13 April 2006

On 60th Anniversary of World Court, Secretary-General Calls on Governments to Consider Recognizing Court's Compulsory Jurisdiction

NEW YORK, 12 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the sixtieth anniversary celebration of the International Court of Justice today at The Hague:

For sixty years, the International Court of Justice has adjudicated disputes between sovereign States.  At this solemn Peace Palace, the world's most eminent judges have heard from some of its most accomplished attorneys.  In these halls, ardent advocacy has met judicious judgment.  As a result, international law has been clarified, and world order strengthened.  Sometimes, contentions here have calmed conflicts elsewhere.

I am, of course, not a lawyer by training.  But as an advocate, both of the UN system, as well as the prosperous, peaceful world that it seeks, I consider it a singular honour to be here today, and to address this distinguished audience.  Together, we celebrate not only a significant milestone for the World Court, but also the rules which underpin its functioning.

These rules -- international law -- play an increasing role in our global society.  They regulate relations between States.  They provide frameworks for cooperation and coexistence.  They encourage multilateral action to address multifaceted problems.

Like this Court, these rules reflect the reality, but also the promise, of our international order.  They show the world not only as it is, but as it ought to be.  And their expansion and elaboration is one of the signal achievements of the post-war era.

The work of the International Court of Justice has helped secure these advances.  Its judgments have interpreted and implemented international law, while its advisory opinions have clarified important, and in some cases, politically sensitive issues.

That is why, at last year's World Summit, world leaders unanimously recognized "the important role of the international Court of Justice ... in adjudicating disputes among States", and acknowledged "the value of [the Court's] work".

This praise reflects the fact that the Court is thriving.  Today, more than ever before, UN Member States are turning to it, not just to resolve land and maritime boundary disputes, or to complain of treaty violations, but also on matters of genocide and the use of force.  As a result, the Court has never been more in demand.  It has also never been more productive and efficient.  In recent years, it has streamlined its rules and speeded up its decision-making, without compromising procedural requirements or intellectual quality.  It has modernized its Registry, adapted its internal functioning, and made its judgments and opinions universally available through the worldwide web.

Clearly, these are all welcome changes.  Yet, more can, and must, be done to ensure the Court's long-term future.  I would particularly encourage all States that have not yet done so to consider recognizing the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court.  I also encourage States that are not yet prepared to recognize the compulsory jurisdiction to consider submitting their disputes to the Court by Special Agreements.

Taken together, these two steps would, I believe, help secure the Court's future as a central element of our international society, perhaps for another 60 years.

There is one aspect in which the Court's future has always been secure:  its home in The Hague.

Your Majesty, please accept my thanks for the hospitality your Government, and your people, extend to the International Court, as well as to the many other international law forums headquartered here.  In hosting these institutions, The Hague richly deserves its reputation as the International City of Peace and Justice.

I have, of course, left one particularly welcome development for last.

Madam President, it is a pleasure to see you, a pioneering woman, a distinguished jurist and -- might I add? -- an early United Kingdom intern at the UN, heading this important judicial body.  Your well-deserved elevation is a heartening step towards addressing the chronic underrepresentation of women, not simply on this Court, but at the highest levels in all parts of the United Nations System.

I wish you every success in your mission, and in developing the Court's activities, for the benefit of peace and justice throughout the world.

* *** *