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UNITED NATIONS, United States: Ignored by Russia and Israel, the International Court of Justice is hamstrung by a dysfunctional global system that sees countries complying with its rulings – or not – based on their own double standards, experts say.
In 2022, the United Nations Supreme Court ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, still ongoing two years later.
In May, he ordered Israel to immediately halt its ongoing military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
Do these refusals to comply with legally binding decisions demonstrate a lack of credibility and legitimacy on the part of the International Court of Justice? Not really, according to analysts interviewed by AFP, who instead point to the responsibilities of nations within the global system.
Without an international police or armed force, the ICJ “depends on the will and cooperation of states to implement its decisions,” says Raphaelle Nollez-Goldbach, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research.
“Obviously, this has some limitations,” he continues.
The Court says that “almost all” of its decisions “are respected by states, but the few cases of non-compliance – which remain the exception – weigh heavily in international relations,” according to a statement from its press office to AFP.
It’s not the Court’s fault, experts insist.
“The credibility problem is about governments that fundamentally have double standards,” Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch told AFP.
Some Western countries “applaud” the decision on Ukraine, but are “seriously concerned” when it comes to Israel, he explained.
By contrast, countries like South Africa – which initiated proceedings against Israel on charges of “genocide” – “have not been very vocal when it comes to Russian atrocities in Ukraine,” he said.
“To have credibility, they must apply (the standards) at all levels… for their friends and allies, as well as for their rivals and the countries with which they compete. Otherwise, they are giving other governments arguments and opportunities to do the same,” says Charbonneau.
The ICJ’s main role is to mediate disputes between states, with most of its rulings on mundane matters such as the delineation of borders or the interpretation of treaties.
It is important to distinguish between these and the few crucial cases focusing on “core international crimes”, says Gissou Nia of the Atlantic Council think tank.
He points in particular to proceedings brought by third parties – such as South Africa against Israel for its war with Hamas, or Gambia, which accuses Myanmar of “genocide” against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
An increase in such disputes “could lead states to abandon existing treaties” that give such countries the power to address disputes in which they are not directly involved.
Furthermore, a number of states – including the United States, Russia, China and Israel – are not party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the other court in The Hague, which prosecutes individuals for committing crimes.
The arrest warrant issued against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the ICC prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas have sparked protests from those involved.
Sometimes this was accompanied by pressure and threats of retaliation.
“This reflects how seriously they are taking” the court, even those who reject its rulings, Nia says.
For Romuald Sciora, researcher at the French Institute of Strategic and International Relations, the question of credibility is not only in the ICC and the IGC.
“All institutions of the current multilateral system have lost credibility exponentially in recent years,” he says, citing in particular the deeply divided UN Security Council.
This in turn affects the credibility of the International Court of Justice: according to the UN Charter, if one party does not comply with a ruling of the International Court of Justice, the other can attempt to appeal to the Security Council.
As Israel’s offensive on Rafah continues, South Africa this week called on the Council to enforce the International Court of Justice’s order.
“In practice, however, the paralysis of the Security Council prevents it from enforcing its own resolutions, let alone the rulings of the International Court of Justice,” observes Said Benarbia of the International Commission of Jurists.

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