Trivia: State Leaders Appearing Before the International Court of Justice

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Last week Friday, Sir Keir Starmer KC assumed office as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom following the decisive victory of his Labour Party in the UK’s general election.  As the “KC” after his name indicates he is an accomplished lawyer. He had a very successful career as an English barrister, and as Director of Public Prosecutions of England and Wales, before entering into politics. I think it is fairly well known that Sir Keir appeared as counsel and advocate before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the merits phase of the Croatia Genocide Convention Case.  He argued before the Court over several days in March 2014 and you can view his initial appearance in that case here.

In a previous trivia post (and in the comments thereto), it was noted that we have had a case of an ICJ judge subsequently becoming Prime Minister (Judge Al Khasawneh of Jordan), and of a Prime Minister subsequently becoming Judge ad hoc at the ICJ ( Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC  of New Zealand). Indeed, Judge Al Khasawneh has sat as a Judge ad hoc subsequent to being Prime Minister and is currently Judge ad hoc nominated by Nicaragua in the ongoing Nicaragua v Germany case .

I am not aware of anyone who has argued before the ICJ subsequently becoming the head of government of a state, or a head of state. Sir Keir may well be the first such person to appear in the Great Hall of the Peace Palace (at least before the ICJ) before ascending to the highest office in his land. If there are any other examples, please do put it (them?) in the comments box below. 

My main question though is a different one and it is this:

Have there have been instances of persons who at the time were the serving head of government/head of state appearing before the ICJ?

Answers in the comments box please!

[Parenthetically, Sir Keir has appointed Richard Hermer KC as Attorney General. Mr Hermer, who unusually in the UK system is appointed as Attorney General directly from private practice rather than from the lawyers already in Parliament, has been involved in some of the most significant cases involving public international law in the UK domestic courts (including the UK Supreme Court) over the past 2o years, particularly those relating to international humanitarian law, state immunity and the relationship between international law and domestic law.]

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Niko Pavlopoulos says

July 8, 2024

Hi, Dapo

Thanks for the post. I can think of at least two:

1. Aung San Suu Kyi - Myanmar (PM, 2020)
2. Mohammad Mosadegh - Iran (PO, 1952)

Admittedly, having recently written this book ( me to think of these examples now.

Massimo Lando says

July 8, 2024

Dear Dapo,

To what Niko wrote above, I would add Evo Morales in the proceedings between Bolivia and Chile concerning access to the Pacific Ocean. Technically, he did not speak to the court, but he sat in the Great Hall of Justice.


Ori Pomson says

July 8, 2024

Just adding to Niko’s answers Evo Morales’ appearances in the Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean case, albeit without himself speaking.


July 8, 2024

A note on Starmer KC:

Lesther Ortega says

July 8, 2024

I have another one for you, dear Dapo, and it concerns the same case mentioned by Massimo and Ori: The Agent of Bolivia was H.E. Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé, who was (interim) President of Bolivia for about six months (June 2004 - January 2005). Unlike Evo Morales, Ambassador Rodríguez Veltzé did not just sit in the Great Hall; he pleaded.

Rodolfo Ribeiro says

July 8, 2024

Just to add to the list: although briefly, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth (PM of Mauritius) formally represented Mauritius in the Chagos advisory proceedings.

Mischa Gureghian Hall says

July 8, 2024

An interesting question indeed—looking forward to seeing the other comments to come. While technically not responding to the question, outside *sitting* heads of state, two interesting cases:

President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger, who was deposed in a coup last year, served as Niger’s agent (then in his capacity as Foreign Minister) in the Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Niger) case and delivered oral arguments (

Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé was both President of Bolivia and President of the Supreme Court of Bolivia before serving as Bolivia’s agent in the case concerning the Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia v. Chile) and delivered oral arguments (

Oladele Osinuga says

July 8, 2024

Excellent points, Dapo.

One point though in respect of the appointment of Mr Hermer as Attorney General by Sir Keir, in recent years that had not been the practice, as all the Attorney Generals appointed by the previous Conservative administration were appointed from the Commons and not directly from private practice.

Interestingly Labour administrations have had a different approach as their practice was to appoint directly from private practice, though Tony Blair first Attorney General was John Morris who was a member of the House of Commons. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown subsequent appointments of Attorney Generals were from those in private practice, some of whom were already working peers in the House of Lords at time of their appointment.

One quirkiness of the Attorney General is that the holder of office is Attorney General of England and Wales and also Advocate General for Northern Ireland. In Scotland a different legal jurisdiction, the post is different, there it is the Advocate General who occupies the office.

Eirik Bjorge says

July 8, 2024

In The Market of Seleukia (1957), J. Morris gave a colourful, if wildly Orientalist, description of Moussadek’s appearance for Iran in Anglo-Iranian Oil, perhaps unwittingly bringing out the importance of counsel writing the Agent’s speech:

“Dr. Moussadek was, of course, a virtuoso of the Persian technique; pyjama’d and hypochondriac, now twisty now forthright, sometimes astute and intelligent, sometimes almost certifiably dotty, he achieved his dubious ends rather in the manner of one of those semi-animate creatures which slither, billowing and distending among the shadows of the sea-bed. I shall always remember the appearance of this masterly camouflagist at the International Court at The Hague, where he had gone to help plead his country’s case in its dispute with the old Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. For several days he had been in a state of recumbency at his hotel, his spokesman from time to time making statements of delightfully comic pungency; and when at last the time came for his speech in court, he arrived there gasping on the arms of innumerable attendants, theatrically pallid and unkempt. Most of us expected something funny from him, if not actually farcical, after such effective preliminaries: but you never know with Persians, and when at last he was lifted to his feet, mopping his brow with an enormous handkerchief, he delivered a perfectly sensible, well-phrased and competently argued speech. In Persian dramatics, as in Imperial Square at Isfahan, there is often a twist at the end.”