Saturday, October 29, 2005

ICJ Watch: Court's President Notes "Unprecedented Workload"

This past week, the President of the ICJ Shi Jiuyong addressed the U.N. General Assembly as part of of the ICJ's submission of its annual report (which can be found here, the President's speech can be found here). It was, of course, very boring. But it also reveals that the ICJ doesn't realize the seriousness of the problem I have complained about here and here: the ICJ's unbelievably light workload and its ridiculously low productivity.

The ICJ President's speech blithely noted that in the past few years, the ICJ has made great strides to improve its organization and its speed in resolving cases. In the past year, the ICJ reduced its docket from 21 to 11, meaning it has resolved 10 cases over the past year. As the President notes, "[t]he level of activity displayed by the Court over the past years is, simply put, unprecedented in its history."

With all due respect to ICJ President Shi, he is blatantly exaggerating the amount of work the ICJ has done during the past year (although he may be right that even this little amount of work is "unprecedented").

The ICJ has actually issued one final judgment in a contentious case during the past year: Benin v. Niger, which was an expedited arbitration-like proceeding involving a specially constituted chamber of the court.

It removed eight cases from its docket in one fell swoop by issuing preliminary judgments dismissing Serbia's (identical) lawsuits against nine NATO countries arising out NATO's actions in the 1999 Kosovo war. It issued one other preliminary judgment in a dispute between Lichtenstein and Germany dismissing that case from its jurisdiction. It should be noted that the court took five years to remove the Serbia cases and four years to remove the Lichtenstein case, both without reaching the merits of the cases.

In other words, the full ICJ (not counting special chambers) has issued zero final judgments in the past year and essentially two preliminary judgments. It has also held two public hearings.

Obviously, the ICJ President has a duty to present the Court's work in the best light, especially because his main purpose is to request appropriations from the General Assembly. The ICJ's budget, in absolute terms, is quite small (about $30 million per biennium). And the ICJ only employs about 98 staff members. So at least the ICJ doesn't appear to be a bloated wasteful international organization.

On the other hand, it is hard to see exactly why the court needs even this small amount of money and staff to issue three judgments a year (roughly $5 million per judgment). Or why a cash-strapped U.N. should give them any additional funds.


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