How the Judges are elected to International Court of Justice (ICJ)? Discuss the importance of ICJ seat to India's diplomacy.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the highest judicial body having trans-national jurisdiction. 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.
Election of Judges
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.
  • In order to be elected, a candidate must have an absolute majority in both bodies.
  • In order to ensure a sense of continuity, especially in pending cases, elections are conducted triennially for a third of the 15-member Court. Judges are eligible to stand for re-election. 
  • Elections are held in New York during the autumn session of the United Nations General Assembly, and the elected judges enter office on February 6 of the subsequent year. 
  • After the Court is in session, a President and Vice-President are elected by secret ballot to hold office for three years. 
  • If a judge were to die in office, resign, or be incapacitated to perform the duties expected of her, a special election is held as soon as possible to fill the vacancy for the unexpired duration of her tenure.
  • All states party to the Statute of the Court is 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.
  • 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 recognised competence in international law.

Importance of ICJ seat to Indian diplomacy

  • India’s winning of ICJs seat is a testimony of overwhelming support India enjoys in the global south. It also gave an indication of the quantum of support India would get when its candidature for UNSC is put into vote in UNSC.
  • Indian diplomacy again realised the bottlenecks for India in gaining greater role in global geopolitics. Even after overwhelming majority in the UNGA, UNSC endorsement was towards the candidature of Britain.
  • All five permanent members of the UNSC are fiercely locking arms to protect their collective interest of dominating the world body, India’s success was built primarily on the support of developing countries, among which it has nurtured goodwill over the decades.
  • It was a litmus test for the support India enjoys in the world body where New Delhi has been campaigning for reforms, including for a permanent seat in the powerful UN Security Council.
  • There is an element of prestige to have an Indian elected to ICJ.
  • Justice Bhandari’s election is also important because India has taken Pakistan to the ICJ to seek consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been in Pakistani custody over allegations of being an “Indian spy”. The final judgment on that will be delivered in December. Pakistan has recently appointed an ad-hoc judge to the ICJ for the case. If Justice Bhandari would have lost, India would have been without its own judge in the court.
  • Justice Bhandari’s election pitches a declining UK and a rising India in a high-voltage diplomatic battle. It demonstrates the inexorable shift of power to countries like India and the extreme reluctance of the ancien regimeto accept the change. 
  • This contest is ultimately about the idea of justice, of equality and fairness. “It is about the future we envisage for the United Nations and the conduct of multilateralism. The cumbersome process again iterated that it is time for reform in UNO and its various organs..

The extraordinary support from the UN membership for India is reflective of the respect for strong constitutional integrity of the Indian polity and the independence of the judiciary in India. The victory tells us that indeed a new India is emerging that is no longer risk-averse and is willing to fight it out openly. The world also witnessed how the rise and fall of powers continues to shape the global governance architecture.


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