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UNITED NATIONS, United States: The International Court of Justice is ignored by Russia and Israel and hampered by a dysfunctional global system that leads countries to comply with its rulings – or not – depending on their double standards, experts say.
In 2022, the UN’s highest court ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, which was still ongoing two years later.
In May, it called on Israel to immediately end its ongoing military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
Is this refusal to comply with legally binding decisions evidence of a lack of credibility and legitimacy on the part of the ICJ? Not really, say the analysts interviewed by AFP. Rather, they point to the responsibility of states in the global system.
Since there is no international police force or armed forces, the ICJ “relies 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.
“Of course, this has certain limits,” she continues.
According to a statement from the Court’s press office to AFP, the Court says that “almost all” of its decisions “are complied with by States, but the few cases of non-compliance – which remain the exception – have a heavy weight in international relations”.
The blame does not lie with the court, the experts emphasize.
“The credibility problem lies with those governments that essentially apply double standards,” Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch told AFP.
Some Western countries had “applauded” the decision on Ukraine, but were “seriously concerned” about Israel, he said.
Conversely, countries like South Africa – which initiated proceedings against Israel on the grounds of “genocide” – “have not been particularly clear about Russian atrocities in Ukraine,” he said.
“To be credible, they have to enforce (standards) across the board … for their friends and allies, but also for their rivals and the countries they compete with. Otherwise, they give other governments arguments and opportunities to do the same,” Charbonneau says.
The main task of the ICJ is to settle disputes between states. The majority of its rulings concern mundane issues such as borders or the interpretation of treaties.
It is important to distinguish between these cases and the few explosive cases that involve “serious crimes under international law,” says Gissou Nia of the Atlantic Council think tank.
She refers in particular to third-party proceedings – such as South Africa against Israel over its war with Hamas or Gambia, which accuses Myanmar of “genocide” against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
An increase in such conflicts “could lead states to seek to terminate existing treaties” that give these countries the power to intervene in conflicts in which they are not directly involved.
In addition, many states – including the United States, Russia, China and Israel – are not parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the other court in The Hague that prosecutes individuals for crimes they have committed.
The arrest warrant 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 provoked an outcry of outrage among those affected.
This was at times accompanied by pressure and the threat of reprisals.
“This shows how seriously they take the court,” says Nia, even those who reject its rulings.
For Romuald Sciora, a researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Relations, the question of credibility is not only an issue for the ICC and the ICJ.
“All institutions of today’s multilateral system have lost credibility exponentially in recent years,” he says, referring in particular to the deeply divided United Nations Security Council.
This in turn affects the credibility of the ICJ: if one party fails to comply with an ICJ ruling, the other party can, under the UN Charter, try to take the matter to the Security Council.
As the Israeli offensive on Rafah continues, South Africa this week called on the Council to give effect to the International Court of Justice ruling.
“In practice, however, the paralysis of the Security Council prevents it from enforcing its own resolutions, let alone the rulings of the ICJ,” says Said Benarbia of the International Commission of Jurists.

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