).
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