In the past couple of months the ICJ has inserted a paragraph at the end of its press releases which seeks to make clear that the ICJ is different from the other newer international tribunals out there. The paragraph can be found at the end of the ICJ press release announcing the proceedings recently instituted proceedings by Nicaragua. It reads as follows:
“The ICJ, a civil court open only to States for contentious proceedings and to certain organs and institutions of the United Nations system for advisory proceedings, should not be confused with the other ⎯ mostly criminal ⎯ judicial institutions based in The Hague and adjacent areas, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY, an ad hoc court created by the Security Council), the International Criminal Court (ICC, the first permanent international criminal court established by treaty, which does not belong to the United Nations system), the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL, an independent judicial institution composed of Lebanese and international judges, which is not a United Nations tribunal and does not form part of the Lebanese judicial system), or the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), an institution founded in 1899, which is independent of the United Nations.”
This paragraph, which now appears at the bottom of each ICJ press release, was probably drawn up because the folk at the ICJ have become tired of people confusing that court with other international courts. I sympathise with them. I suspect that I am not the only one who gets frustrated with the media confusing the different international tribunals. All too often there is talk of people being prosecuted by the ICJ when what is meant is the ICC or perhaps the ad hoc tribunals. Or sometimes the confusion is the other way with references to the ICC when what is meant is an inter-State ICJ case. In December last year, I gave an interview in the Guardian newspaper on wikileaks revelation that the CIA had been spying on senior UN staff and permanent representatives of other Security Council members. In that interview, I spoke about possible violations of the UN – US Headquarters Agreement and the UN General Convention on Privileges and Immunities. I then made reference to the provision in the latter which allows for binding advisory opinions from the ICJ in the event of dispute regarding the application of the convention. I was dismayed when the article appeared and it stated that the US actions could lead to “prosecution at the international criminal court”!
This confusion, of course, exists also in the mind of the general public. A few years ago, I was in the Hague and running late for a meeting at the Peace Palace (where the ICJ is). I jumped into a taxi and told the driver I wanted to go to the ICJ. After a little while I realised that I did not recognise the route he was taken. When I asked him about the route, his response was something to the effect “but this is the quickest route to the ICC”.