India wins election to the International Court of Justice


Justice Dalveer Bhandari won the election to the International Court of Justice with 183 of 193 votes in UN General Assembly and all 15 at UNSC voting in his favour.


  • India thanked UN members for supporting the re-election of its judge to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and said the process reflected respect for its constitutional integrity and independent judiciary.
  • The UN Security Council and the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of India.
  • Justice Dalveer Bhandari won the votes in the UN General Assembly to make it to the International Court of Justice after UK pulled out the race
  • The extraordinary support from the UN membership is reflective of the respect for strong constitutional integrity of the Indian polity and independent of the judiciary in India.
  • Mr Bhadari will fill the fifth vacancy for the 2018-2027 term.
  • India’s strategy of portraying the UNGA as the “voice of the people” and the UNSC as the “voice of the global elite” yielded dividends.

Significance for India:

  • Analysts say the election result was crucial for India to gauge the support it enjoys in the world body where New Delhi has been campaigning for reforms, including a permanent seat for itself in the powerful Security Council.
  • The re-election is also crucial as it ensures India’s continued influence at the ICJ where the Kulbhushan Jadhav case against Pakistan will come up next month.
  • India has moved the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Pakistan, accusing the latter of violating the Vienna Convention in the case of Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was handed a death sentence by a Field General Court Martial (FGCM) last month.
  • India requested the ICJ to ensure that Jadhav’s death sentence is suspended and declared a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
  • The re-election was a positive affirmation of Indian diplomacy.
  • This was the first time that a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was in direct contest with a non-member for the post of a judge at the ICJ. And India clinched the deal in the end.

 Why Britain withdraw from the election?

  • India emerging as a top economic partner and a potential market for a post-Brexit United Kingdom could also have played a role in Britain’s decision.
  • Further, the UK hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit meeting in April 2018 is significant for it wants India to play a lead role and to shed the image of being a “white man’s club”.
  • With Justice Bhandari’s re-election, this will be at first time in the 70-year history of the U.N. that the U.K. will not be on the world judicial body.
  • The U.K chose to withdraw after it became clear that it would not win the contest in the General Assembly (GA) and it did not have adequate support in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for its attempts to derail the voting process itself.

Historic movement:

  • The exercise was unprecedented as it is the first time that a P-5 country contested and lost to a developing nation.
  • The election shows how the exclusive club of few in the UN is now begun to yield space to new emerging economies.
  • This is the first time that one of the five permanent members of the UNSC lost out to an ordinary member in a race.
  • This is the first time in the 70-year history of the United Nations that the U.K. will not be on the ICJ
  • This is also the first time that one sitting member of the ICJ lost to another sitting member.

About ICJ:

  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) referred to as the World Court, ICJ or the Hague, is the primary judicial branch of the United Nations(UN).
  • Seated in the Peace Palace in the Hague, Netherlands, the court settles legal disputes submitted to it by states and provides advisory opinions on legal questions submitted to it by duly authorized international branches, agencies, and the UN General Assembly.
  • Established in 1945, the role of the ICJ is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by states and to give advisory opinions on legal questions.
  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) started work in 1946, after half a century of international conflict in the form of two World Wars.

Functions of ICJ:

The ICJ has its seat at The Hague, the Netherlands, and has the jurisdiction to settle disputes between countries and examine cases pertaining to violation of human rights according to the tenets of international law. It is the judicial arm of the United Nations.

Composition of ICJ:

  • The ICJ has a bench of 15 judges, five of whom are elected every three years for a nine-year term.
  • The judge to the ICJ is elected by the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council from the list of people nominated by the national group in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
  • The election process is set out in Article 4-19 of the ICJ statute.

How are judges elected?

  • The ICJ has a total strength of 15 judges who are elected to nine-year terms of office.
  • They are elected by members of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, where polling takes place simultaneously but independent of each other.
  • To be appointed, the candidate needs a majority in both the chambers, the UN General Assembly as well as the UN Security Council.
  • According to UN rules, the candidate who gets an absolute majority in both the UNSC and the UNGA is the clear winner.
  • In order to be elected, a candidate must have an absolute majority in both bodies, which often leads to much lobbying, and a number of rounds of voting.

How do member countries nominate judges?

  • All states party to the Statute of the Court are eligible to propose candidates.
  • The selection process is meant to be apolitical, and is made not by the government of the state concerned, but by the members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration designated by that state to represent its interests in the Court.
  • Each group can propose a maximum of four candidates, not more than two of whom may be citizens of the said country.
  • The other two nominees may be from any country, even those that are not party to the Statute.

On what basis are judges elected?

  • It is held that all nominees should have a ‘high moral character and credentials commensurate with those expected from the highest judicial officials of those countries.
  • The Charter also makes it mandatory for judges to have recognized competence in international law.
  • In order to keep the ICJ insulated from political influence, it is enshrined in the Charter that no judge can be dismissed, unless in the unanimous opinion of all peers, he is deemed to no longer fulfill the required conditions.

Presidency of the ICJ:

  • The President and the Vice-President are elected by the Members of the Courtevery three years by secret ballot.
  • The election is held on the date on which Members of the Court elected at a triennial election are to begin their terms of office or shortly thereafter.
  • An absolute majority is required and there are no conditions with regard to nationality. The President and the Vice-President may be re-elected.
  • The President presides at all meetings of the Court; he/she directs its work and supervises its administration, with the assistance of a Budgetary and Administrative Committee and of various other committees, all composed of Members of the Court.
  • During judicial deliberations, the President has a casting vote in the event of votes being equally divided.
  • In The Hague, where he/she is obliged to reside, the President of the Court takes precedence over the doyen of the diplomatic corps.

How does ICJ work?

  • The International Court of Justice entertains two kinds of cases viz.  legal disputes between States submitted to it by them (contentious cases) and requests for advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by United Nations organs and specialized agencies (advisory proceedings).
  • Only States (States Members of the United Nations and other States which have become parties to the Statute of the Courtor which have accepted its jurisdiction under certain conditions) may be parties to contentious cases.
  • The Court is competent to entertain a dispute only if the States concerned have accepted its jurisdiction by entering into a special agreement to submit the dispute to the Court.
  • The country can also enter into its jurisdiction through the reciprocal effect of declarations made by them under the Statute whereby each has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court as compulsory in the event of a dispute with another State having made a similar declaration.
  • A number of these declarations, which must be deposited with the United Nations Secretary-General, contain reservations excluding certain categories of dispute.
  • Advisory proceedingsbefore the Court are open solely to five organs of the United Nations and to 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations family.
  • The United Nations General Assembly and Security Council may request advisory opinions on “any legal question”.
  • Other United Nations organs and specialized agencies which have been authorized to seek advisory opinions can only do so with respect to “legal questions arising within the scope of their activities”.
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