What is the International Court of Justice?

On Sunday, we wrote a post on Instagram about Vanuatu seeking an advisory opinion on climate change rights from the International Court of Justice. Today we’re taking a look at what exactly the International Court of Justice is. 

The quick answer

The International Court of Justice is one of the six principal judicial organs (sound familiar from the UN General Assembly explainer last week?) of the United Nations.  


There are two main roles of the International Court of Justice: 

The first is to settle disputes between nations. However, both nations have to voluntarily participate in the proceeding. If both nations agree, each has to comply with the final decision of the Court. Since its creation, the International Court of Justice has seen 179 cases. 

The second is to also offer advisory opinions on legal questions (this is what Vanuatu will do). Unlike the rulings mentioned above, the advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice are not binding. That said, they remain symbolically and morally significant, and can inform the development of international law.

What is Vanuatu doing? 

Yesterday, Vanuatu announced it will seek an opinion on climate change rights from the International Court of Justice regarding the rights of present and future generations facing the impacts of climate change. In a statement released over the weekend, Vanuatu’s government said it “recognises that current levels of action and support for vulnerable developing countries within multilateral mechanisms are insufficient.” Vanuatu is currently facing rising sea levels and more frequent storms.  

The statement comes ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate summit, scheduled for November. Prior to the summit, Vanuatu will “drastically expand its diplomacy and advocacy”, forming a coalition with other Pacific islands and vulnerable nations.

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