Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Cooperation between the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice (via VTC)

Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 18, 2020


Thank you, Mr. President.

We are pleased that South Africa has organized this debate. The Security Council receives an annual briefing from the President of the International Court of Justice and exchanges views about issues of common interest, but those meetings by custom are held in private. In this 75th anniversary year of the Court, it is fitting that we have a second opportunity to highlight the crucial role of the ICJ and to do so at a public meeting.

I would first like to extend our congratulations to those candidates recently elected or re-elected to the Court, as well as our deep gratitude to all of the candidates for their dedication to the field of international law.

We appreciate the opportunity to address the relationship between the Court and the Security Council and the complementary role these principal organs play in the maintenance of international peace and security. The ICJ plays a vital role in promoting and preserving the rule of law, and in advancing international peace and security through the peaceful resolution of disputes.

The increasing workload of the ICJ demonstrates a recognition by Member States that accept its jurisdiction that it is preferable to resolve disputes peacefully through the ICJ rather than to allow them to fester and possibly lead to conflict. That these disputes may, as a result, never reach these chambers reinforces the effectiveness of the UN framework. As situations develop into matters requiring the Security Council’s attention, we must, of course, remain mindful of where the Court might play a role while preserving the fundamental principle enshrined in the ICJ Statute of State consent to judicial settlement of disputes.

We are also mindful that the UN Charter, as we’ve heard, provides in Article 33 that parties to a dispute that is likely to endanger international security and peace shall first seek a solution through the peaceful means of their choice, which can run from negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, or judicial settlement.

Many disputes are successfully resolved through other means of dispute settlement, so that they never need to reach the Security Council or the ICJ. And with the multiplicity of available dispute settlement mechanisms, such as regional courts and international tribunals, parties to a dispute have a range of avenues to consider to resolve their disputes. And it is gratifying to know that for those Member States that accept its jurisdiction, the ICJ stands ready to adjudicate their disputes.

We should not forget, on this 75th anniversary, that there once was a day when territorial disputes, and even trade matters, were resolved, almost routinely, through military means. We should not take for granted how transformative the UN Charter and the ICJ Statute were when they were adopted, including in their advancement of the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law. On this 75th anniversary of the UN and of the ICJ, we celebrate their contribution to the promotion of the rule of the law and the preservation of international peace and security.

Mr. President, finally, let me add a few words as well about the trust fund to support participation in the ICJ judicial fellowship program. The program was founded in 1999, through an initiative of a very prominent law school in our host city: the New York University School of Law. The program has expanded over the years so that dozens of law school graduates have benefited from this worthy, valuable opportunity to work with and learn from the Judges of the ICJ.

We certainly agree that recent law school graduates from developing countries should also have the opportunity to participate in the ICJ’s judicial fellowship program. Increasing opportunities for future practitioners of international law to learn about the Court and learn from its esteemed judges will itself serve to strengthen the rule of law and help to spread awareness of the valuable role the Court can play in the promotion of international peace and security.

Accordingly, we were very pleased to co-sponsor and to join consensus on the resolution establishing the trust fund, which the General Assembly adopted on Monday of this week.

Thank you, Mr. President.