November 2011 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 October 2011
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International Court of Justice Elections

Expected Council Action
The Security Council and General Assembly will both hold elections for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the same day in November. Five judges will be elected to the ICJ for nine-year terms, starting on 6 February 2012.

The Statute of the ICJ, in article 8, provides that, The General Assembly and the Security Council shall proceed independently of one another to elect the members of the Court.”

The process is intended to limit the possibility that the vote’s outcome in one organ might influence the vote in the other.

In this election, eight candidates are contesting five positions. The candidates are: Giorgio Gaja (Italy), Tsvetana Kamenova (Bulgaria), Abdul G. Koroma (Sierra Leone), Hisashi Owada (Japan), Julia Sebutinde (Uganda), El Hadji Mansour Tall (Senegal), Peter Tomka (Slovakia) and Xue Hanqin (China).

Of the eight candidates, four candidates—Koroma, Owada, Tomka and Xue—are current members of the Court. (At the expiry of their terms in office, judges may be re-elected.) Gaja has served as an ad-hoc judge on five ICJ cases.

Background on the ICJ
The ICJ is one of the UN’s six principal organs.  All UN member states are parties to the ICJ Statute, which is an annex to the UN Charter.  The ICJ is the only international court of a universal character with general jurisdiction. (For more background information on the Court, see our October Monthly Forecast.)

Election Process
The ICJ consists of 15 judges elected for a term of nine years each by the General Assembly and the Council. Five seats fall vacant every three years. Appointed judges should be persons of high moral character who possess the qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to the highest judicial offices or are jurists of recognised competence in international law. Though judges are to be independent, no two nationals from the same state can hold office at the same time and electors should ensure that the “main forms of civilization and of the principal legal systems” of the world are represented.

Under article 10 of the ICJ Statute, those candidates who obtain an absolute majority (that is, more than 50 percent) of votes in both the General Assembly and in the Council are elected. A candidate must therefore obtain 97 votes in the General Assembly and eight votes in the Council. No distinction is made between the votes of permanent and non-permanent members of the Council.

Each elector may vote for five candidates on the first ballot. If the number of candidates obtaining an absolute majority is less than five on the first ballot, a second ballot for the remaining positions will be held and balloting will continue until five candidates have obtained the required majority. On the second and (if necessary) subsequent ballots, each elector may vote for five candidates, less the number of candidates who have already achieved an absolute majority. This procedure applies in both the General Assembly and the Council. If more than the required number of candidates obtain an absolute majority on the same ballot in either organ, a new vote on all the candidates will be held. (It is theoretically possible in the Security Council for all of the candidates to get eight votes on the first ballot if the votes are evenly spread.)

When five candidates (and no more) have an absolute majority in either body, the president of that body will notify the other president of the outcome. Officially, the results are kept confidential by each president and are disclosed only to members of the second body after their own voting is concluded. In the event that the five candidates elected by one are not the same as those elected by the other, both bodies will proceed (independently) to new balloting to fill the unresolved seats. As before, the results of each body will be compared only after the required number of candidates has achieved an absolute majority in each. This process will continue for three meetings, at which point if all vacant positions are still not filled, the Council and the General Assembly may decide to convene a conference of six members (three from each) to recommend a candidate for the respective acceptance by the General Assembly and Security Council.

Political Dynamic
Permanent members of the Council have no legal entitlement to permanent representation on the ICJ. However, judges from the P5 are usually present on the Court. This may favour the election of the Chinese candidate in the upcoming ballot. Regional considerations are also likely to play a role, posing a challenge for candidates from the same geographical region.

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UN Documents

Documents by the Secretary-General

  • S/2011/454 (26 July 2011) contained the curricula vitae of candidates nominated as judges.
  • S/2011/453 (26 July 2011) listed the vacancies on the Court and the candidates for those positions.
  • S/2011/452 (26 July 2011) set out the procedure for ICJ elections.

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