Friday, February 10, 2006

Interview with New ICJ President Rosalyn Higgins

Although she is not exactly getting lots of press coverage, new ICJ President Rosalyn Higgins took the opportunity to lay out some her views about the role of the court in this interview. The ICJ is preparing for one of its most difficult hearings next month involving Bosnia's claim of genocide against Serbia and Montenegro. The case has been going on for, uh, 13 years which appears to embarrass Higgins.

Higgins sees the ICJ as a unique position, because it is the “primary judicial organ of the UN”, and because its pronouncements of international law or interpretation of treaties is “authoritative”. According to the article, Higgins is keen to maintain the way the court contributes to “the understanding and development of international law [through] high quality judgments” - and she stresses, the judges write “every word” themselves.

I actually think the ICJ's influence on the development of international law is less important than Higgins suggests. The ICJ's interpretations are not always "authoritative" and so its influence must stem from the credibility of the institution rather than from its raw judicial power. Moreover, there are many more international tribunals today than in the past, and none of those tribunals owe any obligation to defer to the ICJ's interpretations of international law. It is the ICJ's credibility is the real source of the ICJ's power, and on this front, Higgins has a lot of work ahead of her.