New perspectives at ICJ

07 September 2010 by Dr. Olivier Ribbelink

Two women are expected to bring a breath of fresh air to the International Court of Justice. Mrs Xue Hanqin from China and Mrs Joan Donoghue from the US replace Judge Shi Jiuyong and Judge Thomas Buergenthal who both resigned before their terms expired. The women come to an ICJ that has been predominantly the bastion of men. Their wealth of international experience qualifies them for one of the most challenging positions on the world stage.

What is remarkable about the two new judges is not just that they will bring down the average age of the members of the ICJ, or that one is very well known in the world of international law and the other less so, but also, strangely enough, that they are women.

In the history of the ICJ virtually all judges have been male. There have only been two female ad-hoc judges, that is, judges representing a State in a specific dispute when that State did not have a national on the Bench, namely Suzanne Bastid (France, 1980s), and Christine van den Wyngaert (Belgium, 2000).

The only regular female judge was Dame Rosalyn Higgins (1995-2009, of which 2006-2009 as President). Although it may be too early to say, perhaps their nomination forebodes a new attitude towards the ICJ and international law.

The ICJ has 15 members who are elected by the General Assembly (GA) and the Security Council (SC). Candidates must obtain an absolute majority in both: 97 votes in the GA and eight votes in the SC. Every three years five judges are elected to serve a nine-year term.

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