ICC, ICJ and World Court confusion

I have seen comments saying Vladimir Putin should be taken to the World Court.  Individuals are not taken there, it is not that sort of court.  Instead it should be to the International Criminal Court (ICC). ‘World Court’ is the common name for the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The International Court of Justice is a United Nations organisation. It exists to settle questions of international law and give legal opinion on disputes between nations. It has said what Russia is doing in Ukraine is wrong. It is a panel of judges who give an opinion: any action has to be taken by nation states.

The International Criminal Court  is a very different body. Although it is an intergovernmental organisation, it is not part of the United Nations. It exists to prosecute individuals for matters such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It can issue arrest warrants, try people and has a detention centre.

It issued an arrest warrant for Putin on 17th March 2023 for the situation in Ukraine.

Confusingly, both are based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Press release about Putin’s arrest warrant.


ICJ’s judgement on Israel

The International Court of Justice is an important part of the United Nations.  It adjudicates disputes between nations and provides legal advice on international law.  Its rulings and opinions on a case are binding on the parties involved.

On 26th January 2024 the ICJ ruled that Israel must prevent genocidal acts in Gaza.

On social media, many people are saying this is meaningless as the ICJ has no teeth.

I think it does have some effect.

In the workplace, when someone bullies another, one can either call it out or let it go. When someone objects to poor behaviour, we can support them or just say “toughen up” or “that’s just they way they are”.

Another outcome is to stand up and say “This is wrong. Do not behave that way.” That gives others the confidence to also stand up and say “We agree, that is wrong.”

That makes most other people think twice before also bulling people. They don’t want to be called out and embarrassed. We have said bullying is no longer normal behaviour.

The same thing really does apply on the world stage. When the ICJ says “This is wrong”, it might have little effect on Israel, but it does send out a message to diplomats, politicians and the media round the world that it is not acceptable. They can’t say “But Israel did it, so we can too”. People feel empowered to say to their leaders “I don’t think we should do that”.

Some see it as ironic that it is South Africa calling it out, given their history. It is not ironic, it was inevitable. They have been through the pain of apartheid, terrorism, revolution but then peace and reconciliation process. South Africa today is not the South Africa of 50 years ago. Change can be radical, and a bad example can become an exemplar.

It is one of the ways the world is very slowly becoming more humane.